Saturday, 15 April 2017
How do you feel about yourself? Do you think you are a good person or a bad person? The way you feel about yourself determines your thoughts, emotions and actions.
Your thoughts and emotions control you because you allow them to. When you give these thoughts and emotions (whether positive or negative) the attention they need, they thrive. They control you.
When you are bombarded by life, you feel overwhelmed. You look at life negatively and self-pity absorbs you. Allowing negative thoughts and emotions to control you makes you arrogant. You believe that you alone are right (the world is wrong) and you alone suffer (no-one on earth can suffer as much as you do at that given moment). Within your comfort zone of arrogance, which protects you from the world, you refuse to acknowledge that you can be wrong and that there are people in the world suffering far more than you are. You revel in self-pity because no-one enjoys suffering.
Your thoughts and emotions can be burdensome, but, because they’re not lethal, you can survive whatever you experience. Survivors don’t quit. They don’t roll over and die! They fight for something better. That’s what you do every day. When you hold your breath for as long as you possibly can, you will soon become aware of the pressure that builds up inside of you. When it becomes too hard to bear, instinct to survive kicks in and you start breathing again. Relief is the first thing that flows through your body. Your instinct to survive is the most powerful motivation that keeps you going.
Instead of self-pity during times of difficulty, you need to accept life for what it is. It’s a rollercoaster ride that will have its ups and downs, turns and twists, and moments of sheer exhilaration or horror. That’s life. Life is what it is. Putting yourself in the centre of all the events and experiences that life offers is wrong. Life isn’t just about you. Instead of focusing on the hardship, you need to look at the positive things in life.
If you look around, you’ll find a situation or person that needs your help. Instead of being self-absorbed and stressing about how you are going to get out of your own pool of fire, you should be a positive influence to those around you. Radiate your energy and light.
You give of yourself because you want to make the world a better place, even if it is only for a moment, for one particular person and in one very small and seemingly insignificant situation. Your decisions and actions must be good and generous without expectation that serves self-interest. You need to be selfless! Even when goodness and generosity are not reciprocated, you need to go forward, resilient and focused.
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but they will not diminish your spirit. You learn to ignore your own small personal problems and render your service to help people with their problems.
To live a fulfilling life means that you change your self-centred (me-first) attitude to a more mindful attitude, an attitude where you become aware of the needs of others. You can’t deplete your energy by helping everyone, but you can, even in silence, be supportive. Everyone on earth has a burden to bear. Instead of adding weight to these burdens, you should learn to show compassion.
It all starts with patience and gratitude. Once you exercise patience and show gratitude for life itself, you will always be ready to make a positive difference on a daily basis.
The books I write I leave in the care of my daughter, Jana Steyn. The legacy will live on. These books don't have to be published or sold. They don't have to achieve a 'top-ten best seller' list or any awards. They only need to be passed on.
My dad loved books. I still have both his encyclopedia sets and some of his classic novels. He nourished our minds from a very young age, all because of his passion for books and knowledge.
There's nothing wrong in trying to do things on a creative level. It just defines who we are. I used to sketch and paint, but I loved writing more. Now, my daughter paints. It was Henri Matisse who said, "Creativity takes courage".
So, we move forward, from one year to the next, curious of what we may achieve. It's curiosity that keeps us going. The only thing we need to ask is: what exactly are we curious about?
Too many people do things to achieve recognition: fame and fortune. They pursue happiness as if it's a goal they can achieve somewhere at the top of a ladder. Anne Frank didn't write her diary for fame and fortune. She wrote out of necessity. She only became famous after her death. One of my favourite poets is Emily Dickinson. She wrote more than 1800 poems, but only seven of her poems were published before she died.
When people hear about my books, they ask so many questions. Who published the book? How many books have been sold? How much money has been made? These questions just prove how shallow people are. They don't understand the essence of who I am.
I write because I enjoy writing. I don't have any plans or goals for my work because I'm writing for fun. It makes me happy. It's rewarding to know that I can finish what I initially started. I don't search for happiness. I live in the moment and all those moments of enjoyment create a book. You have to enjoy what you do, otherwise it's just a form of punishment. I would never be able to sit down and write a book with the aim of achieving recognition.
When I look at my great-grandmother's Bible, which was passed on to my father and then to me, I realize how important it is to leave something of ourselves behind. She wrote down the names of her family in the Bible. Her handwriting is preserved as long as the Bible is preserved. My father also wrote a message in the Bible. This inspired me to leave something behind, too. I have about 14 diaries, which were written over three decades. I have given them to Jana. She has read all of them and found them to be extremely inspirational.
I want my books and poems to stay in the family. Because I teach, my sole purpose of writing is to leave a legacy. I don't want to write full-time. I've always believed this and will continue to say it: first and foremost, I am a teacher. I was born to teach. Writing is a hobby, not my career. When I retire there will be more time to write. Perhaps then, when I have the luxury of time, I will be able to write more substantial work.
Now, all I have is a passion for writing, so, whenever I can, I will write.
Saturday, 8 April 2017
In the hours of distress and misery,
the eyes of every mortal turn to friendship …
Walter Savage Landor
Béch waited in the cold chamber for Breyton and his henchmen to return with Hamed to the mountains. He was infuriated. He didn’t know if Hamed would be able to help him and his concerns were with Mareijke. Béch was devastated by her fall. He remembered the day as if it were yesterday.
“Mareijke!” Breyton screamed as she suddenly fell from the ledge. He had held on to her upper arm tightly, but her fall was so quick he almost toppled over the edge with her.
Béch was at his side within seconds. He could see Mareijke on another rocky ledge not far below. She was unconscious. He feared the worst.
“We need a rope,” Béch said desperately, turning to Hamed.
“We need rope,” Breyton demanded, looking at his henchman.
“Rope!” the henchman shouted to another, who immediately moved off towards the helicopter.
“I’m going to climb down to her,” Béch said.
“I don’t think so. If anyone is climbing down, it will be me,” Breyton said.
“No,” Béch answered impatiently. “Hamed and I will go down.”
“Hamed will go down with me,” Breyton said again. “You can wait up here. With your injuries …”
“And how do you plan to bring her up?” Béch asked despondently. He realized that his own injuries would prevent him from helping Mareijke. “If her back or neck is broken …”
“We need to make a stretcher of some sort,” Breyton replied.
Hamed watched them patiently and then said, “We have a helicopter.”
Béch immediately recognized his bantering tone and turned to look at him. Breyton also turned to look at Hamed.
“You two will be surprised to know that these mountain choppers are well-equipped for emergencies,” Hamed continued. “So, you don’t have to climb down or make a stretcher.”
Béch glared at Hamed to show his disapproval.
“The pilot!” Breyton said. “He should know what to do.”
Breyton jumped up and headed towards the helicopter.
“Very funny, Hamed,” Béch said flatly.
“But you know these things,” Hamed said truthfully.
“Forgive me for not thinking clearly.”
The rescue operation was easier than Béch had anticipated. Breyton and Hamed climbed down to the ledge where Mareijke lay injured. One of Breyton’s men sent the stretcher down from the helicopter. Hamed and Breyton supplied the necessary tension from ground position to prevent the stretcher from flapping around. They disconnected the hoist hook and turned their attention to Mareijke. She was lying on her back, her breathing very shallow.
They carefully put a collar around her neck and placed her on the spine board. Putting her into the cage stretcher, they rigged the stretcher bridle and followed all the instructions the pilot had given them. They positioned the tag-line and tied off the rope bag. After securing the tag-line to the bridle they were ready to send her up to the henchman who pulled the stretcher into the helicopter.
Following the instructions Breyton had given him before their attempt to rescue Mareijke, the pilot wasted no time and flew off in the direction of Agadir.
“Hey!” Béch yelled down at Breyton as the helicopter disappeared over the towering mountain of rock. “I thought we were going to the hospital.”
“I want the artifacts,” Breyton shouted back in an antagonizing way. “Then Rousseau, we’ll go to the hospital.”
Béch didn’t trust Breyton. Once he had the artifacts there was no telling what he would do. The first thought that came to Béch’s mind was that Breyton would dispose of them without any reluctance. Béch tied a rope to a thorn bush and threw it down to Hamed. Breyton climbed to the top with great difficulty. Hamed followed more easily.
“Now, let’s get down to business,” Breyton said, turning to Béch. “We’ve wasted enough time.”
Béch and Hamed made eye contact. There wasn’t much they could do at that point, or so Béch thought. Hamed nodded once. Slowly. A light frown fell across Béch’s forehead. Hamed had a plan. He didn’t know what it was, but knew it would be best to trust the Moroccan. Béch was uncertain if he would cope with Hamed’s plan, but convinced himself that his friend would be considerate enough towards his injuries under the given circumstances. Béch felt tired and ill. Nevertheless, they needed to escape from Breyton and his men.
Béch turned in the direction of the cave. The path along the mountainside wasn’t that difficult to follow. Breyton stayed on his heels with the two henchmen following closely behind. They foolishly left Hamed to trail at the back. At the most opportune time possible, Hamed turned and started back. He followed the path easily, but soon climbed to lower levels. By the time one of the henchmen discovered his absence, it was too late. Hamed had been given enough time to escape.
“Useless!” Breyton screamed at the men. “How difficult is it to keep your eyes on one man. One man! Finding him now is near impossible.”
“We don’t need him,” Béch said confidently. “He’s never been one to trust.”
“Move!” Breyton demanded.
Béch continued on the rocky path. He was leading Breyton and the men to a hairpin road, away from the cave. He hoped, by the time they got to the road, Hamed would have made a plan. The cave was further down. The path had descended a while back, but Béch had continued on the higher path.
“I need to rest,” Béch said and sat down on a flat rock.
He needed to buy time for Hamed, hoping that he would devise a plan of action with a positive outcome. He took water from his backpack. Béch looked out across the magnificent ocean of sugar-fine Saharan sand that spread out before him. His father’s grave was near.
“This is a beautiful grave, Béch,” Dawid’s words were ringing in his ears. “I want you to remember this sacred place ...”
He wasn’t prepared to betray Dawid van Staalduinen. He would rather die than give Breyton the satisfaction of walking away with the artifacts.
He wondered what Hamed was planning? It would take too long to return to the village or find the caravaneers with whom they had been travelling. Hamed knew that. By the time he returned with help, Béch would have been forced to enter the caves and look for the artifacts. Hamed El Hadrioui was too clever to allow that and Béch knew him all too well.
They had been companions since childhood. They were the same age and had grown up together in Casablanca. Béch remembered the first time he had met Hamed. They were eight years old at the time. Béch had found him sitting on the doorstep of his house. At first, he had thought the Moroccan to be lost. It was only after seeing the sadness etched on his face that Béch realized the boy had been through a difficult ordeal.
Being quiet by nature, Béch had sat down beside him. He had waited for the boy to speak. Every morning for three days, Béch would find Hamed on the doorstep just before 8 o’clock. He would sit down next to him and wait. They always sat in silence for an hour each day, after which Hamed would get up and leave.
On the fourth day, Hamed spoke. His English was surprisingly good. He told Béch about his sister, one year their senior, who had been sold into marriage. Over the days that followed, Béch had watched him struggle through the emotions of heartache, denial and anger. Their friendship was born during that struggle.
During the next school holidays, Uri had taken them out to a part of the mountain not far from their home to do some rock climbing. By then, Hamed was his normal self again, chattering like a monkey to the quiet and mysterious little white friend whose doorstep he had frequented. And so, over the years, they had become inseparable.
As if struck by lightning, Béch suddenly realized what Hamed was planning. It was exactly the same plan Hamed had used when they were playing on the mountainside outside Casablanca. They had been hiding from Uri Ayrrault. Hamed was a skilful rock climber. He always carried a rope with him when they went out to the mountain. On that specific day, he had climbed down to a lower level. He was able to use the rope to help Béch climb down to the level where he was standing. Within seconds Béch had disappeared from Uri’s watchful eye.
If his assumption was right, Hamed would be somewhere below them, near the entrance of the cave. Béch needed to get closer to the edge to see if he could catch sight of the rope. Hamed was still an excellent climber. He would have fastened it by now. All Béch needed to do was distract Breyton and his men.
He got up slowly and stretched as far as the pain would allow. Walking towards the edge he peered down. Nothing. He moved along the ledge slowly.
“Move away from the edge, Rousseau!” Breyton ordered.
“Why?” Béch asked, smiling to himself as he spotted the rope. “Scared I might fall?”
Béch turned to look at Breyton. “Nature calls.”
“Well, get on with it,” Breyton said impatiently and directed his attention elsewhere.
With his back turned to Béch and the henchmen lazing in the shade of the rocks, their hats over their faces, Béch had the opportunity to escape. He sat down with his legs hanging over the edge. He realized he would have to turn on his stomach to climb down. Gritting his teeth to bear the pain, he turned and put his weight on his forearms. Both feet found a place to secure themselves and soon Béch was able to take hold of the rope.
The painful climb down to Hamed was difficult, but there was no time to delay. When he reached the bottom, the Moroccan started climbing up against the wall of rock to release the rope at the top.
“We go through the cave to the other side,” Hamed whispered as he landed next to Béch who desperately wanted to cough, but knew he couldn’t. “Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” Béch lied. His stalwartness had been seriously affected, but he wouldn’t allow pain to hinder them.
“There’s no time for namby-pambiness,” Hamed said, following Béch closely as they moved along the widened path to the cave entrance.
“You wish,” Béch said in a mock-patronizing tone. “You may have greater difficulty in keeping up with me.”
Béch knew Hamed was looking out for him. He was as concerned about Béch’s health as Mareijke had been before her fall. Entering the cave, Béch was relieved to be out of the torturous sun. The chamber was dark and cool. They had been in the caves before, but Béch had no idea where the artifacts were hidden. The cave was a network of tunnels and shafts. Dawid could have gone in any direction.
Hamed and Béch followed the tunnel that led to the other side of the mountain. It was their only hope. From there they would find the road and be able to escape from Breyton. The helicopter pilot was bound to return eventually. All they needed to do was convince him to take them to the hospital in Agadir.
The climb from the cave entrance to the main road was easy. They had done it before, several years ago when they were curious to find the artifacts. They had been unsuccessful in their efforts to find them and returned home disappointed and frustrated. Béch didn’t know at the time what he would do with the artifacts. He knew they didn’t belong to him, but he wanted to know what Dawid had hidden in the cave all those years ago.
Béch and Hamed found the dust-laden road sitting wide and patient, drenched in sunlight. They started walking in the direction to where the helicopter had first landed. The ascending road drained their energy, but they continued in silence.
The mountain rose above them on one side of the road while a desert valley lay wasted on the other side. The desert was devoid of movement and the air filled with an eerie silence. Béch thrived upon the desert’s silence. It was religious. Enriching. The sand, heat and solitude were therapeutic. It made him appreciate who he was and what he had achieved in his life.
His own mother had betrayed him at a very young age. She had deserted him at the age of six, leaving him in the care of his father. A year later, his father was killed and he had the choice of joining his mother and her new family in a new country or staying with Uri Ayrrault. He had chosen to stay with Uri and later moved in with Hamed’s family.
The greatest trial after his father’s death was when he discovered a letter his mother had written to her first husband, the man she was married to before she had met Armand Rousseau. She had never posted the letter. She had never thrown it away. Reading the letter had saddened Béch for the loss of a mother until he read the part that seemingly had its words jump off the page as he read them for the first time.
“I was pregnant when I arrived in Casablanca. I think the child may be yours.”
His mother’s betrayal and deception had started before his birth. He had been overwhelmed by the truth: Armand Rousseau was possibly not his father. Armand had known about it, because the letter had been in his possession.
As much as Béch had wanted to discuss the letter with Uri, he was unable to. Uri had already left when he discovered the letter amongst Armand’s possessions.
Béch lived with a sad bitterness that was wrapped up in silent confusion for three long years. Then, one day, he had fallen ill and was taken to the local hospital by Hamed’s father. The results of the blood tests were given to him a week later. Béch discovered the truth about his identity. He knew then who his real father was.
“Look,” Hamed said suddenly.
After much walking, the two men were amazed to find the helicopter waiting in the middle of the road as if it had never left.
Hamed spoke to the pilot, who was unaware of Breyton’s ruthless schemes. He was more than willing to take them to the hospital.
“You don’t have to return today for the other men,” Hamed said. “They will be staying overnight. Their work should be finished by tomorrow. When you return, Breyton Coetzee will pay you for these extra flights.”
Béch enjoyed the devious plan. A night on the mountainside would definitely make a man of Breyton Coetzee.
It is strange to talk of miracles, revelations, inspiration, and the like, as things past,
while love remains.
Henry David Thoreau
Mareijke took a warm bath and dressed. When she had opened her eyes that morning, long before Uri entered the room, she could remember every single detail of her past. She knew exactly who she was, where she had come from and who Uri Ayrrault was. She remembered his lies about Béch’s death and she remembered Béch. She remembered her accident.
Her greatest desire now was to return to Agadir to find Béch. His life had been in danger before she had fallen from the cliff and she needed to find him; she needed to know that he was safe. She ransacked the house and the garage, but found nothing. Without her passport and visa, she would not be able to leave the country. Where could Uri have hidden the documents?
She went next door to find the domestic worker. She asked if she could use her cellular phone. There was only one person in the whole world Mareijke could trust and that was Ada. She called her aunt in Swellendam and told her briefly what had happened. She asked Ada to fly to Gauteng to help her. She gave her the address and returned to the house to tidy up. She knew she would have to be very cunning to outwit Uri Ayrrault.
She went out onto the patio, her mind back in Morocco. She followed the dusty mental tracks of her last day on the mountain.
The caravan left the village continuing their journey up the mountain road. After an hour of travelling, they stopped again for some rest. Béch was tired and still coughed raggedly.
The silence suspended over the awe-inspiring stretch of rock and sand was broken by the sound of a distant helicopter. Both Béch and Hamed El Hadrioui moved almost simultaneously to scan the skies.
“We need to take cover,” Béch said. “I don’t like what I hear.”
They were able to move into the shadows of the rocks long before the helicopter flew over them. It passed slowly, moving along the mountain path in the direction of the village. She knew, as well as Béch, that Uri had returned.
“Is it Uri? Does he know where the artifacts are?” Mareijke asked with great disillusionment.
“He may have an idea,” Béch replied, “but he won’t find them easily.”
Béch’s confidence was comforting to her, but knowing that Uri had found them left her panic-stricken.
“Is he our enemy?” Mareijke asked.
“No,” Béch said. “He’s only trying to protect you.”
“Then why are we running from him?”
“We’re not running,” Béch said. “We’re just being careful.”
“No time to explain now,” Béch said.
Béch was prepared. He had more men in the caravan than necessary because he knew he would need to form some kind of decoy if they were followed again. He wasn’t sure who to trust outside his own party. The villagers were good people with whom Béch was well acquainted. He knew they would not give strangers any information that would put his life in danger. He sent the men with the whole camel-train ahead to cross over the mountain, hoping that Uri would find them and conclude he was chasing the wrong caravan to the mountains.
Béch, Mareijke and Hamed El Hadrioui moved along the rocks away from the ascending dust-laden road. The territory was difficult to cross at places, but they moved as quickly as possible while the blades of the helicopter were still.
“There’s a cave not far from here,” Béch said. “That’s where the artifacts are hidden.”
“In a cave?” Mareijke asked and Béch nodded affirmation.
“Once we’re there, we’ll be safe.”
“Won’t they find the cave?” Mareijke asked.
“The entrance is concealed. They won’t see it easily.” Béch said confidently.
“You have to know it’s there to look for it,” Hamed added.
Béch was still suffering a great deal of pain and she hated seeing him like that. She found it difficult to concentrate and was struggling along the track when her foot slipped on loose stones. She fell from the rock very suddenly, but managed to grab hold of a twisted tree and eventually the ledge. Holding onto it, she waited for Béch and Hamed to return to her. Each took hold of a wrist to keep her from falling further over the edge. Béch’s pain made him abandon the effort of pulling her up, leaving Hamed alone on the ledge. Hamed balanced himself carefully and then pulled her up slowly.
Unfortunately, the helicopter had come to life again and they could hear it approaching. Béch returned to Hamed’s side and together they brought her to the top as quickly as possible. Time was their greatest enemy. By the time Mareijke was safe again, the helicopter pilot and passengers had already seen them.
Béch moved into the rocks, Hamed and Mareijke following him closely. Knowing that the road was broad enough for the helicopter to land, Béch changed direction. It wouldn’t make a difference in which direction they moved, they wouldn’t be able to shake Uri and his men. Taking Hamed and Mareijke away from the cave was a better choice.
“I don’t want him to know about the cave,” Béch said as he continued to lead Mareijke away from it, Hamed El Hadrioui following close behind.
They rounded a huge boulder only to find themselves staring into the faces of four aggressive-looking men. Much to their surprise, not one of them was Uri Ayrrault.
Breyton grabbed Mareijke fiercely, holding a gun to her head. She had no words.
“Where are the artifacts?” Breyton shouted at Béch.
“Shooting her ends everything,” Béch said calmly. “You will never see the artifacts.”
She looked at him beseechingly, but he refused to make eye contact with her. She expected to see utter shock in his expression at discovering Breyton’s deceit, but throughout the ordeal he remained in control of his emotions.
“Then I shall make her suffer,” Breyton said, pointing the gun at Béch. “I will shoot you.”
“No!” Mareijke screamed, struggling to free herself from his grip. But she couldn’t fight his strength.
“I will bleed to death before we are anywhere near the artifacts,” Béch said calmly.
“You don’t know me, Rousseau!” Breyton retaliated. “But, I know enough about you. I know what makes you tick. I know your strengths and your weaknesses.”
At that moment, Mareijke was consumed with anger. She pulled away from Breyton.
“What on earth do you want with the artifacts?” she screamed, on the verge of hysteria. “They mean nothing without me.”
“Not everything is about you and your precious inheritance!” he hissed in return. “I have other plans.”
There was no way out. Béch and Hamed El Hadrioui were made to walk ahead and Mareijke followed. They descended from where they were to get to the cave. It was a difficult day for Mareijke and she was tired, tense and hungry.
Her fall was so sudden that it caught Breyton, whose hand was around her upper arm at the time, completely by surprise. The movement was too quick and he was unable to prevent her from falling over the ledge.
That was the last she remembered about that almost fatal day. It was the last time she saw Béch.
Mareijke had no idea how she ended up in Pretoria with Uri, but she knew for certain they were not married. She wondered what had become of Béch and Hamed. If only they were safe. By now, after all the time she had been given to recover from her fall, Béch would have recovered too.
Breyton! The hate and anger she had seen in his eyes on the mountain lingered in her mind.
“Not everything is about you and your precious inheritance … I have other plans.”
What did he mean?
Of what use were the artifacts to him? She reconsidered the value of the artifacts. Breyton had weaved his way into both her and Dawid’s life. He had deceived them deliberately. She didn’t know the man at all. Four years had been wasted on feigned love. How could she have been so blind?
Ada’s arrival late that afternoon gave Mareijke the needed courage to plan her return to Morocco. There wasn’t much time, but they were able to make quick arrangements for the next day. They would go to the city and apply for new documents while Uri was at work.
That evening, Uri arrived home much later than usual. He was still in a strange mood. He bought KFC for dinner and excused himself from her company. She knew that something was wrong.
The next morning he came to her room quietly.
“Breakfast is in the kitchen, but I’m leaving now Mareijke.”
She didn’t like his tone. Perhaps he had found out about her conversation with the neighbour’s domestic worker or, even worse, that she had used the Internet. People talk. She sat quietly, mulling over the possibility. She wasn’t his prisoner, Mareijke thought. He knew about the picture. If he had answered her questions, she wouldn’t have turned to strangers for help.
Mareijke took a quick shower and ate her breakfast. She cleaned the kitchen and waited for Ada to arrive. They went into the city as planned and applied for all the necessary documents. It would take several frustrating days to receive everything, but Mareijke had to accept her fate.
“Why don’t you come with me,” Ada said. “He won’t be able to find you.”
“I can’t,” Mareijke said quietly. “I don’t know if Uri and Breyton are working together. I was on the mountain with Breyton before the accident and now I’m with Uri.”
“It doesn’t matter if they know each other,” Ada said.
“I’m worried about Béch. His life may still be in danger.”
Ada could see that Mareijke’s energy was spent. The day had been long and tiring for both of them.
“Okay Sugar-drop,” Ada said calmly. “You do what you have to do. But, take this! Keep it with you. I bought it for you in Swellendam. Call me. I don’t care if it’s in the middle of the night. I’m staying here in Pretoria until your documents are ready.”
“Thank you, Ada,” Mareijke said gratefully, taking the cell phone.
“Remember, I’m a phone call away.”
Mareijke stood at the garden gate and watched Ada’s car disappear around the corner before she entered the house. She was relieved that everything planned for the day was done. She wanted to take a long, warm bath before Uri came home from work. If only there was enough time for her to take a nap and regain some of her energy.
She entered the lounge lost in thought only to discover that she was not alone. Mareijke was welcomed by the cold and austere presence of Uri Ayrrault. From the look on his face, he had been waiting for quite some time. The room was fearfully silent.
She stood as if frozen, wondering what to say. How would she explain where she had been? She crossed the room quietly and sat down on the couch. She waited for him to vent his anger, but Uri didn’t say a word. He stood up slowly and left the room. A few minutes later he returned with a shoe box, which he gave to her.
“I have never been your enemy, Mareijke,” he said. She could hear the anger and disappointment in his voice.
“Then why lie to me? Why did you tell me we’re married?”
“The hospitals only allow immediate family close to the patients. I needed to protect you.”
She looked up at him.
“You said Béch was dead!”
“Yes, but I wasn’t sure at the time,” Uri admitted. He didn’t have the amiable warmth in his voice that she usually found comforting. “My main concern was for your safety. I needed to get you away from the apartment.”
She looked at him. She didn’t know if she could trust him. Was he telling her the truth or was this just another ploy?
“I didn’t know you had fallen in love with him,” Uri continued.
She ignored his comment about her feelings for Béch. Trying to steer his attention away from it, she asked: “How did you know about the accident?”
“Mareijke! Mareijke! Mareijke! Will you never learn? I have been with you all the time,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “I waited outside the apartment and followed you and Marianne to the airport. I followed you and Hamed to Hermanus and Swellendam. When I found out where the bus was heading, I took a flight to Durban. I was also on your flight to Agadir.
“Hamed and I share the same acquaintances, so I knew where Béch was taking you. I waited in Agadir for your return. For once, I had decided to give Béch Rousseau a chance, even though it went against my better judgement – not for any reason other than the fact that he was badly injured. One of Hamed’s friends told me that a helicopter was bringing someone to the hospital. I thought it was Béch, but it wasn’t. It was you and there was absolutely no-one who could stand in for you as family.”
“So you told the hospital that we’re married,” Mareijke said.
“If I hadn’t, you would still be in the hospital in Agadir and, honestly Mareijke, I don’t even want to think what the outcome would have been had you stayed.”
“My fiancé,” she reminded Uri.
“I know who Breyton is, but what of him?”
Mareijke was surprised that Uri didn’t know of Breyton’s involvement. How was that even possible? If Uri had been with her all the time watching her, surely he would have seen Breyton. Was Breyton that devious?
She found herself telling him about Breyton’s actions prior to Béch’s accident at Bloubergstrand and his appearance and threats on the mountainside in Morocco. The information was new and very unsettling to Uri. He stood up immediately and started to make several phone calls on the patio.
Mareijke opened the shoe box, which contained all her personal documents and bank cards. She felt foolish. She never had any reason to distrust Uri. He had always been acting on her behalf, as far as she could remember.
Suddenly Mareijke started to wonder about Béch. If Uri and Breyton weren’t allies, who was Breyton working for? How did he know about the artifacts? They were the soul reason for his interest in Dawid and her.
Béch. Was he a traitor, too? In Cape Town, Breyton and Béch had connected from the moment they met. They got along like a house on fire, but why would Breyton then arrange to have Béch killed? Greed?
Uri came back into the room.
“Do you think Béch is on Breyton’s side?” she asked anxiously.
“No!” Uri’s answer was undeniably resolute.
“Really?” she expected Uri to make a firm stand against Béch.
“Béch is not the enemy,” Uri said confidently.
“… but you said you didn’t trust him,” Mareijke was exasperated.
“I don’t trust him in protecting you,” Uri said.
He sat down next to Mareijke.
“Béch and I go back many years. We have much more in common than you will ever know. One day, I will tell you the whole story. For now, all I can say is that we have always been in an alliance. A few years ago, Béch and I spent our days together, fighting for a cause we both believed in.”
“So you were friends?” she asked. “What went wrong?”
“Let me tell you about the cause for which we were fighting. Western Sahara borders Morocco. It used to be a Spanish colony. In 1975, Spain signed an agreement, handing the territory over to Morocco and Mauritania, but Mauritania abandoned her claim over the area a few years later. A military wall was built to divide Western Sahara. One-half was under the control of the Moroccan Army and the other governed and maintained by a rebellion group known as the Polisario. Over the years, Morocco had kidnapped and tortured many Sahrawi people. The Polisario was a group of Sahrawi freedom fighters, supported by Algeria, who wanted to help their people.
“The Sahrawis tried to escape from the Moroccan side at night by crossing the wall. It wasn’t easy because they had to first cross a low wall of loose rocks. If any of those rocks fell, it was like an alarm that drew the attention of the soldiers. After successfully passing over the first wall, they then had to cross a trench before they were faced with the challenge of climbing a higher wall made of sand and rock. Once over the high wall, they had to jump over barbed wire fence and cross a minefield. Those who survived the minefield faced the treacherous desert. They had to walk for days to a refugee camp near Tindouf in Algeria. Some escaped with water supplies, while others had absolutely nothing.
“Béch and I teamed up with a group of nomads to assist those who had survived the great escape. We had our camel-trains waiting in small groups with enough food and water supplies to take them to Tindouf. On one of our journeys back from the refugee camp, we lost a friend in a dune attack,” Uri said. “I blamed Béch and he blamed me.”
“A dune attack?” she asked curiously.
“There was a drug trafficking network that extended itself from North Morocco to Algeria and one of the armed groups was stationed in Tindouf. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. A drug deal on the dunes had already gone horribly wrong by the time we approached the area. There were gunshots and our friend, Omar, was fatally wounded.”
“…why blame each other?”
“Béch knew the area well. He wanted us to change course and approach the refugee camp from a new angle. Why? I still don’t know. Instinctively, he just changed course. After several hours, I was convinced that we were lost. I wanted to approach the group of men on the dunes for directions, but Béch warned me to stay camouflaged. If I had listened to him, Omar may still be alive today.”
Both men felt responsible for Omar’s death. To ease the pain they had chosen each other as a scapegoat. It all seemed so senseless to her.
Suddenly, Uri’s phone started to ring and he stepped out onto the patio. She watched him carefully. He came back into the lounge looking satisfied with the information he had received.
“I have just spoken to a contact in Agadir. Breyton left with Hamed and some men in a helicopter. Apparently he has threatened to kill Béch if Hamed doesn’t cooperate with him.”
Mareijke jumped up. “We have to find Béch. If he dies …”
She suddenly realized that she would have difficulty in denying her feelings for Béch after her impulsive outburst. Embarrassed, she turned away. Tears were welling in her eyes and Mareijke took refuge in the sanctuary of her bedroom.
She phoned Ada and explained everything to her dear aunt. Uri was not her enemy. Ada could thus return to Swellendam. Uri took Mareijke to the guest-house where Ada was staying. He invited the women to dinner at an up-market restaurant in Pretoria and discussed his plans for his departure to Morocco.
“I’m going with you,” Mareijke insisted.
“No,” Uri said slowly. “You’re going to Swellendam with your aunt.”
“I think that’s a very good idea,” Ada agreed with Uri.
“I am going to Morocco, Uri,” Mareijke said adamantly, “and you can’t stop me.”
“Mareijke, please …” Ada started.
“I have to find Béch,” Mareijke said. “The last time I saw him was out on the mountainside with Breyton. I need to know that he’s safe.”
My mind lets go a thousand things …
Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Mareijke opened her eyes as the new day dawned. Slightly disoriented, she was startled to find a stranger sitting in a wing chair across the room. She sat up in the enormous bed and looked at him long and hard. Then she remembered. Uri Ayrrault.
“You’re awake at last,” he said in a kind and warm voice. “How’re you feeling, today?”
She rubbed her eyes and sat wondering if she would ever wake up from her nightmare.
“I’m okay,” she said softly.
“Breakfast is ready,” he said and quietly left the room. Mareijke slowly got up and headed for the bathroom.
Amnesia. It had been seven days of emptiness. She simply couldn’t remember anything. The first day upon awakening in hospital, she had also felt disoriented … and he was there. Uri Ayrrault. He was the only person in the room at the time.
He had spoken of an accident. She had spent seven traumatic days in hospital trying to remember something … anything. But the harder she tried, the worse the headaches became. Each vain search had ended in tears.
After being discharged, Uri had taken her to their home. She hated not remembering. She hated not knowing who she was or from where she had come. She hated not knowing the tall, blonde man who claimed to be her husband. She didn’t even recognize their house.
Mareijke went down the stairs to the sheltered patio, as she had done the previous day. She joined Uri at the table, wishing the day would be less bright. Sunlight danced on the sparkling blue water of the swimming pool behind Uri. It made her eyes ache. She sat next to him with her back to the garden and ate some of the food on her plate.
She wasn’t hungry. The orange juice was cool and she enjoyed it. It didn’t remind her of anything and she wondered if she had ever had any before in her life. It was orange juice, she thought quietly. Obviously, she must have had some during her life.
“You have a doctor’s appointment,” Uri said warmly, smiling at her.
“When?” Mareijke asked disinterested.
What did it matter? The doctor had already said nothing could be done about her memory loss. Her head was a blank slate and it was apparent no one could help her. Her self-piteous state of mind helped even less.
“Crying won’t bring back your memory,” Uri had said to her in the hospital room.
“I can’t help it,” she had answered between sobs. “Who am I?”
“Memory loss is scary,” the doctor had said. “You’ve lost all your personal information, but you’re still able to speak, think, write and drive a car.”
“But … will I ever remember again,” she had asked.
“When the test results return, we’ll talk again.”
She wasn’t eager to see the doctor, but went with Uri for the examination at eleven. The doctor was optimistic and told them that Mareijke’s tests had confirmed what he already knew. There was no brain damage, which meant the coma had left no permanent effects.
“Coma?” Mareijke asked, dazed. The doctor looked at Uri and then at the papers in front of him.
“Your husband wanted to tell you about the coma,” the doctor said, giving Uri a look of disapproval.
“Coma?” Mareijke asked again, looking at Uri as she grappled for some kind of recollection as to what had happened.
“Yes,” the doctor said quietly. “You were flown to South …”
“I brought you” Uri cut in, “to one of the best hospitals in Pretoria. You were in a coma for two weeks. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry.”
The doctor looked at Uri and then at Mareijke. Directing his words to her, he said, “You went into a coma after sustaining a head injury. Amnesia is not unusual. Since there’s no damage of any kind, I am certain that it’s only a temporary situation.”
“Temporary,” Uri said, suddenly seeming more interested than he had been before. He sat forward and asked, “How long will it take for her memory to return?”
“I don’t know. The course of amnesia is variable,” the doctor said. “Any emotional trauma could prolong the condition. Since there is no brain damage, she could regain her memory within weeks or a few months.”
“So, what you’re saying is that it all depends on the extent of the brain trauma,” Uri said, “which could be emotional.”
“Yes,” said the doctor.
After their return from the doctor, Uri left for a business appointment and she promised him that she would rest. Mareijke didn’t feel like sleeping. She sat on the patio for a while looking at the beautiful little garden. She wondered how long they had been living there. She went into the house and decided to look for something that could possibly jolt her memory.
Most of the drawers and cupboards were empty. She went to their bedroom and also found nothing of consequence. Mareijke felt very uncomfortable in the house. It was cold and austere, much like her relationship with Uri. There were no photos of them, not even a wedding picture.
Her days passed quietly. She slept during the afternoons and then waited for Uri to return. He made dinner and they spent the evenings reading. Mareijke retired early each night. It was a dismal routine.
She had asked Uri to bring her some magazines to keep her busy. He brought novels for her to read instead and she spent a great deal of time reading and resting.
A week later, she was back in the doctor’s waiting room, paging through one of the magazines to help pass the time. She wasn’t sure why, but one of the pictures in an advertisement had a strange effect on her. She frowned. Tapping the picture with her finger, Mareijke closed her eyes and tried to remember the place.
The magazine was violently snatched out of her hands giving her the fright of her life. Uri was extremely agitated. He pretended to be interested in the magazine and then, with magazine in hand, walked up to the young woman at the reception counter to ask how much longer they would have to wait.
Mareijke instinctively felt uncomfortable with his reaction. It stayed with her for the rest of the morning. She cornered him at home and couldn’t understand why he refused to talk about the picture. The walls of their house seemed to close in on her. When he left for work, Mareijke decided to see if any of her neighbours were at home.
The picture was a link to something and even though she didn’t know what it was, she was determined to find out.
A domestic worker was in one of the gardens. She didn’t recognize Mareijke at all. According to Uri, they had been living in the neighbourhood for several months, but the young woman said they had only moved in two weeks ago.
She returned to their home. When Uri came home, Mareijke decided to retire to her room earlier than usual.
“What’s wrong, Mareijke?” he asked.
“I have a headache, nothing serious though.”
“You’re still upset with me about the magazine,” he said.
“No,” she tried to sound convincing.
“You are upset with me, Mareijke,” he said slowly.
“Okay, I am,” she said quickly. “You don’t want me to remember anything.”
“You said we moved here several months ago. Where are my things? Didn’t I have clothes, shoes, jewellery … albums? Why aren’t you showing me photos of our past?”
“When you’re recovered, I’ll tell you about your past and show you photos.”
“Recovered? I am recovered!” Mareijke was frustrated. “I’ve been resting in this horrible house for almost two weeks now. I can’t just sit around anymore, Uri.”
“Then we’ll talk over the weekend. That’s to say if you can be patient until then.”
She went to bed early, tossing and turning for hours. Eventually she fell asleep. The next morning at breakfast, Mareijke found it very difficult to act naturally. She didn’t trust Uri anymore, but she would wait until the weekend for him to tell her about her past. If he didn’t, it would prove her fears to be true … that he didn’t want her to regain her memory.
Mareijke waited very patiently for him to leave before she went out to scout the neighbourhood. It seemed to be school holidays as many children were out in the streets. She walked down the road and found a group of teens sitting on the lawn in front of a house not far from where she lived.
The huge electric gate and savage dog that stood barking at her made her look up and down the road for another option, but the group of people at that particular house seemed to be the only choice available to her. She decided to take a chance and see if the jovial group would help her.
Two girls approached the gate while the dog continued its barking fit.
“Hi! I’m Mareijke Ayrrault from up the road,” she introduced herself above the canine racket.
The girls smiled, but seemed cautious.
“I was wondering if you could help me,” she ventured again at the top of her voice.
If only the dog would shut up, Mareijke thought, losing her courage to continue.
“My mom’s not home and we’re not supposed to talk to …” one of the girls shouted back. “Oh, SHUT UP, BRUTUS!”
The dog listened to the girl and immediately stopped barking. Mareijke was amazed at its obedience. The girl smiled apologetically at Mareijke.
“Sorry,” she said. “We’re not supposed to talk to strangers.”
“When will your mom be home?” Mareijke asked.
“She only stops work at five,” the girl answered.
Five o’clock would be too late. By then Uri would be on his way home.
“I’m suffering from amnesia and I just wanted to know a few things about a certain place,” Mareijke said.
“Wow!” the other girl responded. “That’s bad. Where’s this place?”
“I have no idea. I was at the doctor this morning and saw a picture in a magazine,” Mareijke responded excitedly.
“We have Internet,” the first girl said, looking at her friend.
“Will you help me?” Mareijke asked.
She was losing them. She needed to think quickly. She didn’t know what to say to convince them that she was harmless.
“She’s nice,” the other girl suddenly said. “Let’s help her.”
The first girl laughed and beckoned for someone to have the gate opened. Relieved, Mareijke followed the girls past the group of teens into the house. The dog was quite conspicuous in its absence, having long forgotten about her existence.
They started searching for the place on the Internet.
“It was a picture of a desert,” Mareijke said.
The girl took Mareijke on a tour through several pages of desert images. The word ‘Sahara’ seemed to stick inside Mareijke’s head, but she continued to look at all the images. Then suddenly, one specific picture made a very strong impression.
“Stop,” Mareijke said to the girl, pointing to the picture.
“This one?” the girl asked. She clicked on it to have the image enlarged. The picture was an array of autumn hues, with the silhouette of a camel-train against a sand dune. Mareijke was overwhelmed by it. While she could remember absolutely nothing about her past, she was sure it would eventually arouse a distant memory. The intensity of her emotions drew her into the picture, which confirmed her suspicions about Uri Ayrrault and the house, both having left her devoid of any familiar feelings.
“I think I’ve been in a place like this before,” Mareijke said softly.
“Do you want me to print the picture for you?” the girl asked.
“No,” Mareijke said, confidently. “I only need a name. Let’s look at pictures of the Sahara Desert?”
The words on the screen bounced around in the vacant space in her head: Sahara Desert; sandstorm, Sahara; Visit the Sahara; Dunes of Sahara …. Her head was starting to ache.
“This one,” Mareijke said, pointing to a seated camel.
Opening the page, Mareijke was lost as she stared at the camel.
“It’s about the Libyan and West Sahara deserts,” the girl said.
“The limits of the Sahara Desert are the Atlantic Ocean on the West, the Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea in the North,” Mareijke read the words slowly. “Atlas Mountains …”
The girl typed Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountains and the second picture made Mareijke stand back with tears welling in her eyes. Morocco.
“That’s it,” she said.
“You remember,” the girl asked excitedly.
“No!” Mareijke was overwhelmed by her experience. “But that name ... I’ve been there. Morocco.”
Her head was pounding and she felt nauseas.
“Are you okay?” the girl asked. “You’re terribly pale. Sit down.”
“Should I get you some water?” the other girl asked.
“Go and get her some water,” her friend demanded.
Mareijke sat on the chair offered to her by the young girl and waited for the glass of water. She drank slowly. As soon as she found some strength, she stood up and looked at the two concerned faces in front of her.
“Thank you,” she said kindly to the girls. “You don’t have to worry. I’m feeling better. You’ve really helped me a lot.”
“Really?” the one asked.
“Yes,” Mareijke smiled.
She greeted them, promising that she would return if she needed more information. She walked home slowly and went to her room to take a nap, but couldn’t sleep. She found herself pacing the patio when Uri’s car suddenly pulled up the driveway. He was home much earlier than usual. While suspicion had taken the place of her placid trust in the man, she realized that she would have to carry on as if nothing had happened that day.
“What on earth is wrong?” Uri asked, after entering the house. “You’re deathly pale. Should I phone the doctor?”
“No. I just have a terrible headache.”
“Again?’ he asked incredulously. “Have you taken your medication?”
“Mareijke! You need to be more responsible.”
He went to find her tablets and brought them to her with a glass of water.
“You need to rest,” he insisted. For the first time he took her in his arms. She rested her head against his chest. It was obvious that he cared and even though she didn’t trust him, there was a sense of familiarity. Strangely, it made her feel safe. Yet, he was lying to her. He was being deliberately evasive.
The medication worked fast and before long, she was sound asleep in her room. When she awoke, he prepared a warm bath for her and then prepared dinner while she soaked in the soothing water. He appeared to be a good person, she thought, reflecting upon his kindness towards her. Yet, she felt no definite connection. He was someone of significance in her life, but not her husband.
She ate dinner, sat on the patio with him for a while and then retired for the evening, falling asleep almost immediately. The first few hours of untroubled sleep passed, but Mareijke woke up in the early hours of the morning screaming and kicking, with Uri beside her, trying to comfort her. When she finally realized that she was awake, she started to cry.
“Nightmare?” Uri asked quietly.
“Yes,” she said through sobs.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked in a kind way.
“No. I can’t remember anything.”
He held her against him and she stayed there, safe in the warmth of his arms and safe from visual contact. He would know that she was lying. After a while, when he was certain that she was calm and ready to sleep again, he switched off the bed lamp and left the room.
Mareijke had dreamt about Uri. He had been following her. There was another man dressed in white, but she couldn’t see his face. He was ill. There was a lot of animosity between the two men. They were in the desert and there was a helicopter approaching. Uri was taking her away from the other man and she didn’t want to leave. He forced her into the helicopter. Screaming and kicking, she tried to get away from him, but it was just a terrible, terrible nightmare.
It had all felt so real. She tried to remember the man in her dream. He was someone she could trust, while Uri had become more the stranger to her. She couldn’t make sense of it. She realized that she only needed time for her memory to return. If her emotions were keeping her from remembering, she would need to work through them as patiently as possible.
Mareijke knew she couldn’t force herself to remember. It would only prolong the situation. She didn’t care if it took days or weeks or months. Eventually she would remember. The picture she had seen in the magazine was her unfaltering hope.
She fell asleep again and slept peacefully until the next morning.
Uri brought the breakfast tray to her room. He was kind and considerate, yet his dubious agenda made Mareijke uneasy.
“I think you should stay in bed today,” Uri said quietly. “You need to rest.”
He drew the curtains, allowing the lazy sun to stretch its warm rays across the room. Mareijke ate in silence, watching Uri as he stared out of the window.
“What are your plans for today?” she asked carefully.
“Work, as usual,” he said in an aloof manner.
“Do you work here in Pretoria?” she probed.
“Yes,” he turned to look at her. His eyes bore through hers, forcing her to stop eating.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly.
“Why?” his tone had changed as he stared at her.
“For asking,” she answered.
“You’ve been very quiet since the accident,” Uri said, watching her carefully. “Today you ask many questions, Mareijke?”
Mareijke felt vulnerable under his sharp scrutiny. He walked to the side of the bed and looked at her carefully.
“Rest well, Mareijke van Staalduinen. Rest well!”
He walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. A few minutes later she heard his car pull out of the driveway. A light frown settled on her forehead. He called her Mareijke van Staalduinen, not Ayrrault. Did he know?