Saturday, 8 April 2017
Mareijke's Courage Chapter 12
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.