Friday, 7 April 2017

Mareijke's Courage Chapter 2

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
But to be fearless in facing them …

Rabindranath Tagore

The encounter was quick. A masked man took Mareijke forcibly from her camel and shoved her into one of the vehicles. Tirelessly struggling for freedom, screaming and kicking, Mareijke soon realized that she could not prevent her abduction. Her relentlessness waned in a wave of exhaustion.
The land cruiser pelted across the desert with the rest of its herd, leaving clouds of dust hanging in its wake. Mareijke was overwhelmed with anxiety as her heart pounded in her tightening chest. She felt claustrophobic and couldn’t breathe. Desperately wanting to break free from the confines of the vehicle, Mareijke realized there was no means of escaping.
“Please!” she started to scream hysterically, trying to open the locked door next to her. “Let me out!”
Dizziness and nausea overwhelmed her. Her abductor emptied the contents of a huge brown paper bag onto the vehicle’s floor. He scrunched up its neck and held it over her mouth.
“Breathe slowly,” he said. “Five counts, Mareijke. Five counts in and five counts out.”
With wide-eyed amazement, she looked up at the masked face into visibly blue eyes. He knew her name. A frown marred her beautiful face as she tried to make sense of what was happening. Who was this stranger and how did he know her name?
She counted slowly, concentrating on her breathing. After a while, her breathing became slower and Mareijke felt her anxiety ease. When she was calm again, she slowly pushed the bag away from her mouth. She moved closer to the door. Looking out of the window at the hazy horizon, Mareijke felt extreme exhaustion. The man offered her some water, which she accepted gratefully.
He knew her name. The thought kept recurring like a bad dream.  She looked at the man and asked quietly, “Who are you?”
The man kept his intentions obscured. He was watching the vast desert plains from the window of the vehicle, deliberately ignoring her question.
“How do you know my name?” she asked.
Sworn to silence, the man kept his attention on the desert and she realized that he was not going to answer any of her questions. She would have to wait until their journey across the sand ended. Hoping with all her heart that it would end soon, Mareijke watched the dunes flash by as the land cruiser hastened towards dusk.
Mareijke was exhausted. Her fraught nerves kept her awake as she fought with a mind of steel not to lose consciousness in the presence of her enemies. She could not fall asleep. She needed to stay focused every minute of the journey, remaining hopeful for a positive outcome.
Béch had warned her of these sudden dune attacks and even knowing about their existence, he had been unable to prevent it or chase after her abductors. He would eventually return to the oasis and then Agadir. There would be no sense for him to continue the journey without her. She blanched inwardly at her desperate plight and wondered if she would ever see him again.
The seat on which she sat was warm and her body discomforted. She had been in the vice grip of stress for too long. Mareijke had no strength left to fight the war she had waged against sleep and finally it came to a standstill as she slowly and reluctantly surrendered.
By the time she opened her eyes, the headlights of the land cruiser were two beams cutting through the dark that enveloped them. The man next to her had taken off his mask. He was not native to the Saharan region; his light hair and fair skin were testimony to that. His expression evaded her in the shadows of the vehicle, but she knew he was awake. Hearing movement on the seat next to him, he turned to look at her.
“Who are you?” she asked defiantly.
“The rest has done you well,” he answered. There was familiar agreeable warmth in his voice.
“What do you want?” she continued her feeble interrogation.
Again, a frown fell across her soft brow as he continued to ignore her questions. Consumed with anguish, her mind searched in endless circles for her captors’ motive.
While travelling to the oasis, Mareijke had been enlightened about the fallacious activities that prevailed in the country and she wondered if her abductors were part of a criminal network.
According to Béch, Morocco was one of the world's largest hashish exporters. There was a nexus between crime and terrorism in the country, which had complex criminal networks that laundered money, committed fraud and shipped arms, drugs and people across borders. Most of the networks were established in the northern parts of the country where roads were bought to get cargo across the Mediterranean to Europe. The flesh-trading industry generated billions of dollars in yearly profits as men, women and children were trafficked for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
Béch had spent many years trying to protect children, especially young girls – some being merely ten and eleven – from being trafficked within the borders of their own countries. A main source of concern was from poverty-inflicted areas where parents sold their daughters into prostitution networks or marriage arrangements.
The money or bartering settlements for marriages were usually made with older men who had absolutely no respect for women. The fact that they were robbing a child of her innocence made it a heinous crime.
The overall violation against women in the networks was appalling. The women were raped and tortured and kept in confinement for many hours before reaching a destination only to be sold and exploited over and over again.
Even though they were travelling in the southern parts of the country, Béch had warned her that their journey would remain dangerous. He had clearly emphasized his disinclination of subjecting her to such perils. Unfortunately, the testament had bound them together and they had little choice regarding the matter.
Mareijke feared the worst. She was no doubtedly in the process of being sold to a syndicate. To these men she was nothing more than a business deal and their greatest concern would be the smuggling fee. She wondered what her life was worth. What price would the syndicate pay for an educated white South African woman in her early twenties?
The vehicles started to slow down, wrenching Mareijke back to reality. They stopped in the dead of night and her abductor told her to wait in the vehicle while he joined the men who had convoyed them. The moonlit figures stood with remarkable patience in absolute silence and Mareijke wondered if they were lost … or waiting. It wouldn’t really matter if they were lost. She was sure she would die of hunger pangs, which seemingly was her only hope at that point of gaining freedom.
Her back-seat companion returned to the vehicle.
“If you need to go,” he said, an elusive smile dancing on his lips, “then I suggest you go now.”
She looked at him with disbelief in her eyes. Go! What was he suggesting? Did he honestly think that she would try to escape in the middle of nowhere? Where would she go? How would she survive?
“Do you need to go?” he asked with a subtle hint of sarcastic taunt.
 The revelation of what he was asking made her face flush red.
“From here it’s a long stretch and I don’t think you will be able to hold unless you have a bladder that concentrates its contents,” he mused, smiling at her disdain. “You know, much like a camel’s does.”
Mareijke scrunched her face in absolute disgust and decided to deal with the embarrassing ordeal as quickly as possible. She climbed out of the vehicle and looked at the circle of men, not one interested in her plight. Engrossed in their own little world, the men were oblivious to her existence except one: the man who stood next to her with a roll of toilet paper in his hand.
“Where can I go?” she asked the man.
“Well …” he said audaciously, looking around, pretending to mull over the non-existent options.
“Oh, never mind!” she mumbled in exasperation and stomped across the sand in the direction of a dune-like hill.
“Hey!” she heard him call. “You might want to take this with you.”
She turned and became the target of a missile attack. She ducked and the roll of toilet paper landed in the sand. She picked it up, dusted it and wandered off behind the dune, some scanty scrub providing her with a sense of privacy.
He hadn’t said anything about the disposal of the tissue and she didn’t have a paper bag in which to put it. The idea of transporting the tissue waste with her was unbearable, so she decided to bury it in a small hole as purposefully and carefully as possible. The tissue would decompose, she thought, in a feeble attempt to console herself.
Dignity intact, she wandered back to the vehicle. Her abductor had placed a bottle of water and paper cup on the roof of the vehicle before returning to the group of men. She rinsed her hands with some of the bottled water and then rewarded her parched throat.
It was cold outside on the desert plain. Mareijke returned to the warmth of the back seat where she sat in another suspended frame of inertia. Her patience was spent by the time the men started to move. They were reacting to something. She searched the dark sky and found a distant droning light approaching them. The artificial bird came closer disturbing the desert’s rest with its oscillating cry. As the helicopter landed, a stubborn Mareijke was eventually pulled out of the vehicle.
The abusive blades created clouds of desert sand and whipped her golden hair into disarray. Caught in the whirlwind of sand, she was escorted from the vehicle to the helicopter. Her back-seat companion joined her and they were airborne before she could blink or open her mouth to cough out the sand that had filtered in through her nose.
Instinctively, she looked at the pilot. Béch’s chariness had become akin with hers. Perhaps the pilot was the same man who had collected them at Agadir. His head gear and night goggles made it difficult for her to identify him and after an unavailing attempt to find any resemblance, Mareijke reclined her head against the window.
Daunting thoughts pummelled all reasoning from her mind and the flight became yet another slow process. Eventually dawn broke over the distant horizon and the desert sky became a palette of mixed colours. The experience for Mareijke was pure. It was absolute and perfect.
Involuntarily and most inexplicably, her mind raced back to Béch. Mounted on his camel, he had surveyed the land cruisers at the top of the dune. Each visible muscle in his body had flexed as he brought the camel-train to a stop and dismounted from his descended camel, its bony legs folded comfortably beneath it.
With sweat shining on his tanned skin, he had turned to look at her. They were heavily outnumbered. The engines were already ignited and their assailants had closed in on them. Mareijke’s camel had descended unexpectedly, pitching her forward. She had leaned back, exerting herself beyond measure to maintain her balance.
Béch’s movements to save her from falling from the camel had been quick, but before he could reach her side, she had regained her composure and their assailants were upon them. The men had detained Béch while she was taken from her camel. His silence, etched in her mind, made her realize that nothing said or done under those strenuous circumstances could have possibly saved her.
Mareijke was resigned to her fate as the helicopter continued to fly towards the burning fireball that was progressively crawling to a lazy height above the horizon. There was no point in clinging to Béch emotionally. He had no way of rescuing her.
The sudden turn of events was more than unsettling and Mareijke wondered if they were after the artifacts. She was under the impression that the artifacts were worthless, of mere sentimental value to her father. Personally, she was devoid of interest in both the artifacts and the journey.
She had spent many protesting hours in the office of her father’s lawyer looking for a loophole in the testament, but it had been impossible for Mareijke to evade her obligation. To inherit Dawid van Staalduinen’s wealth, she needed to find the artifacts. The inheritance itself would be a difficulty with which to contend because she was young and lacked an enterprising spirit, but the very idea of running her father’s company successfully was a formidable prospect she refused to acknowledge until she had found the artifacts.
Suddenly the artifacts became less significant. With fear-ridden thoughts, Mareijke contemplated human trafficking again. The dune attack had been pre-planned. They knew Béch’s camel-train would pass that way and they knew she would be travelling with him. Her abductor knew her name. If she were being trafficked, where were they taking her?
She remembered her fury at blatant newspaper reports about legalization of prostitution in South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Warnings about human trafficking had swept across South Africa like a blazing fire out of control. While arguments were being thrown about, Mareijke was convinced that legalizing prostitution in any part of the world would not protect women in the industry. It would neither decrease the trafficking of women and children nor prevent HIV and aids.   
Mareijke looked down at the place where they were about to land. The small village seemed to rise from the sand, an unfortunate phoenix robbed of all its magnificence. She had no idea where they were, but disembarked gratefully. She tried to coggle across the sand away from the helicopter and commotion of dust its whipping blades were creating.
An invading army of dark inflated beetles was making its way alongside the road. Before Mareijke could give heed to its presence, a devastating crunching sound beneath her feet made her entire body shudder involuntarily.
“Yuck!” she cried and ran to the middle of the road, wincing all the while.
By then, the helicopter had taken to the air and the road was open again for traffic. A small junk-heap on wheels that rickety-racketed along quite loosely was moving through the cloud of swirling dust and almost knocked Mareijke over. Not that much would have been left of the decrepit vehicle, she thought, had it bumped into her. She was sure it would have fragmented into a pile of disintegrating pieces only to be blown away by the first gust of wind.
She moved out of the way quickly and succumbed to sudden nausea from the smell of carbon monoxide mixed with the dust in the air.  The rattletrap stopped.
“Get in,” her abductor said.
“You have got to be kidding!” she exclaimed, affronted at the idea. “I can walk faster than this contraption!”
“I’m sure you can,” he said, derision dripping off his tongue. “Get in!”
She climbed into the car, which had a noxious air to it … much like the company she kept. Fortunately, the journey was short. They travelled along a bumpy road and Mareijke looked out at the flat land where no grass seemingly had ever grown. There were no trees, not even a shrub of any kind.
They arrived at a low house built in adobe and a young woman escorted Mareijke to a cool, dark room to freshen up and rid herself of her glaucous appearance. After changing into clean clothes given to her by the kind woman, Mareijke’s nose guided her to a table where food beckoned for her immediate attention. She welcomed a warm cup of tea while her eyes admired the spread of food that adorned the table.
Mareijke realized, perhaps for the first time since the death of her father, that her health had suffered a tremendous blow. She wasn’t used to travelling and sleep didn’t come naturally during the heat-induced nights. It had affected her appetite and while she realized the importance of eating, she knew that her stomach would only take a small amount. After the long and torturous journey, Mareijke was ravenous, but she chose a humble selection of food and ate slowly.
When she had finished eating, she went out into a dismal looking courtyard drenched in bright sunlight and gazed through her sunglasses at the equally bright mineral sky. The hemispherical roof was painted blue with little company of cloud. An eagle circled the air and then, with wings defiant of gravity, hovered over the little town. For a split-second, Mareijke was riding the wind with the massive bird. She needed inner strength to carry on. She needed the tireless wings of the soaring eagle to face her enemy.
Her abductor joined her in the courtyard. Mareijke was determined to find out why he had taken her from the camel-train. She turned and watched the man pensively as his eyes caught sight of the eagle. His presence seemed to be conciliatory.
“Who are you and what do you want with me?” Mareijke asked impatiently.
There was sudden movement and chaos about her. A man grabbed her less graciously than her previous encounter and smothered her breath with an overwhelming chemical-lined cloth. Her thoughts started to reel as two men held back her abductor.
Mareijke struggled in vain against the overpowering force that was taking control of her entire being until she finally collapsed into the great oblivion of a deep sleep.

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