Friday, 7 April 2017

Mareijke's Courage Chapter 3

I do not ask to walk smooth paths
Nor bear an easy load.
I pray for strength and fortitude …

Gail Brook Burket

Mareijke’s arms were spread across the open sky in suspended animation. She was flying with the eagle, yet fighting to stay grounded. She wasn’t alone. Sensing another presence in the room, Mareijke frantically tried to open her eyes, but her body was paralyzed to sleep. She was a guest in her own unresponsive body.
She willed herself to move, if only her fingers. Nothing happened. From somewhere there seemed to be an enormous vacuum sucking the air out of the room as breathing became more and more difficult for her. The force pressing against her lungs made her panic. Was she dying?
Lost in a dream, she was running down a winding path within a maze of giant green hedges with the most intricate walls she had ever seen. Mareijke was listening to the gentle poetic rhythm of her English teacher’s voice. It seemed to fall like a feather from the puffy clouds above her:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light …
She couldn’t see her teacher, but she could hear her voice until it was drowned out by the shrill noise of the cicadas. 
The buzzing noise became louder and louder. Feeling light years away from the dirty little town without a name, Mareijke was silently screaming for things to be normal. She would certainly rage against death. She was far too young to die.
“Mareijke,” a voice called softly.
The voice sounded familiar. It was pulling her out from deep space. Her mind was a spiral of disoriented thoughts as she anxiously tried to speak. Her muscles were weak. Again she tried to open her eyes only to have the heavy lids fall shut.
The room was dark and cool. She faded in and out of consciousness for what seemed to be an eternity. She was swimming in the swirling water of a dark and murky whirlpool. From the centre of the vortex, she could hear the voice calling her:
It was a slow, arduous process trying to wake up and still she had no idea where she was.
She recognized the voice. Opening her eyes slowly, she blinked a few times to clear her blurred vision. He wasn’t a dream. He was real. One of his caravaneer friends was standing behind him. 
“Mareijke,” Béch spoke again.
“Béch,” she whispered softly … and drifted off.
There was no use in trying to wake her. Mareijke needed to sleep off her fatigue. Béch and his companion left the room quietly. He was filled with smoldering resentment for the people who had taken her from his camel-train and was determined to find out who had been responsible for the dune ambush.
Béch had been informed by the executor of Dawid’s testament of Mareijke’s condition. With strained stress levels, her sleeping patterns had been fragmented since the death of her father. Her sheer stubbornness had brought her in a state of exhaustion to Morocco and him.
He had booked her into a hotel so that she could rest for a few days, but Mareijke was insistent about leaving for the mountains immediately. Her impatience had made it impossible for her to recuperate. Their slow trip across the desert and the prolonged exposure to the heat had tapped her remaining energy severely.
Béch had promised Mareijke’s father that he would help her. He had come a long way with Dawid van Staalduinen and helping Mareijke find the artifacts was part of Dawid’s final instructions for him, on his deathbed and through the testament.
While Béch was committed to keeping his promise to Dawid, Mareijke’s life was now in danger and he needed to rethink his strategy.
Béch had been about seven years old when he first heard Mareijke’s name. Dawid had left Morocco to live in Cape Town, but returned a year later bringing the exciting news of his daughter’s birth. At the time and throughout Béch’s life she had always remained a name. Yet, he had constantly been aware of the fact that the person who bore the name was the daughter of a man he loved, a man who had been like a father to him. It was the only connection of her that he allowed himself to make.
Dawid’s lawyer had contacted him after the car accident. Taking the first flight from Agadir to Cape Town, Béch had stood next to the bed of a dying man, barely able to speak. Mareijke was in Australia at the time and her flight to South Africa delayed, taking her longer to arrive.
Béch remembered Dawid’s pain. He had taken Béch’s hand with forced exertion, begging him to help Mareijke find the artifacts. Shortly thereafter, Dawid had died. Consumed with despair, Béch had returned to Agadir with the sole purpose of travelling to the mountains to retrieve the artifacts. Before he could leave, a copy of the testament was sent to him and he was devastated when he discovered what Dawid had wanted of him. 
Waiting patiently at the airport for Mareijke’s flight to arrive, Béch had no idea what to expect. He wondered how he would recognize her. Dawid was a dark-haired man with the bluest eyes Béch had ever seen, but Mareijke may have been blessed with her mother’s looks. Margaret van Staalduinen was a beautiful woman with chestnut hair and steel-blue eyes. 
He had been standing casually against one of the railings when a young woman approached him. She had stopped a few meters away from Béch. Standing perfectly still, she had stared at him. Instinctively he had known it was Mareijke even before the concern that was etched on her face transformed to a visage of relief.
The young woman had a powerful inner strength that emboldened her weak façade and he remembered being impressed by her gentle courage. It had given him the confidence that he needed for the harsh journey that lay ahead. He knew then that she would not hinder them along the way and from that moment the pace was set.
Now, Béch’s thoughts lay stretched across the night. A few hours of restless sleep passed quickly and he found himself in Mareijke’s room before dawn sitting quietly next to her bed, watching her. He watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest as she lay sleeping. He was fascinated with her placid beauty. With soft golden hair, green eyes and a fine bone structure, she neither resembled Dawid nor Margaret van Staalduinen. Yet, the very essence of Dawid defined her.
It was the slow diffusion of something inexplicable and unfamiliar within him that made Béch stand up. He walked to the bedroom door slowly and crossed the lounge to the balcony. Standing outside in the fresh morning air, he watched the ocean as it slept lazily beneath a scarlet sunrise, his thoughts heavily preoccupied with Mareijke.
He had never really loved a woman. He had worked as a humanitarian in Morocco for many years, helping those who suffered from poverty, malnutrition, exploitation and ignorance. He didn’t have time for relationships and the few that had come his way over the years weren’t meaningful enough to make a difference in his life.
Mareijke was the first woman to rivet his attention. From the moment they had met, he had been attentive to her reactions and behaviour, curious about her thoughts. It was perhaps a mere association. The loss of Dawid had been profound and all that was left of him was Mareijke.
Béch knew that he couldn’t allow his mind to plunge into an analysis of his emotions. He couldn’t lose the equilibrium he had always been able to control. It was far more important to suppress his emotions at all costs so that he could focus on their assignment and the best way to push Mareijke to the back of his mind was to keep busy.
He left the apartment quietly for his usual morning run. By the time Mareijke emerged from the bedroom, he had already returned with tickets for their flight to Cape Town. He kept the tickets in his bedroom with the intention of telling her about his plans later that day.
She sank into the soft cushions of a comfortable sofa and Béch gave her a warm mug of tea.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“I’m not sure I understand,” Béch returned.
“How did you know where to find me?”
Béch frowned. “I didn’t find you, Mareijke. When I got back, you were already here.”
Mareijke looked at him in mute astonishment.
“What happened, Mareijke?” he asked, settling down next to her. He listened patiently as she told the story.
“Perhaps they want the artifacts,” she ventured.
“I don’t think so,” he returned.
“Exploitation,” she suggested.
“No,” Béch answered. “Most traffickers operate clandestine.”
“Then what?” Mareijke asked in confusion.
She looked at him questioningly, but Béch was at a loss for an answer and even if he could find some sense in everything that had happened the previous day, he didn't want to explain anything to her at that moment. He looked at his watch.
“I have to go,” he said suddenly.
“Why?” Mareijke asked, as he got up to leave.
Feeling awkward for having asked, Mareijke stood up almost too quickly. Her head started to reel and she swayed dangerously. Mareijke caught Béch by the arm to steady herself and felt his taut arm muscle flinch at her touch. She was suddenly aware of his masculinity and stepped back, putting distance between them. For a brief, fleeting moment they were caught in a wave of consciousness as their eyes locked.
“Please find something to eat,” he said quickly, adding more space between them. “The kitchen has plenty of supplies.”  
He turned and walked out of the room, leaving Mareijke dazed. She tried to make sense of what had just happened. Confused by her own emotions, she went to the kitchen and made a sandwich. She sat on the balcony of Béch’s apartment and ate slowly.
She looked at the flat beach that stretched out in front of her, disappearing into the sparkling Atlantic. The people on the beach were immersed in their own activities. The beauty of the white sand and blue ocean made it difficult for Mareijke to imagine that the city had once been destroyed by an earthquake.
Her mind kept wandering back to those fleeting moments before Béch had left the apartment. Her actions had been so innocent, a response to a situation. His reaction to her touch was completely unexpected. The sensation that had passed through her the moment he flinched was uncomfortably real.
She suddenly regretted everything that had happened. She was afraid of the effect it would have on their relationship and inadvertently, the rest of their trip.  
Later that evening, one of the caravaneers brought Mareijke a prepared dinner. He made an excuse for Béch’s absence and stayed at the apartment until Mareijke retired for the night. When she awoke the next day, Béch was still not at the apartment. She ate a light breakfast and decided to take a walk.
The apartment was in close proximity to the beach and shops, and the cool Atlantic breeze lifted her mood as she walked down the wide street. It was her first visit into the vibrant Moroccan city. She ambled along the bustling boulevard where sky blue taxis and other vehicles were competing in honking and screech-braking competitions as far as they travelled.
The stench of drain water filled the air and Mareijke found herself constantly harassed by dirty hands begging for “inglish munny” or locals trying to sell something to her. Deciding to extricate herself from the ensnaring trap set in Agadir for foreigners, she impulsively hailed a petit taxi. The driver spoke of a souk and she nodded. Mareijke had no idea what a souk was, but didn’t want the driver to take advantage of her ignorance as a tourist.
The souk was nothing other than an enormous market. It was a hub where tourists were being bantered into various kinds of negotiations by Moroccan hawkers and food cart operators, while little children darted between the people and stalls. She was fascinated with the various products that dominated it and slowly mingled with the brilliant smells of leather, incense, oils and spices.
She was constantly hassled by a merchandiser to purchase something and soon found the experience of being at the souk as daunting as walking the streets of Agadir. She saw a merchandiser approach an elderly woman. The woman lifted her hand and said ‘No!’ quite firmly and the merchandiser seemingly backed off. Mareijke decided to do the same and soon was able to enjoy looking around with much more confidence.
After several minutes of practicing firm and very conclusive assertiveness between the stalls, Mareijke approached a stall where mint tea was available. Mareijke accepted the woman’s offer immediately and stood fascinated as the tea was poured from a fulgurous height. It was done without any mess. Mareijke knew it was poured that way to aerate the tea. She had seen it being done in the nomad camelhair-dining tent at the oasis and Béch had explained it to her. Mareijke drank the sweet refreshing tea, thanked the woman, paid and moved on to another stall.
“No!” she said firmly for the umpteenth time and truly enjoyed the response she got as the merchandiser turned and left her alone.
Admiring a leather handbag, Mareijke suddenly experienced a strange, yet intense feeling that she was being watched. She stopped and scanned the area subtly. Startled suddenly at seeing her abductor, Mareijke was uncertain whether to return to Béch’s apartment or confront the man who had made absolutely no attempt to conceal the fact that he was watching her.
She wasn’t given much time to decide as he casually started walking towards her. She darted behind a carpet. Beneath the prodigious sun, Mareijke started to weave her way through the stalls and people. She found herself running past fresh produce and chickens and goats and goofy smiles. Her feet kept moving in reckless directions. Refusing to look back, lest she stumble and fall over some obstacle or person in the overstocked market, Mareijke kept on running only to stagger eventually into a squalid alley filled with the stench of urine.
She stopped for a moment, bending forward with hands on knees. She was an extraordinary picture of pathetic inability, dry-heaving like a dog. Her legs were heavy and her lungs exhausted; she knew she wouldn’t be able to run much longer. More importantly, she realized that she was lost and would soon be unable to extricate herself from the labyrinth of stalls and walls.
“We need to talk,” a casual voice said from behind her.
Still heaving, she turned to see him standing behind her as casually as he had spoken. Not a hair was out of place and his breath was intact. She straightened her back and stood in front of her abductor, desperately trying to control her breathing.
“I know a nice little café just around the corner,” he said, a wretched smile splashed across his face, “and if you want, we can run there.”
He turned and walked in the direction she had come. She stood for a while, infuriated with his arrogance. She knew now that she had been running in circles and realized there was no escaping his omniscient presence. She followed at a distance and was intrigued with his confidence that she would in fact comply.
Mareijke didn’t know why, but sensed that she could trust the man with the stern composure. He entered a sidewalk café and, pausing outside to glance quickly at her reflection in the window, Mareijke followed. She was a mess, but there was absolutely nothing she could do to change that.
The delicious smell of the grill was very appealing to her hungry stomach. She crossed the room slowly. It was filled with Agadir's smart set and there seemed to be no tables available. Nevertheless, she found her abductor comfortably seated in a far corner, waiting for her. It seemed as if there was method in the madness: while she was running in circles, he perhaps had booked their table.
She didn’t want to waste any time deliberating the matter. Confident enough to approach him, Mareijke remained wary as his foiled attempt to kidnap her still lingered in the dark recesses of her mind.

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