Friday, 7 April 2017

Mareijke's Courage Chapter 4

… those who travel, as they go,
look always over their shoulders
with eyes of dread …

Harold Bell Wright

He had already ordered two bottles of water. Mareijke sat down at the table and waited for the man to speak. He was watching the people in the room, sunglasses removed from tired eyes.
“My name is Uri Ayrrault,” the man said, turning to look at her, “and I am not your enemy. I took you from the camel-train to protect you.”
“Protect me? Why are you protecting me?”
“Your guide, Béch …” 
“There is no need for you to protect me from Béch,” Mareijke interrupted confidently.
“I am not protecting you from him,” Uri continued patiently. “Béch and I are well acquainted.”
“If that is true, what was the purpose for kidnapping me?” she asked.
“Let me reiterate,” Uri said frankly. “I am not your enemy. In fact, I am more like your only guardian. Béch means well to comply with your father’s wishes, but I don’t trust him. I don’t know if Béch will be able to protect you from the enemy.”
“Enemy? What enemy? And how do you know my father?”
“He was a business acquaintance.”
Her father had assigned Béch Rousseau to help her. Throughout her life he had always spoken of Béch. How could she not trust Béch? Her father had never mentioned Uri Ayrrault. Yet, here the man was, a total stranger, telling her that the man her father had trusted was not worthy of trust after all.
“I still don’t understand! If you and Béch are acquainted, why didn’t you just discuss the matter with him?”
“Oh, yes. I have a vivid picture of that conversation in my head. I tell Béch Rousseau that he is incapable of protecting you and he agrees with me.”
“Okay,” Mareijke said, nettled by the man’s sarcasm. “A subtler approach may have worked.”
“It wouldn’t matter how I approach Béch. We’ve had our differences in the past, so we don’t talk anymore,” he said, with resignation in his voice. “Even if we did, he travels with and trusts men that I never will.”
Mareijke drank some water and mulled over the man’s words.
Then, suddenly, he became stern, “You cannot continue this journey.”
“Why not?” she asked in surprise.
“You’re not safe! Whoever brought you back to Agadir is waiting for you to go to the mountains to retrieve the artifacts.”
“Who is my enemy?”
“I wish I knew,” Uri said. She could see the strain of exhaustion on his face.
“Do you really think they want the artifacts?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered, “and they need Béch to guide them to the place where they are hidden.”
After some deliberation, Mareijke asked, “Do you know where the artifacts are?”
“No, Mareijke,” he said, almost arrogantly. “I don’t know where they are. Only Béch knows where your father put them. Unfortunately, these people know that. Your father was not very wise in sending you to look for them.”
“If they know this, why don’t they approach Béch?”
“That, Mareijke, is what bothers me,” Uri said. “They are involving you and endangering your life. Do you now understand why I am here?”
“No!” Mareijke said. “I don’t understand why you are involved. You’re merely a business acquaintance of my father. You should be indifferent towards me. Yet, you feel it necessary to involve yourself in my affairs. What made you aware of this enemy? Béch knew absolutely nothing about their existence,” she said, her face clouded with frustration.
“I was at the airport on my way to London when you arrived. You don’t know this, but I was at your father’s funeral. The moment you entered the terminal, I recognized you. Of course, my flight to London was delayed and I was still at the airport when the pilot who had taken you to the oasis returned. I knew then that something was wrong.”
“How did you know about the oasis?”
“I didn’t,” he said. “I overheard the man speak upon his return that the mission in leaving you stranded had been successful. They were trying to buy time.”
“Well, you’re the impatient one,” Uri said. “I heard you arguing with Béch. If you had stayed in Agadir for a day or two, as he had wanted, you wouldn’t have frustrated their plans.”
“And what were they planning?”
“Mareijke, your questions are tiring. I don’t know what they were planning. I am not on their side.”
At that moment Béch’s familiar figure entered the café. When he saw Mareijke and Uri sitting at the table, he stopped. Béch looked at her fleetingly and turned to leave. The look was more than a mere warning and she was on her feet instantly.
“Béch!” Uri’s voice boomed across the room.
Startled, Mareijke turned to look at Uri who was now towering above her. He sounded like an officer in command of a subordinate. Béch stopped abruptly. Turning slowly and with considerable self-restraint, he walked towards them.
His voice was resolute. “Congratulations, Uri! You have the entire room’s attention. Fair warning, though! You were being watched long before you raised your voice.”
He bowed his head ever so slightly, turned and left. Mareijke and Uri scanned the room quickly, but found nothing of consequence.
“I have to go,” Mareijke said anxiously.
She walked out of the café as quickly as possible, but Béch was gone and the street was filled with callous nonchalance. She walked down the street, suspicious of every movement along the way. She was angry at Béch. He could have waited for her. If she were being watched, it made all the more sense that he should protect her, unless Béch was referring to himself. Was he watching them?
She was exhausted. She had no idea where the apartment was, but continued to walk along the street until a taxi stopped next to her.
“Get inside,” Uri said impatiently. “I will take you to Béch’s place.”
She sat in absolute silence all the way to Béch’s apartment. She thanked Uri politely for his kindness and climbed out of the car. The apartment was quiet.  Béch was not there. Sinking down into the cushions on one of the sofas, Mareijke tried to make sense of what Béch and Uri had said. Who was watching them? Was it Béch? Why did Uri feel the need to protect her? Was Béch worthy of her trust?
The artifacts. They were things her father had excavated in the Sahara. He had never mentioned anything about their worth. She remembered him telling her about the trove of skeletons and artifacts that the archaeologists had found. Being in the company of archaeologists, Dawid would not have been able to keep anything of value. Why then would his artifacts be of any worth?
Perhaps, she thought, the artifacts were a means to an end and someone was trying to prevent her from inheriting her father’s company. It would be of more value than his artifacts. But who would be that indurate?
Mareijke was overwhelmed with her sudden anamnesis. Was it possible after so many years? She closed her eyes and instinctively followed her thoughts as they retraced the events leading up to that tragic week seven years ago.
Her father had planned their holiday to Mozambique in the finest detail and everything had gone perfect according to plan, except for the weather. Mareijke remembered how it had rained intermittently at the end of January. The torrential rains and blasting winds had continued for days on end. She had watched the water rising eventually to be traumatized by the deluge, which robbed her of precious sleep and appetite.
The raging Limpopo had risen six meters, which was twice its normal size. Dawid van Staalduinen had travelled further north to Chokwé, a small town in the Gaza province, where smaller villages had been cut off. He was helping those in need and saving lives. It had been the worst flood in the history of Mozambique.  Thousands of people were left homeless and hungry, stuffed into camps and subjected to all kinds of illnesses. Dawid had left his family on safer grounds, but her brother had refused to reconcile with their father’s recreancy.
“We need him here! Why doesn’t he just take us home?” Emil had lashed out one morning, storming out of the house into a wet grey day. The unforgiving sky had continued to dump water on the saturated ground from dark, swollen clouds and Emil only returned after dark, drenched to the bone.
As the days had passed, his health continued to wane. He was diagnosed with diarrhea at a temporary medical care centre and because the doctor had feared cholera, Mareijke and her mother were sent to their holiday home. 
By the time Dawid returned, her mother had already been informed of Emil’s death. Dawid had left for the medical care centre only to return with confirmation of his death. He was devastated. Her mother had wanted to see Emil’s body, but Dawid denied her the opportunity. His body was flown to Cape Town and the funeral arranged a few days later.
Mareijke had stood trembling in the graveyard. Emil’s coffin was carried from the hearse to the cold, dark, somber hole. The wooden coffin had been lowered into the earth slowly. It was surreal. None of them had seen him, as her father had insisted they remember him as the healthy young man he had once been. Dawid had lost his father and the sleeping face in the coffin had haunted him for many years. He had wanted to spare his wife and daughter the pain and suffering.
With Emil, a part of her had been buried, too, that day. Mareijke was nowhere near integrating the reality of her loss when her mother suddenly collapsed next to Emil’s open grave. Two days later, her mother’s favourite hymn was sung in the same church by the same choir and she was laid to rest not far from Emil’s grave.
The shock of Emil’s death had dire consequences for her mother’s weak heart and the effect on Dawid was profound. He had remained bent under grief, carrying dual guilt for the rest of his life until shovelful after shovelful he, too, was laid to rest in the African soil he had loved so much.
It had rained on all three occasions. It was as if the heavens had opened their wells to empathize with those who were suffering sadness and loss. Since then, Mareijke hated such mouldering and weary days.
Salt-laden pearls rolled over her cheeks as she sat in cushion-comfort, her head reclined against the softness of the sofa. Emil was dead. He was not her enemy … and even if he were alive, Emil would never hurt her. The company was as much his to inherit as it was hers and he would know more than anyone that she had no interest in running their father’s business.
By the time Béch came back to the apartment, Mareijke was fast asleep. He found her on the sofa and covered her gently with a soft woollen blanket. Looking down at her tear-stained cheeks, Béch was drawn to her pain and loss.
He waited patiently for Mareijke to awaken. He wanted to talk to her urgently about returning to Cape Town. To go on with the journey would be absolute foolishness. The only solution would be to leave for South Africa and when least expected, return to Morocco to retrieve the artifacts.
Béch went out onto the balcony. His memory was clear. He had been with Dawid when the artifacts were hidden. They had travelled from Casablanca to a small place south of Agadir where they joined a camel-train to a new site of which Armand had heard. It had been the year after Dawid had left for South Africa. The death of his father and Mareijke’s birth had brought an end to his North African adventures. He had new responsibilities.
Armand had arranged the journey as a final project for them to work on as a team. The trip across the desert sands had taken them several days. They had worked on the site for two weeks before a terrorist group travelling through the area attacked them. Dawid and Béch were able to hide in the caves, but Armand was killed during the attack. Dawid had the artifacts with him at the time and decided to leave them behind in the cave.
There were three pieces, which he kept in a small wooden box. 
“It’s too dangerous to take these things with us,” Dawid had said to the young boy. “Wait here for me to return.”
Béch, stationed in an entrance cave, had waited while Dawid followed the narrow passages deeper into the mountain. Later that same day, Dawid and the group of men who had been travelling with them, buried Armand’s body in a grave on the mountainside. Béch’s heart had been torn into a million pieces that day.
“This is a beautiful grave, Béch,” Dawid had said, in his attempt to console the child. “I want you to remember this sacred place. Look!”
Béch had turned slowly to witness the vibrantly coloured ocean of sugar-fine Saharan sand spread out below him beneath a blue desert sky.  It was timeless.
“Remember, Béch,” Dawid had whispered. “Remember this place.”

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