Friday, 7 April 2017
Mareijke's Courage Chapter 5
Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.
Orange and red lambent tongues licked furiously over Fynbos, climbing into poplars and pine. The fury of the flames raged on Devil's Peak in the early hours of the morning.
Helicopters were bombing sea water from the air, but the fire was climbing the mountain at an alarming speed. With the strong winds fiercely urging the flames to take control, the firefighters battled against the onslaught. For hours, the flames ravaged the mountain slopes, while people were being evacuated from the area.
Mareijke’s airplane landed under the thick veil of smoke that covered the beautiful dawn sky above Cape Town. Breyton would probably be home by the time she arrived. He would have worked the first shift as always, fighting at the fingers of death; nothing fascinated him more than the flames of fire.
When she entered their apartment, Breyton was waiting for her – his lithe body refreshed after the battle on the mountain slopes. His crystal blue eyes danced with anticipation.
“My love, I missed you,” he said, taking her into his arms and kissing her. Self-consciously, she slipped away from his arms and turned to Béch whose averted eyes were fully focused on Breyton. Mareijke realized that Béch was still upset with her. Her meeting with Uri had infuriated him to such an extent that they hadn’t spoken much since.
She introduced him to Breyton and once the acquaintance was made, excused herself from their company. She took her bags to her room and decided to leave all the unpacking for later and take a bath. Soaking up the warmth of the water, she tried to relax, but all attempts were in vain. Her mind was filled with all the recent emotions she had experienced, from the moment she had opened her eyes in Agadir, with Béch patiently waiting for her, until now.
“You’re returning to Cape Town,” he had said.
“Pack quickly, Mareijke.”
He had left the room as quickly as he had spoken. Later when one of his caravaneers arrived to take her to the airport, Mareijke was consumed with disappointment. She had been sure she would not see Béch again, but he was at the airport waiting for her intent on accompanying her on the flight back to Cape Town. Her heart had bounded with joy even though she knew it would be a dangerous liaison.
“I am so glad that you’re coming with me,” she had said, approaching him with a friendly smile.
“I’m doing what is necessary,” his cold words had fallen close to her heart.
“Why are you angry?” she had asked incredulously. “Uri followed me. He is the one who took me from the camel-train. I tried to run away at the market …”
“What?” Béch had asked with a stunned expression of disbelief. “Did I hear right? Uri Ayrrault took you from the camel-train.”
His darkened eyes had made her fear speaking again and her words were chosen cautiously.
“He doesn’t know who brought me back, though, and that’s why …”
There had been no point in continuing. Béch, having walked away, had been too far to hear her. His surging anger had made Mareijke feel guilty as if she had betrayed him and so she promised herself to stay far away from Uri Ayrrault in the future. After all, she had no reason to trust the man.
The flight to Cape Town had been sullen with Béch being quiet for most of the journey. The only time they had spoken was when she had wanted reassurance from him about the chances of Emil being alive. His answer had been concise: Béch was confident that the enemy was not Emil.
He remembered Emil. He had met him many years before his death. They were about the same age and had spent a lot of time in each other’s company, mostly when Emil had accompanied her father on international business trips. He had been an impetuous boy, always rushing in where angels feared to tread. He was one of the most intelligent boys Béch had ever met, one with a zeal for life.
Emil had loved his father and emulated Dawid van Staalduinen in every possible way. Mareijke was different. She was deliberate and cautious. They had nothing in common, but were compatible and she had loved Emil dearly. He was the one who had always laughed at her naïveté and consoled her when life taunted her sensitive soul. Nevertheless, he had been the only one who seemingly understood her.
She had always been strong-willed as a child, but appeared to experience life at a higher emotional level than the rest of the children at school. Her reactions had often been quick and exaggerated. Emil had given her the support she needed to cope through those years.
It took a lot of patience and Emil’s brotherly love to help her see her abstract world as something real and tangible. He had made her realize that life in itself wasn’t an ugly, venomous enemy, but a journey of courage. He had shown her how to turn her fears into mountain heights, the challenge being in the endurance of the climb. Once at the top, she had the magnificent view of self-confidence and it was hers to keep. Emil had given her the power to believe in herself, which changed her mental frailness into unshakable courage. He had showered his love, devotion and wisdom upon her, and today she was a better person because of him.
Seven years had passed and her heart still ached when she thought of him. She missed Emil with all her heart.
Death had touched her thrice and in such a small fraction of time. While she had faltered many times to understand her loss, Mareijke knew that time would heal all pain. She also knew not to dwell upon her suffering. She would never find happiness within herself if she did. Keeping herself busy and her heart replete with every new and exciting experience that came her way was her gateway to victory. Her mighty grief would eventually drink from the fountains of life and love, and she would find continued consolation in it.
Had Emil been alive today, he would have been able to give her the advice she so desperately needed. She was caught in a web of self-deceit. Her relationship with Béch had been stretched beyond its original dimensions and she knew it would be impossible for them to resume the relationship they had had before. At the same time, she was bound to Breyton by love and an engagement ring; it was a commitment.
She finished her bathroom routine and dressed quickly. By the time she returned to the living area, Breyton and Béch were well acquainted on the balcony that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. She heard Breyton laugh as he related something to Béch, probably of no consequence because Breyton always laughed.
Breyton’s fine dark hair was cut very short. His strange shirt with hues of red and orange epitomized his love for life. At times, he was erratic like the wind and always energized for the next challenge in life. In the short time that she had been in Béch’s company, she had found him to be rather reticent. He was tall and graceful and wore comfortable, but smart clothes. He was always dressed predominantly in white.
As she watched them, she realized that Breyton and Béch were literally opposites. Breyton was like the fire and flames he loved so much, alive and full of energy. Béch was like the desert she had acquainted, quiet and mysterious. Perhaps her emotions were defined in that. She loved Breyton with an energy that was alive and burning on the slopes of her heart. What she felt for Béch was still and peaceful, stretched across the desert sands of her heart. It was within the mysterious nature of these feelings that she realized it had to be contained. She was betraying Breyton and couldn’t allow herself to pursue the course of madness she felt within her. She was unsure how she would rid her heart of him, but she had to forget about Béch. He was a mere stranger who had walked into her life three days ago.
Béch turned as if he had sensed her presence. It was an indication for Breyton to turn as Béch did not attempt to look at her.
“I know we have a lot of catching up to do,” Breyton said excitedly, “but I’d like to take Béch out to Hout Bay.”
“No problem,” she said, looking at Béch. She was searching for something in his expression. It was so easy to become deluded by an expression. Yet, she was unable to read anything in his at that very moment.
“You’re coming with us, of course,” Breyton laughed.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way!” she said trying to sound happier than what she really felt. Still, Béch’s eyes were cast out to sea.
They travelled to Hout Bay in Breyton’s car. The sky was breathing heavily as the polluted air hovered above them. Breyton and Béch had been talking about yachts and on hearing that he had never been out on the water, Breyton decided to treat Béch and Mareijke on a friend’s yacht.
“We’ll lunch on the water,” Breyton said, looking at her in the rear-view mirror. “I’ve already phoned Derrick. And Marianne will be joining us, too.”
She feigned a smile. Breyton loved people. There was always room for one more and he often welcomed the strangest of people into their company. Mareijke was always hostess and victim to his whimsical invitations. She didn’t mind Derrick. Derrick was just an ordinary guy with an ordinary life, but Marianne always put great effort into exalting herself and her life. Mareijke hated spending time with her.
The harbour was a hive of activity. They found Derrick and Marianne at the yacht club and headed out onto the water where there was a sense of peace and tranquility. Mareijke stood against the yacht’s rail, a wilful woman with her hooded green eyes fixed on the other yachts and the camaraderie of the bay.
Béch watched her closely. She was enjoying the cool ocean breeze. Her fine hair wrestled with the wind as the yacht cruised the bay. He was glad that the ordeal she had experienced in Morocco had left no traumatic effects. He was convinced that he had prepared her well. It made her resilient knowing what to expect. Her constant fatigue had been a sense of protection too, helping her to cope under the strenuous circumstances. It had prevented her from grasping the reality of what was happening in its fullest sense.
Here in Cape Town, she was recuperating. Nevertheless, even after having rested well, he was certain that he could not risk taking her back to Morocco. Knowing that Uri Ayrrault had taken her from the camel-train was no consolation. There was another unidentified force. It had taken her from Uri and returned her to Agadir. Somebody was watching them and until Béch knew why, he couldn’t take Mareijke to the mountains to find the artifacts.
Mareijke was watching the other yachts with delight. It made her temporarily forget about everything … even her company. Feeling guilty, her first instinct was to look at Béch. She was very surprised to find him watching her.
“Hout Bay is absolutely beautiful. It’s my favourite place,” she said quickly, feeling rather uncomfortable under his fixed eyes.
“I’ve noticed,” he answered in an elusive way. She looked at him again, searchingly. There was something amiss; his voice was deeper and his eyes darker than usual. He turned and looked out across the bay.
Marianne started, “I have been around the world so many times. I can assure you, Mareijke, Hout Bay is not the prettiest.”
Mareijke turned a wry face, one that Derrick picked up very quickly. He laughed and turned to Marianne.
“I think beauty lies in the eye of the beholder!”
“I agree, wholeheartedly,” Marianne said.
“Mareijke loves it here, but that doesn’t mean she thinks it’s the most beautiful bay in the world,” Derrick continued.
“I think,” Marianne started again, “travelling gives you a discerning power to assess aesthetic values.”
“That’s true,” Derrick returned,” but it doesn’t really matter how many places you’ve seen in the world. People like places because of the experiences they’ve had there.”
“You can’t like a place that has nothing to offer,” Marianne said.
“Yes you can, Marianne,” Derrick said, wrinkling his nose. He didn’t take his sister’s airs to heart. “If you fall in love in the desert, for example, you’ll always love the desert.”
It was a simple reflexive response to his illustration. Béch and Mareijke’s eyes met for a fleeting second. Then Béch turned abruptly to look at the yachts passing by and Mareijke turned to look at Breyton. He was watching her. She wondered if he had noticed anything between her and Béch.
“Oh, please,” Marianne’s sassy voice cut back. “No-one falls in love in such a torrid and pulseless place.”
“… and on that note,” Breyten chipped in, “I’m hungry. Let’s eat.”
Marianne had brought a picnic basket with wine, delicious sandwiches and fruit salad. The women sat down to eat while the men stood against the rail, eating and talking all the while about boats and the boating lifestyle. Mareijke listened to the monotony of their talk and wondered why Marianne had suddenly turned silent. Watching her, Mareijke realized that the fair-haired woman was distant. She felt guilty for not liking Marianne, but she had never liked pretentiousness – something Marianne seemed to dote upon.
Their day on the water ended late that afternoon. They returned to the harbour tired, but relaxed. The white dunes that sheltered the bay made the beach quite pleasant. They spent some time strolling along the soft sand and then stopped at a restaurant because the men had an incredible urge to eat.
“It’s far too early to eat again,” Marianne said in a disagreeable way.
“Off you go,” Breyton said. “You girls like to shop and we like to eat.”
“Well, then,” Marianne said and turned to Mareijke, “let’s leave them to their own devices.”
Not enjoying the idea at all, Mareijke found herself following Marianne who was interested in a variety of informal art and craft, maritime memorabilia and curios. She was waiting for her to finish purchasing an item or two when she suddenly spotted him.
Uri was watching her, half-amused and half-intrigued. She was shocked at discovering his presence and hastened towards him, making sure that Marianne did not see them. She led him away from the stall. If Béch knew Uri had followed them, he would be furious.
“Are you following me?” she asked Uri.
“Yes,” his smugness was unsettling.
“It would actually be nice to have a normal conversation with you,” he said, deliberately trying to aggravate her.
“Normal? What’s normal about you being here in Hout Bay?”
“There you go again. Every word you utter forms a question.”
“Well, what do you ex … pect?” she slowed down as the question toppled from her tongue.
Uri smiled with amusement. “I expect nothing, Mareijke. I’m merely here to keep an eye on you. I don’t trust Béch.”
She looked at him in disbelief. “Béch has only been good to me.”
“It doesn’t change how I feel,” Uri said with an assured tone. “I don’t trust him and I have absolutely no idea what he is planning.”
“He did what you wanted me to do.”
“No, no, no! I wanted you to return to South Africa. He wasn’t exactly in that picture,” Uri said casually.
“My father didn’t assign you to be my guardian. You have no purpose being here and I would really appreciate it if you would stop following me.”
“I’m not the enemy,” Uri said again.
“You keep saying that, but I don’t know if I can trust you,” Mareijke said. “Why do you care? How do you benefit from all of this?”
“Are we playing a game?” Béch’s voice hit a nerve.
Mareijke stiffened. She saw Uri’s jaw tighten and turned to look into a set of angry brown eyes.
“Perhaps we should be playing a game,” Uri returned bluntly, “where all the players know the set of rules.”
“Rules?” Béch’s tone was belligerent. “Where were the rules during your dune ambush?”
“Ah!” Uri laughed, almost victoriously. “It was rather hostile, wasn’t it?”
The silent tension was as thick as the smoke entrenched air that had hung over Devil’s Peak most of the day. Mareijke feared Bech’s anger would ignite something immense and unbearable. She linked arms with him, turned from Uri and tugged hard to make sure Béch would walk away with her. Surprisingly, he did. They continued to walk towards Breyton who had been watching them for several minutes.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” Mareijke answered, looking back at Uri, “just a straggler situation of insignificance.”