Friday, 7 April 2017

Mareijke's Courage Chapter 7

On the day when death will knock at thy door what wilt thou offer to him?


Breyton and Derrick had not yet returned from the hospital. Marianne had cried herself to sleep on one of the sofas in the lounge. As for Mareijke, crying required a concerted effort.
The pain was too overwhelming for tears. After having lost Emil and her mother, Mareijke was convinced she would never cry again. Yet, she did. Her father’s death had wrenched her soul from her body, leaving her life without purpose.
Now she sat on the balcony in silence, stunned and motionless. She was consumed with grief and guilt.
Béch was gone!
Nothing compared to the emptiness she felt. She was tired of the frontline battle against Death. Day after day she had survived the onslaught of devastating pain and now losing Béch was just too agonizing to bear.
The wooden door of the apartment opened quietly. The ocean continued to rock gently against the dark Atlantic horizon. A cold wind swept across the balcony and fits of shivering controlled her entire body. She didn’t hear the door open. Uri entered the apartment like a nimble cat and moved across the room towards her. She was too numb to be affected by his sudden presence, which defied her solitude.
“Mareijke,” he spoke quietly.
She continued to stare out at the dark and distant horizon. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around her. There was a sense of impatience in his voice.
“We have to leave. Now!”
She sat in perfect silence, grateful for the warmth of his jacket. Uri squatted next to her and said, “We’re going back to Agadir to find those artifacts.”
“Béch said …”
“Béch is dead, Mareijke!” His words cut deep into her heart. “Is that what you want for yourself?”
The words ricochetted from her ears. She kept her eyes on the sea, refusing to listen to Uri. She tried to block his cruel presence from her mind, but he was consistent and bedeviling.
“I came early this morning to warn you,” Uri said, “but you were fast asleep.”
The disappointment flooded her entire body. It hadn’t been Béch who had entered her room, but Uri.
“If you don’t come with me, Mareijke,” he said slowly, “I shall force you to come.”
“Again?” she asked in disbelief. “You can’t force me to go anywhere with you.”
“Mareijke,” he said slowly, his voice filled with concern. “I am trying to save you from a force unknown to me.”
His tone had changed. She turned to face him. She tried to read some sense into what he was saying. Uri had a masculine ruggedness to his features and his expression was filled with suffering, as if he too had been personally affected by Béch’s death.
“It scares me not knowing who I am up against,” he confessed.
He knew the intensity of her grief and didn’t want to upset her, but he needed her to understand: her life was in danger.
He was greatly relieved when Mareijke finally stood up. He raised himself from his squatted position and found himself towering above her. She was delicate and so devastatingly beautiful in the moonlight. He watched her closely as she returned his jacket to him.
“It’s my fault, Uri,” Mareijke said, choking back her tears. “He’s dead because of me.”
“You know that isn’t true, Mareijke,” Uri said kindly.
“If only he had stayed behind in Agadir,” she continued.
“Accidents happen. It could have happened in Agadir. Try not to dwell on it,” Uri said, rubbing his tired eyes.
“Why?” she asked. “He knew where the artifacts are. Why did they kill him?”
“Kill?” Uri asked. “It was an accident, Mareijke.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Why was he driving so fast?”
She looked up at Uri, desperately looking for something to console her fraught mind.
“What do they want?”
“I wish I could answer your questions,” Uri said. “All I know is that we need to go back to Agadir and the sooner we leave the better.”
“We don’t know where the artifacts are,” Mareijke said.
“We will find Béch’s friends … the caravaneers. I’m almost certain, for the right amount of money they will be more than willing to help us. We’ll ask them where they were heading before I took you from the camel-train.”
Suddenly Mareijke became uncontrollably angry. She started hitting his hard chest with her small fists “If you hadn’t interfered …”
Uri grabbed her hands and looked at her, “We make mistakes, Mareijke. At the time …”
“Shut up!” she said sharply, pulling her hands from his hold. “Just shut up and leave me alone!”
Mareijke ran into the lounge and stopped short, looking at Marianne sleeping on the sofa.
“Pack, Mareijke,” she heard Uri say behind her.
Mareijke turned to him. She looked at him carefully, her mind already devising the plan.
“I’d like to go to the hospital to greet Breyton,” she said quietly.
“I’ll take you,” Uri said.
“No,” she said, her voice hitched in her throat. “Go. Tell Breyton about your plans. I’ll ask Marianne to take me to the hospital.”
Uri agreed and left as quietly as he had arrived.
Mareijke moved involuntarily, packing her bags as quickly as possible. There was no time to think. She grabbed what she considered would be necessary and stuffed everything carelessly into the travelling bag. When she was finished she returned to the lounge.
“Marianne,” Mareijke said impatiently, shaking the young woman on the sofa.
“Breyton?” she called, still drugged with sleep. “Derrick?”
“They haven’t returned yet,” Mareijke answered. “Come! I need you to take me to the airport.”
“Wh … at?” Marianne asked, helplessly inebriated.
“Just take me,” Mareijke said. “I’ll explain on the way.”
By the time Marianne was behind the steering wheel, she was wide-awake. The cold, crisp air had removed all traces of sleep and she was trying to keep warm inside Breyton’s car. The car moved along the highway in the direction of the airport.
“Where are you going?” Marianne asked in bewilderment.
“I’m going to Jo’burg for a few days,” Mareijke tried to sound convincing. “It’s just become too much for me. First my dad and now …”
“I know. I know,” Marianne said sympathetically. “But why go there?”
“I need to rest. Breyton will only smother me with attention and I have to figure out how I’m going to get those artifacts. Béch was the only person who knew where they are.”
“I understand,” Marianne said.
“I’m glad you understand, Marianne,” she said softly, “but Breyton won’t. Please don’t tell him where I’m going. He will go to great lengths to follow me and I really need some time on my own.”
“You don’t have to worry,” she said, but Mareijke knew that Marianne could not keep any secrets from Breyton or Derrick.
At the airport, Marianne waited patiently while Mareijke paid for a flight that was due to leave for Johannesburg. Mareijke knew that she needed to leave quickly. Uri was good at tracking her down and she couldn’t afford to waste time at the airport. When her flight was called a few minutes later, she turned to greet Marianne.
“I know you don’t like me,” Marianne said, “but I do worry about you.”
“Don’t,” Mareijke said warmly. “I’ll be okay. I have friends in Johannesburg and I’ll call you when I get there.”
After Marianne left, Mareijke waited another five minutes. Then, with gained confidence, she too left the terminal. She went outside and found the taxi cab, which she had booked whilst at the apartment. The money for her air ticket had been wasted, but it would buy her the necessary time to get as far away from Uri as possible.
“Hermanus?” the driver asked, waiting for confirmation.
“Yes,” Mareijke said calmly, “and you are sure you can take me all the way?”
“You’re the one paying for the trip,” he said, starting the engine.
The cab sped along the N2, which was relatively busy. She felt no regrets. Uri would not bully her into returning to Agadir. She believed with her whole heart that Béch was right: returning would be very dangerous. She wasn’t sure why, but she had an uneasy feeling about Uri. He had entered the apartment on two occasions. With their security system in place, how was he able to do that?
She was tired and shaken. The lump in her throat was anguishing, but she refused to cry. Retracing the events at Bloubergstrand, Mareijke was convinced that Béch’s death had not been an accident. She distinctly remembered hearing the car pick up speed. Driving at such an alarming speed on such a short stretch of road was incomprehensible. The driver couldn’t have missed seeing Béch and he had made no attempt to brake.
She mulled over the events leading to the moment Breyton remembered his keys. They had crossed the road, Breyton forcing her to cross ahead of the others. They were practically on the other side when he had turned to ask Béch to fetch the keys.
She had looked up at Breyton at that very moment, possibly because it was something she had never expected of him. He never forgot his keys. From an agitated state, he had changed very quickly, laughing at Derrick’s joke about having his car stolen and adding light to the situation by saying he didn’t want to keep ‘his lady’ waiting. It was then that he looked down the road in the direction from where the car was to come.
Mareijke gasped. She sat bolt upright holding her right hand over the pit of her stomach, her left hand automatically covering her mouth. After a while, the nausea subsided. She let out her breath slowly. Was Breyton waiting for the treacherous car to come speeding around the bend?
“Are you okay?” the taxi-driver asked, looking back at her several times.
“Yes,” she returned.
She sank back into the seat in absolute shock. She forced all thoughts from her mind until it was empty. She refused to think of anything. She closed her eyes tightly and sat in grim despair. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t keep Breyton Coetzee from creeping back into her head.
He was a firefighter who saved snakes and tortoises from forest fires, and – even though she had never seen him do it – kittens from tall trees, and old ladies and babies from burning buildings. Well, that was what firefighters did on T.V.
Breyton loved life and was always energized for the next challenge. He loved the adrenaline rush of taking risks and was erratic like the wind, always laughing. How could she even consider him capable of planning such a horrendous deed? She had to shake the unwelcome idea that had settled in her mind. Breyton could not be involved in Béch’s accident. 
She looked out of the cab’s window at the warm Indian Ocean. The sun was rising and even though her trip to Hermanus was coming to an end, she realized that she would have to keep on moving. The only person she had believed would be able to track her down was Uri, but now she wasn’t even sure that she could trust Breyton.
Her mind raced back to Hout Bay. After her encounter with Uri, she had forcibly taken Béch from a situation she was unable to control. Breyton had been watching them all the time. In retrospect, she wondered if he knew Uri. He could have given Uri a key to their apartment and the security code.
Breyton knew everything about the testament. He had been present at the reading. He was the one who had insisted she retrieve the artifacts. Every time she had tried to oppose the document, Breyton motivated her into doing what her father had wanted. She had wanted to rest and recover from the traumatic events leading to her father’s sudden death, but Breyton was persistent. He had urged the executor to book her seat on the first flight to Agadir directly after the testament reading.
Mareijke started to wonder if her father’s death had been an accident. Having the artifacts would give her the power over Dawid van Staalduinen’s entire inheritance, which would make her an opulent woman. She would marry Breyton and he would have his share in everything.
Breyton and Uri couldn’t be allies. Why would Uri kidnap her if he was working with Breyton? They would both want her to find the artifacts. And who took her away from Uri in the dingy little town? Breyton? It made sense. Taking her back to Agadir would give her a second chance to retrieve the artifacts. Without her, the artifacts would mean nothing and the inheritance would be given to other organizations, and Breyton would lose the opportunity of great wealth. Mareijke was even more confused than ever.
The cab stopped in front of one of the guest-houses in Hermanus. Mareijke paid her fare and entered the reception area. She knew she would not be able to stay there. Breyton knew her too well. He would track her down faster than Uri because he understood how her mind worked. Together Breyton and Uri would make a formidable team and the odds were against her.
She registered her name and settled her things in her room. It was a chilly morning, but Mareijke couldn’t stay indoors. She walked out onto the beautiful beach and watched the infinitude of the ocean. She stood patiently. After a few minutes of contemplation, Mareijke threw her cell phone as far as she could into the water. She sat down on the soft sand, while the fresh morning wind wrapped its crisp arms around her.
The pain of having lost Béch was intense and overpowering. She could no longer contain herself and cried until she had no strength left. Her tears dried quickly on her soft pale skin. She continued to sit in the cold wind as if trying to find punishment for her sins. She couldn’t help but blame herself for Béch’s death. Later, when her energy was spent, she stumbled back to her room to sleep.
Later that day, at a rental company, she booked a car to return to Cape Town. She needed to plan everything very carefully. She parked the car at Walker’s Bay and followed the cliff path, watching the people around her. After several minutes of observation, she decided to stop a young couple strolling in her direction.
“Hello,” she greeted. “Are you from Hermanus?”
“No,” the young man answered.
“Cape Town?”
She smiled, trying hard to be as casual and friendly as possible. She couldn’t afford to scare them off.
“Do you have your own transport?”
“No,” the young man answered. “We usually take the bus.”
Mareijke’s mind was in fourth gear. She needed to convince the couple to help her. She needed someone to take her to Swellendam so that there would be no trace of her should Uri and Breyton come to Hermanus.
She had used her credit card at the airport and withdrawn a large amount of money from her own bank account. From the airport it would be easy to find her. Breyton knew her well enough to know that she loved Hermanus.  Since the very first time she had seen the whales at Hermanus, Mareijke had always returned to the quaint little town to seek solace and a sense of sanity on its beaches. Knowing this, Breyton would be able to track down the taxi driver and the guest-house where she was staying very easily.
“When are you planning to go back?” she asked.
By now, the young girl was starting to fret. In turn, she made the young man feel unsettled. Mareijke had cast the line and needed them to take the bait so that she could reel them in, but how?
“I’m sorry,” she apologized quietly. “I know this must be terribly awkward for you, but … I’m running from my boyfriend. He’s very possessive. Whenever he drinks too much, he accuses me of all kinds of things and beats me. I can’t take it anymore.”
The old adage ‘hook, line and sinker’ popped into her mind as the couple started to empathize. They became very accommodating. They listened to her plan and agreed to drop her off in Swellendam before returning to Cape Town in the rental car. With no further ado, Mareijke accompanied the couple to their guest-house. They packed quickly and before long, the trip to Swellendam was underway. 
Mareijke hoped her plan would stump Uri and Breyton. While Dawid had always related one story after another, Breyton absorbing every bit of information to the finest detail, he had never spoken about Mareijke’s mother. She was confident that Breyton had no knowledge of her mother, which would make it easy for her to hide amongst her family for as long as she needed. Her mother had left her a tidy sum of money, which would help her to cope. She had never used it, but it was there for the taking. As far as her father’s testament was concerned, there was no time limit set for her to claim the inheritance. It was safe for the while.
Once in Swellendam, Mareijke paid the young couple an attractive amount of money for their effort and bade them farewell. The little picturesque town that was nestled at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains looked all too familiar to Mareijke. The year after her mother had passed away, Mareijke spent a few weeks in Swellendam with her mother’s aunt.
She watched the rental car disappear around the bend and then followed the familiar route to her aunt Ada’s little house. She knocked eagerly on the front door.

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