Saturday, 8 April 2017

Mareijke's Courage Chapter 8

I would empty thy chalice of heart-ache and pain
Would freshen the desert with flowers and rain,
Would draw out the bitter and pour in the sweet,
And remove every thorn from the way of thy feet …

Charles C. Woods

As the afternoon unfolded, Mareijke was blessed with an opportunity that she would never have anticipated whilst travelling to Swellendam. Her aunt had booked two seats on the Greyhound for a holiday to Durban. Unfortunately her friend had fallen ill, so Ada invited Mareijke to join her.
“I don’t want to waste the ticket,” Ada said and beamed with delight when Mareijke agreed to go with her.
The bus would leave before midnight, which gave Mareijke some time to rest.
“Thank you, Ada,” Mareijke said.
Her aunt had always insisted on being called Ada. She hated titles because she said they only gave people airs or made them feel old.
“I’m so sorry, Sugar-drop,” Ada said, cupping Mareijke’s face in her hands. “I just couldn’t attend the funeral. I had pneumonia.”
“It’s okay,” Mareijke said quietly. “I wouldn’t have noticed or remembered.”
It was a hand dealt by fate because if Ada had attended the funeral, Mareijke would not have been able to hide from Breyton or Uri in Swellendam.
Ada turned to the kitchen to make tea.
“It’s just so sad,” she said, shaking her head. “First Emil. Then Margaret. And now, Dawid. You’ve suffered so much. I can still see the pain in your eyes.”
If only she knew about Béch.
“Don’t let these things discourage you, Mareijke,” Ada said. “Death binds us to suffering, but you mustn’t allow it to control your life.”
“I won’t,” Mareijke said, hiding her bottled up pain behind a feigned smile.
Mareijke drank the tea and then slept for an hour. She woke up and joined her aunt for a light dinner. She found great comfort in her aunt’s kindness. Mareijke knew that she couldn’t allow pain to defeat her happiness. She would never succeed with her battle against life’s attacks if her heart remained heavy with the burden of pain. She needed to take control and reconstruct her destiny. Only time would heal her pain.
They boarded the Greyhound just before midnight and the arduous journey began. The bus wheels rolled along the N2, which hugged the dark eastern coast. The Garden Route was concealed in darkness and Mareijke slept until the sun was shining over the friendly city of Port Elizabeth.
They stopped in the wind-swept city, but soon were moving again on the black ribbon of tar, which stretched endlessly onwards to Durban. The eight hour trip was lengthened with all the construction work on the roads. Preparations in the country for the soccer World Cup had most of the city’s highways reduced to fewer and narrower lanes. While the country’s infrastructure was being elevated to international standards, the locals were neither understanding nor patient – which led to an increase in road accidents.
Mareijke and Ada arrived in Durban late that evening, tired and stiff, but grateful to have reached the end of the long journey. Travelling was an exciting experience for most people, but Mareijke wasn’t born to travel. With her claustrophobic nature, she truly enjoyed open spaces. She hated being cooped up in a confined space, especially one over which she had no control. It was one of the many reasons she preferred to travel by car. She could stop whenever the pressure became too much. The camaraderie and joy she had experienced on the long trip to Durban didn’t sway her opinion and she vowed to never travel on a bus again.
Ada’s apartment was spacious. It looked out over the Indian Ocean from a high vantage point. There were three bedrooms en-suite and a huge open-planned lounging area and kitchen. Mareijke loved it. It was her first visit to Durban and she loved the smell of the salt-laden sea air that blew over the coastal city. After a refreshing warm bath and light dinner, they both sat on the balcony of Ada’s apartment.
“You’re very quiet, Mareijke,” Ada said.
“I’m sorry,” she replied.
But, I’ve lost a dear friend, Mareijke thought. The unsaid words lingered in her mind: a dear friend. He was suddenly more than just a dear friend. The emptiness she felt in her aching heart was as vacant and wide as the Moroccan Sahara. She realized that she would never see Béch again and the harrowing thought made her discover a greater emptiness within her, one she had never experienced before. She was convinced now more than ever that she loved him. She actually loved a man she had always known, but never met. And after having met him, their relationship was short-lived … as if it were never meant to be.
The D.J. in her mind was playing the song again. It had been on the radio just after dinner. It was so ironic because it was a song she had always liked and now, sitting on the balcony, the words were dancing in her head again, taunting her.
…Love is a stranger in an open car
To tempt you in and drive you far away …
And I want you, and I want you, and I want you so it’s an obsession …
Never love a stranger, she thought. Never! Never! Never! After all, if she never loved again, there would be no loss and eventually, no pain.
She never loved Breyton. She realized this for the first time. Over the years, she had grown fond of him. Theirs had been a relationship built on mutual interest and friendship. But her feelings for him now seemed so shallow in comparison to what she felt for Béch. She sat quietly, watching the distant horizon. Their relationship was over. She didn’t love or trust Breyton anymore. And with Béch gone, she needed to find purpose in her future.
It would have been easier if Mareijke could talk about her loss, but she had preferred, with the deaths of Emil and her mother, to keep busy. Losing her father was different. She was able to concentrate on the assignment in Morocco to retrieve the artifacts. Sitting with Ada in Durban was difficult. She was neither busy nor focused. Her mind was venturing down the avenues of her own vulnerability and she wasn’t sure if she could cope with any of it. Perhaps talking about it at this point, with Ada, would make a difference.
No. Even though Ada understood the pain of her previous losses, Mareijke could not talk about Béch. Not yet! Ada knew that she was grieving and would respect her suffering because she too had experienced loss many times. She would know that Mareijke had found some sense of familiarity in the stages of her own grief. With each individual loss, Mareijke had found herself swimming through the waves of disbelief, anger, denial, guilt …. Each time she experienced death, she was strengthened by grace. Of course, it didn’t make her immune to future pain. 
 “I’m off to bed, Sugar-drop,” Ada said, patting her lightly on the shoulder. “If you need me, just call. And don’t stay up too late! I have planned a few things for the morning.”
“I won’t,” Mareijke said softly. “Goodnight, Ada.”
“Goodnight, Mareijke.”
Mareijke sat immersed in solitude. She was sitting on a different balcony, looking at the distant horizon of a different ocean, but her pain was the same, just more intense. Her emotions were thin and stunted like the trees that were growing in the Sahara. Her wind-scoured heart left her in a depression where not a single shred of hope could be found.
The words of the song returned. Love …
It's savage and it's cruel
And it shines like destruction
Comes in like the flood
And it seems like religion
It's noble and it's brutal
It distorts and deranges
And it wrenches you up
And you're left like a zombie
It's an obsession.
Love! It was neither cruel nor unkind, Mareijke thought, forcing some sense of optimism into the conservative framework of her mind. Life wasn’t always fair, but she could live with all the ambivalency. She could love again! She couldn’t allow suffering to discourage her or control her life.
Mareijke quietly retired for the night. Her head had hardly touched the pillow and she was fast asleep. She awoke the next morning and listened to a slight bustle in the apartment. It was a blissfully sunny day. Ada had prepared breakfast and was setting the table when Mareijke joined her. After breakfast, Ada took Mareijke to visit her favourite market where they enjoyed the bohemian atmosphere and the hub of Indian spices, wares and various types of ethnic art and handcraft.
At intervals, Mareijke kept looking at the pool of faces around her. She kept wondering if Uri was somewhere in the crowd watching her? She remembered how she had tried to run from him at the souk in Agadir and realized once again how foolish she had been.
Their shopping spree was enjoyable, but tiring. After a light lunch at a small restaurant, they returned to the apartment building on the beachfront. Ada stopped at the entrance.
“Let’s go for a walk on the sand,” she said. “We don’t have many bags and they’re light.”
“Okay,” Mareijke said.
They walked barefoot on the soft, moist sand with sandals in one hand and shopping bags slung over a shoulder. Mareijke was lost in pensive mood. There wasn’t a thing she could do to shift the profound sadness that constantly weighed her down. The idea sickened her. How was she supposed to live without the people she loved the most? Yet, her resilience with the loss of Emil, Margaret and Dawid had continuously assured her that she did somehow possess an inner strength to cope.
When they died, she didn’t spend her days in darkened depression, shedding bitter tears for her loss. She didn’t lock herself in a cell of solitude. What would she gain from it?  She had always been able to control her days, finding respite in people. She herself had never thought of her own death and she had never feared dying because life was about moving forward … coping. What would her life be worth if she spent it clinging to the futility of mortality.    
She looked out across the ocean as the wind had started up. Béch was gone and she needed to focus on her future. It was time to move on. It was time to close the chapter and open a new one.
The pain of her bereavement lingered on the wind. Dark and distant clouds with ominous rumblings were rolling in towards them. They were like magnificent black, grey and white steeds galloping in slow motion towards a battlefield.
“There’s a terrible storm brewing,” Ada said. “We probably need to get back to the apartment.”
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Mareijke said, looking at the purple clouds hanging low over the ocean as if the gods riding them wanted to lean down and quench their thirst from the great pool of salt-drenched seawater.
“Mother Nature’s in one of her foul moods again,” Ada said. “She’s going to take all her wrath out on us today.”
They returned to the apartment with hastened pace. The wind became powerfully strong and the day darkened. It was terribly frightening. They arrived at the apartment building just in time to miss the water that tumbled down from the heavens’ opened floodgates. Safe in the apartment, Ada decided to take a nap, but Mareijke couldn’t sleep.
She sat in the living area listening to the rain pelt against the glass panes. She hated rainy days, but this was a raging storm so different to her experiences in Mozambique and the funerals in Cape Town.
Very indistinctly, there was a knock at the door. Mareijke, unsure at first, did not respond. When she heard the knock again, she got up slowly. She walked across the room to the door. She opened it and looked out through the trellis door at the two men in the corridor.
She staggered back a few steps, her heart beating wildly. Mareijke grabbed the key of the security gate and tried to open it as quickly as possible. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably and she was near fainting. Tears were welling in her eyes, making it difficult for her to see, but the gate was open and she moved out of the way very quickly.
The men were soaking wet. The caravaneer helped Béch across the lounge to a sofa.
“Bring towels,” the Moroccan said.
Dazed, she ran as quickly as she could and brought many towels. She put some on the sofa and Béch was eased down with deliberate caution. The Moroccan made him lie down carefully and started to remove his shoes, socks and trousers. Mareijke went into the kitchen and put fresh water in the kettle before switching it on to make tea. Her heart was still racing as the adrenalin pumped through her body. She stood waiting in light-headedness for the kettle to boil.
He was alive.
“Help me,” she heard the caravaneer say after a few minutes. Béch was sitting again, wearing dry trousers, his shirt already unbuttoned.
“Broken ribs,” the Moroccan informed her.
He gave her a dry shirt.
“Where’s the bathroom?”
Mareijke showed him to the bathroom where he could change into dry clothes. He took the bag he had brought with him.
Mareijke put the dry shirt next to Béch and started to remove the wet one slowly. Béch was suffering a great deal of pain. With head resting on the back of the sofa and eyes closed, Béch sat patiently waiting for her to dress him. She could see his eyelids flinch every time the pain increased. He was exhausted.
She was appalled to see the blackened skin where he had been injured. She took the towel and pressed it gently against his wet chest and arms, absorbing the dampness. The dry shirt came on even slower. The caravaneer returned and buttoned up the shirt while Mareijke grabbed some cushions from around the room, placing them in such a way that Béch could sit comfortably.
By then he was watching her closely. When she looked at him, he closed his eyes again. He seemed to drift off.
He was alive.
 “You know,” Béch said quietly, his eyes still closed. “You’re a foolishly impulsive woman.”
She smiled, desperately wanting to hug him, but he was in great pain and she decided to contain her desire.
“The knock from the car did most of the damage,” Béch said. “I wasn’t thrown into the air, so I didn’t land too hard on the road.”
Mareijke was stupefied. At most, he had a few broken ribs and some nasty bruises.
“Uri told me …” she said, trying to restrain her tears.
“I know,” he said.
“How did you find me?”
“This is Hamed El Hadrioui,” Béch said pointing to the caravaneer. “He came to South Africa on the same flight as ours.”
“Oh!” Mareijke said in amazement.
“He’s been watching over us. He was there when I was hit by the car.”
“You didn’t see Béch stand up,” Hamed said calmly. “Your friend carried you to his car and the woman took you away.”
“You got up?” Mareijke was shocked. “Really?”
“After a while, yes,” Béch smiled.
“Still … how did you find me?” she asked again, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Hamed wanted to follow me to the hospital, but with Breyton and Derrick being there the whole time he decided to follow you instead,” Béch explained. “… and I’m glad he did.”
“So am I!” Mareijke said, looking at the Moroccan gratefully.
“He took a taxi cab and followed you out to Hermanus,” Béch continued.
He paused and looked at her, a gentle smile starting to dance on his lips. “Throwing your cell phone into the ocean … now, that was stupid.”
“I didn’t want Uri or Breyton to find me,” she said. “I was devastated when Uri told me that you were dead.”
“A treacherous ally,” he said, echoing her own words in Cape Town. 
Hamed had been able to purchase a ticket on the same Greyhound to Durban. Being dressed in western clothes, Mareijke had not recognized him on the trip. He had contacted Béch, who had taken a flight out to Durban.
“Did you tell Breyton about your flight to Durban,” Mareijke asked.
“No,” Béch said.
“And Uri?”
“I haven’t seen him. He left the same night you did.”
At that moment, Ada emerged from her room. When she discovered they had visitors, she was absolutely delighted with the company. Mareijke told her the whole story and Ada was shocked to hear about the artifacts, Mareijke’s adventures in Morocco and Béch’s accident. She invited the men to stay at the apartment, which would enable Béch to recover and build his strength. She made the tea that Mareijke had forgotten about and later surprised them with a scrumptious dinner.
Béch slept a lot during the days that followed while Hamed, an avid reader, stayed close to his side as a loyal companion. With the men in the bedroom, it was almost as if Ada and Mareijke were alone again. Their stay in Durban lasted twelve days, the length of Ada’s holiday. While Béch rested, Mareijke and Ada trawled through many shops and walked along the beaches.
Mareijke was beside herself knowing that Béch was alive. Uri had purposefully deceived her and she would never forgive him for it.

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