Saturday, 8 April 2017

Mareijke's Courage Chapter 9

In the Desert of the heart,
Let the healing start …

W.H. Auden

Béch decided to strike while the old clichéd iron was still hot. He convinced Mareijke that neither Uri nor Breyton would anticipate them travelling back to Morocco so soon.
Not one of them knew the extent of Béch’s injuries and he was certain they would think him too weak to return on the assignment. What they didn’t know was that Béch had done many assignments throughout his life under worse conditions.
Mareijke’s travelling documents were still valid and she was able to return to Agadir with Béch and Hamed. Less than two weeks after Béch’s accident, Mareijke found herself back on the hot sand sheets of the Sahara.
Her second encounter of the undulating plains of white sand was more welcoming than the first. She was more eager to take on the challenges this time even though her concerns were with Béch. He was as reticent as the stretches of barren land that lay before them.
The journey had been arranged differently than their previous one. The helicopter had dropped them off in the desert closer to their destination. Hamed had arranged everything, asking his friends in Agadir to prepare the journey for them. By the time the helicopter landed, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the camel-train had already been en route for several days.
Mareijke sat quietly on her camel looking out over the parched desert. Her skin felt the sting of the sand-laden wind. While the camel-train moved along on spindly legs, she considered again the artifacts her father had left behind and asked Béch if he knew what they were.
“I never saw his treasure,” Béch answered, “but I know where he left them.”
“Are you sure Uri doesn’t know where to find them?” she asked, feeling unsettled about their journey.
“He would have taken them by now …” Béch seemed hesitant too, yet what he said made sense. She yearned to tell Béch about her troubled suspicions. She wanted him to know that she didn’t trust Breyton anymore. Mareijke was uncertain of her own feelings and realized she couldn’t burden Béch with her possible paranoia. If she were wrong, she would be placing herself in a terribly embarrassing situation. 
She looked at Béch.
… and love, love, love is
a dangerous drug.
You have to receive it
And you still can't
Get enough of the stuff …
The longer she spent time in his company, the stronger her feelings became. Did he feel the same? She tried to read his expression, but Béch Rousseau was a master at disguising his emotions. Whatever he was feeling at that moment was suppressed. He looked at her and changed the course of her thoughts.
“These sand dunes are part of Morocco’s natural heritage.”
The camel-train plodded on in silence and she simulated it, waiting for him to speak again.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “The land is so dry. You can’t imagine anything ever being alive here.”
She wasn’t thinking about sustained life in the Sahara at that moment, but he was right. She couldn’t imagine life in the desolate region. The desert seemed to stretch back to the beginning of time, as if creation had yet to be completed.
Her eyes perused the sublime sand. She was looking for signs of life. Her father had told her many stories about the region. From the warmth of their house in South Africa, his stories had seemed possible. Yet, being in the desert and seeing the vastness of the land, it remained an enigma to her.
“Why do we travel like this, Béch?” she asked suddenly, as the slow journey continued.
“It was your father’s wish,” he answered.
“I know that. I don’t understand it, though. He was aware of the dangers.”
“This is how he travelled, Mareijke. He wanted you to reflect on his long journey. Seeing the shifting sand dunes is a unique experience. You have to travel slowly to appreciate it.”
“Oh,” she uttered, simply.
“Also,” Béch added, “you learn a lot about the ways of the people.”
Mareijke looked out at the reddish, gold sand. The desert held infinite wealth in its physical attributes and portrayed an unselfish spirit towards the world. Where man valued his own selfish desires and measured his success according to what he possessed, the desert was free from the strain that ensnared the human heart.
As they travelled onward, mountain walls towered over a wide and dry riverbed. Mareijke felt as if she were caught in an interval of time and contrast. There was a sense of peace within her as she became more and more aware of the beauty of the land. She was entranced by a nuance of colours that danced on the sunlit rocks in front of her.
She remembered her father telling her about the great river system of Morocco. The northern regions of the country had a greater abundance of water, but the southern parts were drier and most of the rivers that once flowed from the Atlas Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean eventually petered out in the sand dunes, never to reach their destination.
“The people believed that Morocco was the last country on the surface of the world,” Béch said. “Being at the edge, they imagined it to be filled with djinns moving all over the place. Some could fly while others moved across land or in water and the people were afraid of being possessed by the demonic creatures.”
Mareijke imagined travelling across the flat surface and suddenly coming to the edge of the world. What would it look like? Would the edge be infinite, moving from man’s living regions into areas where it was impossible for life to survive, or would it be a deep and dark gorge with a pool of lava at the bottom, invisible to the eye as a carpet of clouds deliberately concealed the sinister end?
“Djinn’s are spirits, right?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “Not all are considered evil, though.”
“The bad forces against the good,” she said, reflecting on her own situation.
Her thoughts were hindered when a fierce gusty wind came up from nowhere. The path that climbed deceptively steeper towards the pass made their progress slow and now they were thrown into a world of greyness as sand and clouds of dust enveloped them. There seemed nowhere to go and their camel-train came to a halt.
Her camel descended and again Mareijke had to go through the process of leaning forward and backward to remain seated until the animal was still. Dismounting from the beast, Mareijke heard Béch cough. It had been a persistent dry cough since they had arrived in Agadir and she wondered whether his health was starting to wane.
The men that were travelling with them seemed content to wait in absolute silence in the shadows of the rocks, which provided a sense of protection from the wind and sand. The camels stood still, chewing monotonously, while disinterested eyes were blinking at the grey commotion in the air.
The journey continued haphazardly after the wind was laid to rest. The stillness that surrounded them was awe-inspiring. There was distance between the men and the camel-train seemed to have a breach in unity. At some point, Mareijke noticed that Béch was far behind them, as if he had stopped. She didn’t know if she should wait for him because Hamed El Hadrioui was confidently leading her camel next to his. He was aware of Béch’s position and didn’t seem to mind the distance.
They continued up the road and Mareijke wondered if they would stop again soon. They had to reach a certain destination before sunset because the temperatures would drop dramatically thereafter. She had no idea how far they still had to go when a mountain village suddenly emerged in front of them. They had arrived at Béch’s planned destination, where they were to spend the night.
She waited next to the small building for Béch to arrive, refusing to go with Hamed. Eventually his camel padded into the small village. Mareijke could see that the journey was taking its toll on Béch’s health. Realizing that his pride would stand in the way of any gestures she made to assist him, she entered the inn to find Hamed.
“He’s here! Please help him!”
One of the women took Mareijke to her room. It was simple and neat. She slept most of the afternoon and woke up when the sun had already set. By then, her room was freezing. There was nothing in the room to break the cold except the heavy blankets on her bed.
She found Béch and his men enjoying some food and entertainment. Women in festive clothes were dancing to the beat of enormous drums. The room was warm. Mareijke accepted the mint tea that Béch handed to her. From then on, he seemed to avoid talking to her. He didn’t look at her either, which made her feel despondent. After a generous meal and a lot of entertainment, they returned to their ice-cells to sleep.
Mareijke followed Béch along the corridor that led to their rooms. Béch stopped at her room’s door.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Mareijke,” he said quietly. “We’ll have to stay here for at least one day.”
“I don’t mind,” she said, conscious of his nearness as they stood in the dim and narrow passage. “Is there a problem?”
She could smell his refreshing cologne and reacted to it, wanting him to take her in his arms. Béch had not missed the spark in her eyes, even though the lighting was low. He could see that she was dangerously attracted to him, but he couldn’t allow it. He needed to spare her the disappointment and realized that he would soon have to tell her the truth so that she would understand why there could never be anything between them.
“No!” he answered reassuringly. “There’s no problem that I know of. I just seriously need to rest.”
He turned and walked down the passage, saying goodnight to her before fading into the darkness of a distant door, which shut quietly. She found herself standing alone in the cold passage. Mareijke suppressed her disappointment. He had gone to his room too soon. Mareijke was aware of her feelings and the dangerous magnetic force that pulled them together. He knew how strongly she felt about him and she could see that he felt the same towards her.  Yet, he continued to push her away.
She needed to tell him about Breyton. Her commitment to Breyton was keeping them apart. Béch, seemingly, was too decent to take advantage of the vulnerable situation in which they were caught. She moved a few steps along the corridor and then stopped. She couldn’t tell him now. She would wait until morning and tell him then. Right now, Béch needed to rest to build his strength.
After a good night’s sleep, Mareijke enjoyed a refreshing shower and a simple breakfast. Béch was still resting according to Hamed. She took a walk through the small village to its outskirts and found herself captivated by the beauty of the mountainous region. For the first time, Mareijke appreciated the terms of her father’s testament. Her experience in Morocco was surreal.
Aware of the imminent danger, she preferred to make the day worth remembering and watched the women at work, helping where she was allowed. They were a happy group of women, laughing and talking all the while. Some were old and others young, carrying their babies on their backs. They showed her how to prepare and cook birria, a specialty goat dish, which was their hospitable way of welcoming the caravaneers to their village.
Mareijke met a young woman who was able to speak some English and helped her to fetch water from a well.
“Look! The goats are in the trees,” Mareijke pointed at them with great fascination.
“Yes,” the young woman said. “It’s the argan tree. They eat the leaves and pits.”
Throughout her journeys across the sand-entrenched land, Mareijke had seen many argan trees grounded squat in the sand or rocks.
“These trees live in dry land where nothing else can,” the woman said. 
The young woman told Mareijke about its fruit that much resembled an olive. When pressed, it produced thick amber oil that was used for cooking. The extracted oil was of great value to the country, boosting its local economy. The women usually went from tree to tree collecting the greasy and bitter olive-like fruit. They would then pound it with stones to obtain its oil. 
Mareijke was inspired by the humble lifestyle of the people she had met. The simplicity of their lives left them satisfied and unashamed. They worked hard during the day and at night they entertained each other with their folk music and dancing.
Mareijke sat in the room, quietly watching the people. They were so happy. She hadn’t seen Béch all day, but at dinner he entered the room and ate with them. He had spent a great part of the day resting and being nursed for his cough. Now, he sat across the room with an old wrinkled man. They were lost in conversation.
Mareijke felt a sadness sweep over her. Perhaps loving him was wrong. Her love was not reciprocated and she was slowly losing her mind because of it. Mareijke walked down the icy passage that led to her room. Béch’s door had already been closed. She was disappointed that they had not spoken, but grateful that the day had passed without any incidents. 

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