South Africa Part 1 by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Journeys Series are the creation of the author.
A thank you to Lisa, Inga and Susan who patiently edit all these stories for me. It is time consuming work and I greatly appreciate their efforts.
Note: The author has worked in or visited all of the countries in this series. The political situations, topography, cultures and wildlife are as accurate as the author could make them.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Check out "Anne Azel's World" at <http://www.azel.nru.com.au>
Thank you Jo for this wonderful web page!
Dedication: Anne was kind enough to ask me if I would like to name one of her characters. This gave me the opportunity to write this dedication: To Laurie, the love of my life and to K. Allen, my best friend, Anne's character, Laurie Allen, is dedicated to you! Love Pat
Danielle Agia stood nervously at the arrival gate of the Cape Town, South Africa airport waiting for Laurie Allen to step back into her life. Danny hadn't been sure what to wear. In the end, she had opted for rough cotton safari pantsuit in khaki. Under the tailored jacket, she wore a silk shirt hand painted in swirling navy, blues and muted greens. Practically, on her feet were well used but highly polished trail boots. Once again, she looked at the overhead arrival display. Laurie's plane had touched down five minutes ago after its flight from Johannesburg. Laurie would be exhausted. She would have left Toronto yesterday and flown for five hours to make a plane connection in London, England. Then it was a twelve hour nonstop flight to Johannesburg and a two hour commuter flight to Cape Town.
What would it be like to meet her again after a dozen years? Her father's farm had bordered theirs. Laurie and Danny had known each other most of their lives. Their fathers had a grudging admiration for each other despite the fact that they came from very different backgrounds. Hans Agia was a Boer. His great great grandfather had been part of the Great Trek over the Four Passes to escape English rule and his great grandfather had fought against the British in the Boer War. Sir John Allen was an English diplomat turned farmer, who had bought a vineyard near Stellenbosch to raise his family.
Hans Agia spoke Afrikaans and English, Sir John spoke English, French and German. Hans Agia was an elder in the Dutch Reform Church and believed strongly in the need for apartheid. Sir John did not go to church although he had been raised Anglican. He was outspoken against the government's racist views and fought for the end of apartheid.
Yet the two men had agreed to disagree. Both widowers with a daughter to raise, they had found common ground in their children and in their love for their vineyards. It had been Hans Agia's
considerable power that had forestalled the inevitable but in the end even Hans Agia could not protect his controversial friend. When Laurie was fourteen, Sir John Allen and his family had been put under house arrest and boycotted by their neighbours. Two years later, Allen had accepted his first and only defeat in life, selling his farm to Hans Agia and immigrating to Canada.
Those last two years had been hell. Even though Laurie had been four years younger than Danny, they had been close as sisters. As they got older, Danny would have liked to be a lot closer than that. By eighteen, she knew that she loved Laurie. But lesbianism was a sin and Laurie was just a fourteen year old kid. Danny had never crossed that line, even though she defied the government ban and snuck into the Allens' house to visit most nights. The two girls had been heart broken when Sir John Allen had taken his sixteen year old daughter and immigrated.
For a long time, they had kept in touch. Danny knew about Laurie's school friends, first loves, successes and heartaches. She had offered support, guidance and love right up until the letter had come from Laurie announcing her marriage. Danny had sent flowers and appropriate gifts and then had never written again. It had been just too painful to do so. Gradually, Laurie's letters too had become less frequent until there was just a yearly Christmas card.
But two months ago, a letter had arrived. Laurie was coming back to tour around her old homeland to write a series of articles for a big newspaper. She had asked Danny to join her as her friend and guide. There was no mention of a husband. Danny had accepted. Now as she waited, Danny was having second thoughts. She knew she harboured feelings that could never be acted on. Was it a good idea to see Laurie again? What if Laurie showed up with her husband? Danny knew she couldn't handle that! She scowled at the floor feeling her gut tie in a knot.
"Danny?" asked a happy voice. The South African looked up to see Laurie Allen standing in front of her looking just as beautiful as ever, more so really, for the years had matured her into a stunning woman.
"Laurie," Danny managed a weak, nervous smile feeling the heat of embarrassment creeping up her neck. Then Laurie was in her arms and Danny wrapped her close burying her face into the golden locks. Laurie's hair still carried the haunting scent of sun dried herbs on a late summer's day. Danny found her senses flooded with memories and she had to blink back tears. "Welcome to South Africa."
"Oh, Danny, its so wonderful to be here and to see you again!" Laurie exclaimed, from inside the protective circle of her childhood friend's arms. "I have missed you so much."
"I have missed you," Danny smiled, controlling her emotions with effort and stepping back to look down at the petite woman before her. "You must be tired. I have booked a suite for us near the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront complex. I think you will like it very much," Danny explained, her voice betraying the soft lyrical accent of her Boar heritage.
They had collected Laurie's bags and headed out to where Danny had parked her car. Danny was pleased to see Laurie was traveling light with one large piece of luggage on wheels and a small carry-on shoulder bag. Danny admired Laurie's practical and efficient approach to travel.
Laurie Allen took in everything around her with keen interest. South Africa had changed and yet was still the same. It felt good to be back in the country that she still felt was her homeland despite her pride in being a Canadian. She took a little skip to catch up to Danny Agia's long strides and glanced at her childhood friend. Danny had always been good looking but she had matured into a truly beautiful woman. People turned to look as she walked past but Danny didn't seem to notice. Laurie smiled; that was so like the girl she remembered. Danielle Agia had been practical, brave and adventurous as a child and yet there was a social innocence about her that was so very endearing.
What had happened in Danny's life, Laurie wondered? She had noted right off that the tall South African was not wearing a wedding ring. Then neither did she and she had married and had a son of her own. Was Danny married? Why had she stopped writing? Not that Danny had been very good at writing letters. They had been short lists of things she was doing and little bits of information about mutual friends crammed on a single page. Still, for years Danny had written faithfully and had only stopped after Laurie had married. Laurie felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness as she hurried to keep up with Danny. It was weird to be with someone who she viewed as her best friend and yet was a complete stranger.
Danny's car was the first indication that the new South Africa was facing many problems on its road to a new nationhood. The South African deactivated the alarm system before unlocking the doors of her Range Rover. Laurie waited quietly, reading the warning written in both Afrikaans and English on a sticker on the window: "This car is protected with motion sensors and alarms. Do not come near! Alarms will sound and flame jets will activate if this car is tampered with."
She watched Danny lift her bags into the boot and then slipped into the passenger seat allowing Danny to close her door. Thoughtfully, she buckled up her seatbelt as she waited for Danny to walk around and get in beside her. "Flame throwers?" she asked, in disbelief.
"Flame jets," came the terse correction. In a few minutes, they were out of the airport parking lot and heading for Cape Town.
"Is car jacking a problem?" Laurie persisted.
Danny frowned. "Eighty per cent of South Africa's black population lives in poverty. Poor people are desperate people. Many are angry. With apartheid gone there is less fear in acting on their desperation or showing their anger. You will need to show caution. Generally, South Africa is safe, stable and progressive but I would be lying if I did not warn you that attacks and thefts are frequent."
Laurie lapsed into silence as she noted the hideous contrast between the township where many of the black population lived and the middle class and wealthy suburbs of Cape Town. The townships consisted of shacks, mostly put together piecemeal by blacks who had lived for generations in the area or had immigrated in from the countryside looking for work. There was often no power, no sewers, or water systems. The area around was hard baked dirt dotted with scrap paper and plastic bags. The townships had no garbage pick up and the lighter material blew from the waste heaps and littered the countryside.
In contrast, the suburbs were neat, well kept homes reflecting both English and Dutch styles of architecture. Shade trees and privacy hedges marked off property lines but behind each was inevitably high stone walls topped with broken glass or barbed wire. Bright orange or yellow signs posted on them warned of security systems within. That was South Africa, Laurie thought sadly, a land of extremes.
Danny had booked them into the beautiful, five star Table Bay Hotel that overlooked the harbour. It had been awkward at first. Finally, Danny had excused herself and gone down to buy a newspaper while Laurie freshened up and had a brief nap after her exhausting flight.
Danny scowled at the newspaper as she sat on the balcony and filled in time until Laurie woke. When they had been kids there had never been any embarrassment between them. They would sneak down to the Agia pool at night and swim naked in the moonlight. They dressed in front of each other and treated each other's cuts and bruises. Then they had been kids, now Danny felt awkward. She knew that there was something wrong with her. She was one of those humans that had been born abnormal or perhaps it was the result of having been raised by her father and never knowing her mother....the cause didn't matter. Danny had had to accept long ago, to her shame, that she was attracted to women and not to men.
Danny had been raised in the Dutch Reform Church. Her father had been an elder. She knew that what she felt was a sin and she had never given into the temptation. She had tried to force herself to enjoy the attention of men. Tried to pretend that she was pleased to have boyfriends. But she found that she just couldn't make herself enter into a serious relationship. She just felt dirty and hypocritical pretending to love someone when she really felt nothing. Once her father died, she stopped dating and accepted a celibate life style. In the long run it was easier.
Now Laurie Allen was back and the old feelings that she had buried so deep were racing through her system. Danny tightened her jaw. No matter what, she was not going to sin and humiliate herself by admitting to Laurie how she felt. God was testing her and she didn't mean to fail. Besides, she didn't think she handle it if she lost Laurie's respect.
Laurie Allen blinked, confused at first as to where she was. A soft, cool ocean breeze drifted through the open french doors. She was in South Africa. She had returned to her homeland.. She watched with curious eyes as Danny sat reading a newspaper on the balcony. Her strong, sun tanned hands folded the pages with neat efficiency. That was her Danny, she thought, a smile drifting across her face. Danny had always been methodically neat, organized and efficient. She on the other hand had been spontaneous, random and serendipitous.
Laurie's deep green eyes drifted over Danny's form. My God, she was beautiful! A twing of jealousy twisted inside Laurie. Did Danny have someone in her life? Although Danny had never talked about boyfriends, Laurie knew from their fathers' correspondence that Danny had played the field. A "heart breaker" Hans Agia had complained. He had written bitterly that his only disappointment with his wonderful daughter was that she would not settle down and provide him with grandchildren.
Laurie tried to imagine what it would be like to be in bed with Danny. An involuntary contraction shot through her lower extremities at the thought and she could feel herself grow wet with need. This was not good! Danny wasn't gay. If she started with this nonsense she was never going to be successful in her goals. With a sigh, she threw back the covers and padded out to stand on the balcony beside her old childhood friend.
"Hi," Danny responded, her eyes involuntarily following the lines of Laurie's well toned body under her night dress as it was highlighted by the sun. The tall South African swallowed hard and quickly got to her feet so that she was not looking directly at Laurie's breasts. "Ahhhh, you hungry? There are some nice restaurants along the Victoria and Alfred waterfront complex."
"That would be good," Laurie responded and gave Danny a hug before heading back into their room. "I am so happy to be here with you, Danny!"
Danny felt Laurie's body burning its image onto her own. Oh God! The woman felt wonderful! Don't even think like that! she warned herself, and cleared her throat. "It is nice to meet again...." Danny's eyes widened as she turned and saw Laurie strip off her night dress and stand naked as she sorted through her luggage.
"What did you say, Danny?" she asked preoccupied, as she picked out what to wear.
Danny turned and looked out over the balcony, red staining her face. "It is good to see, ....to visit with you after all these years, too. You sometimes wonder what happens to old childhood friends."
Laurie turned and looked at Danny's back with surprise and curiosity. Danny was embarrassed and nervous! Danny had never been embarrassed or nervous! She wondered what had brought on this change in the bold and dynamic friend she remembered.
The Victoria Alfred docks were still working docks that had been incorporated into a trendy waterfront area of boutiques, restaurants and broad walks. They wandered from level to level, Laurie enjoying the mix of designer European clothes, beautifully tailored raw cotton or silk safari wear, art and craft stores and the exotic wares unique to Africa.
South Africans and tourists laughed and talked as they wove in and out of the popular area. Laurie noted with relief that some of the well dressed South Africans were black. Perhaps apartheid had disappeared in the new South Africa. Her cynicism returned however, when she saw security personnel ushering two black youths out of the area and when she read a sign on one store door that read: "Only people the owners feel are dressed and acting appropriately will be allowed to enter".
"What does that mean?" Laurie asked in disgust. "Why do I think if you are black you will be found wanting!"
Danny sighed in annoyance. "It means exactly what it says. In Canada, do they allow people into stores who are acting inappropriately or who are dressed in a manner that doesn't meet a basic dress code?"
"Of course not, but I'm not sure that is the intent here. What about those black teens that we saw security removing from the broad walk?"
"It has to do with security not racism. There is much poverty yet in South Africa, partly due to years of apartheid and partly due to the international boycott, that is now over, of my country. Crime is high. This is a big shopping and tourist area. It will only remain so if people feel safe from pickpockets and bullies."
Laurie turned and looked Danny straight in the eye. "The justifications slip smoothly from your mouth, Danny."
Danny met the look with a steady gaze. "Your cynicism seems second nature. Is that part of your reporter persona or is that the way you have become?"
They stood toe to toe in a silent battle of wills. It was Laurie who broke the deadlock. " I spent two years of my teens under house arrest because my father and I spoke out against the South African government's policies. Yes, I'm a bit cynical about the new South Africa. Racism is a disease not easily cured."
Danny looked away, staring across the harbour to where freighters were being loaded with their cargo. "I will not lie to you, there are many who still believe that apartheid is good and that blacks are not fit to rule this land. But those attitudes are changing. The new laws allow everyone, black, coloured, or white, an equal opportunity to prosper. Blacks have every chance now to make something of themselves and this nation. The future looks good for us."
"I don't know if I share your optimism," Laurie admitted sadly.
"Perhaps that is because you are the racist, Laurie," Danny stated, one eyebrow up in speculation.
"What?!" snorted the Canadian.
"You think that blacks cannot make a place for themselves in this country. That they would allow themselves to continue to be treated as second class citizens. You carry the white man's burden that you have to fight the social battles for the poor, child-like black. Bull! The South African black is intelligent, hard working and ambitious. I believe that South Africa will be a strong, competitive nation. They do not need bleeding hearts to fight their battles for them."
"Bleeding hearts! You sound like your grandfather! It was world pressure that finally forced the release of Nelson Mandela and brought about true reciprocity in South Africa!" argued Laurie, her face going red with emotion.
Danny looked at Laurie, her head slightly to one side as she considered. "Yes, world opinion, and the boycott, did have an influence but it was the changing attitude among the whites in South Africa and the growing social influence of the middle class and professional blacks that really brought about the change. Do you think me a racist, Laurie, because I am a South African white?"
Laurie looked uncomfortable and her aggressive body language softened noticeably. "The Danny I knew as a child was never a racist. I can't imagine that you have changed."
"No, I am not a racist and never have been. There are many white South Africans like me. Please don't judge us all by the ugly scar on our history. You know, the South African government officials visited Canada when they first established apartheid and modeled the system after the Canadian Indian reserve concept."
Laurie blushed. "Yes, I know and that doesn't make me feel very good. But it was a concept and system taken to extremes in South Africa. Oh hell! How did we get on to this! I don't want to fight with you, Danny."
Danny's own irritation melted away. She reached out and gently rubbed Laurie's back like she used to years ago when her younger friend was upset. Then she remembered that they were no longer children and pulled her hand away quickly. "You are here to write about South Africa. Naturally, you need to ask the tough questions. Just please leave yourself open to all viewpoints, okay?"
"Okay," Laurie smiled and the two of them continued their stroll along the boardwalk.
Danny chose an intimate restaurant for dinner. They had roasted ostrich, baked potatoes and vegetables after an entree of smoked salmon, then lingered over a dessert of fresh apple pie.
They had talked and laughed over childhood adventures but finally, Danny had asked the question that had nagged at her since she had got Laurie's letter. "Your husband did not wish to accompany you on this trip?"
Laurie lowered her fork slowly in order to gather her composure. "Richard and I were married for two and a half years. I was six months pregnant when he found someone else and left me. That was five years ago, I haven't seen him since. We are divorced."
Danny felt an ice cold storm explode in her guts. Her still features revealed nothing about the emotions that raced within. Her voice was controlled and measured when she spoke. "I am very sorry, Laurie. The man was a fool to give you up. Ahhhhhh, you have a child?"
A smiled spread across Laurie's tense features softening them again "A boy, Daniel. He is named after you."
Laurie nodded. "Richard was not the least bit interested in being a father. I wanted Dan to be able to identify with someone whom I admired and that was you. He knows all about his Aunt Danny in South Africa. He has a picture of you in his room. He was really upset when I told him he was still too young to come out here with me."
Danny stared at Laurie in silence. Her mouth opened, closed, opened but no sound came out. Laurie laughed but there was a cynical edge to her voice when she spoke.. "I can see you are thrilled to learn that you are an aunt!"
Danny gave herself a mental shake and a goofy smile spread across her features. "Daniel. He's really named after me? He thinks I'm his aunt? I gotta know his birth date so I can send him stuff. You didn't tell him that dumb story about me getting chased by the warthog!"
Laurie laughed and the tension left her body. "The warthog story is one of his favourites because you risked your own safety to save me. He knows everything about you. He loves stories about Africa. He wants to come visit his Aunt Danny in Africa and have you take him on safari."
"Yeah?" beamed the tall South African. "Well, maybe we could do that some day when he is older."
"Mrs. Arnate? I thought I recognized you! Its nice to see you again," interrupted a voice from beside them.
The two women had been so involved in each other they had failed to see the big, tough looking man who had walked over to their table until he had spoken. They looked up in surprise. Danny's eyes darkened immediately into stormy blue. Laurie on the other hand beamed and offered her hand. "Rod Gillery! What a pleasure! I didn't think I would see you until we met in Kruger!"
"Small world," the South African smiled and then turned to look at Danny. "Hello, Danielle Agia, it has been a long time."
"Not long enough," the woman responded between clenched teeth.
"Danny!" protested Laurie, surprised at her friend's rudeness.
Gillery was not upset he laughed. "Danielle never told you we were an item at one time. She broke my heart!"
"You don't have a heart, Gillery. How do you know Laurie?"
"Danny, I really think..."
"It's okay, Laurie. Danielle Agia is a legend in South Africa but she is not known for her manners. Are you aware that Miss Agia is one of the best shots and trackers in South Africa? When there is a problem with poachers it is her they call. How many have you killed now, Danielle?"
Laurie turned with large startled eyes to look at her friend. What the hell was going on here? Danny patted her lips with her napkin slowly and dropped it on the table, then she stood and her eyes were cold as glacial ice. " I have killed one less than I need to. It would be a good idea if you leave now, Rodney."
The arrogant man took an involuntary step back as he looked death in the face. "Sure, sure, I didn't mean to interrupt. I'll be seeing you in Kruger, Mrs. Arnate."
"Ahhh, yes, of course," Laurie stammered not sure just what was going on. Rod Gillery turned and walked off quickly.
Danny watched him go with eyes burning with anger. Then she sat down and picked up her fork again. "You are not to have anything to do with him," she muttered. She studied her near empty plate intensely as she fought for emotional control.
"My paper has arranged for me to interview him while I am here. He is a big name in game hunting."
Fire flashed in the remarkable blue eyes that focused on hers. "He is a poacher. You will stay away from him!"
"You obviously didn't!" Laurie snapped back. She was angry partly because of the poor way Danny had conducted herself and partly because of jealousy.
"We were engaged briefly. I was young and didn't know any better. My father warned me but I was attracted to his bad boy image. I was fortunate to learn what he was really like before I made a big mistake."
Laurie looked down at her own plate and then up to meet Danny's eyes. "What did he mean about how many you have killed?"
Danny's mouth tightened. She put her fork down and then met Laurie's eyes. "In South Africa there is no capital punishment any more. But the rules for big game poachers are different. If they resist arrest they are shot and buried where they fell without markers."
Laurie's eyes widened in shock. "You're joking, right?"
"No, I'm not. I've killed three. Are you ready to leave?" Danny responded quietly, an edge to her voice betraying the strong emotions she was barely holding in check.
Laurie nodded and followed her friend out in silence.
Several hours later, Rod Gillery entered a bar. It was in atmosphere and interior design far removed from the rarified atmosphere of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Complex. It was a large local bar catering to the black population of Cape Town. The walls were cinder block, stained and chipped. The floor was cement, smoothed by a thousand feet and bearing the marks of unpleasant events. Dark brown eyes filled with resentment focused on Rod as he entered and surveyed the room. They said nothing, did nothing. Gillery was known and tolerated.
The Hunter moved forward, weaving through the coarse wooden benches and thick tables that were bolted to the floor to prevent them being used as weapons in a bar fight. He moved to a far corner and slid in beside a handsome young black man so that his back too was against the wall. In all, three men sat at the table. Gillery made four.
"What are you drinking?" Gillery asked tossing some bills on the table.
"Beer," the man responded nodding to one of the others. The man scooped up Gillery's money without a word and headed for the bar. Gillery leaned back, bracing his broad shoulders against the rough wall and waited for Hector Abuti to talk. The man returned with a grimy glass and a large pitcher of beer. They all watched him pour.
Abuti took a long swig. "So, is all going to plan?"
"Yes, I saw them tonight," Gillery responded.
"I would like to rape her before we kill her," Abuti bragged. "All my life I have watched that bitch and wanted to fuck her. She is hot."
"She is also very, very dangerous. You don't toy with a rouge elephant. You put it down quickly. We kill her as fast as we can. What you do with her body after, I don't want to know about or care."
"I do not fuck the dead!" Abuti snarled his dark eyes flashing.
"I never said you did. But I'm also sure you aren't going to want to give her a nice Christian burial," Gillery grinned cruelly.
"We will do things to her and then dump her naked body in a white community. It will send a message." The others smiled and looked at one another in anticipation. They too were well aware of how beautiful and sexy their prey was. They trusted Hector would give them some time with the body. Hector was good that way. He shared. Some said he had AIDS. But he said he did not. They believed him. Just like they believed that he could do the magic that allowed him to talk to the spirit of the great Shaka.
"The important thing is to get the job done. I think Agia will try to warn Allen not to see me but she'll come. I know the type. She is headstrong."
"You had better be right," warned Abuti. The two men's eyes met in silent power struggle.
"I am always right. That's why I am still alive and very, very rich. You just remember to stick to the plan," Gillery warned. To take the sting from his words so Hector Abuti would not lose face, he took a few more bills from his wallet and put them on the table. "I'll be in touch," he concluded, as he slipped from the wood bench and left.
Hector Abuti watched him with eyes burning with hate. He would use Gillery and when he had achieved what he wanted, he would kill him. That is how Shaka had explained it to him. Shaka had been a great warrior. He had led the Zulu in many victorious battles against the whites. But Hector knew in his heart that his victories would be even greater. He would not fail. He would fight on until all of South Africa was Zulu and every white was dead.
He wiped the white yeast from the corners of his mouth. The doctor said it was a sign of the AIDS and that there was no cure only expensive drugs that would help. Hector could not afford the drugs and he was too proud to go to his father for help. He was strong and he would make his own magic and make the disease disappear. He thought that ginger root would help and the meat of a lion.
Across the table Luck watched his leader with adoring eyes. Luck was only fifteen and felt himself very privileged that Hector Abuti allowed him sometimes to come with him to the bar. Hector was kind of scary. He did unpredictable and violent things, but it was necessary he knew. Luck was not smart nor did he have the talent that Hector had, that allowed him to talk to the spirits. He did not understand always the reasons behind Hector's actions. Luck believed Hector was Shaka returned from the spirit world.
Hector Abuti was not a bit like his older brother, Charles, or his father, Fortune Abuti. Fortune was the manager of the Agia estates, second only to Danielle Agia. Charles was the foreman of the work crews. He would follow in his father's foot steps. They dressed like whites and talked like whites. Charles had even been to the agricultural college. Luck's lip curled in contempt. They might be rich blacks but they had no honour. They were not real warriors like Hector. They were weak in their souls and had no pride in working for a woman. Luck knew that Hector was embarrassed by his family. He often argued with them.
The men sat talking in low voices about the game they had shot and the money they had made. Hector was quietly buying guns with it. They were preparing to arm their people and raise the great Zulu nation up from its knees once more.
Very late, they wove their way back to the Township. Hector Abuti watched as his two followers staggered off. His eyes were cold as they surveyed the world that had become his home in the glare of artificial light. The light source came from a bank of arena lights mounted on a thirty foot metal pole. It blanketed the area in a harsh glare, offsetting the shacks of corrugated steel sheeting, cardboard and scrap lengths of wood in sharp relief. The government had put in the lighting a number of years ago. A single row of flood lights through the black Township that allowed them to tell the world that they had provided power and lighting to the area, and at the same time, make it easier for the police to observe them.
A stray dog, thin and mangy, limped by slowly. Flies buzzed after it waiting to bury their eggs in its carcass. The air smelt of sewage and rotting garbage. In the distance, a baby cried and a radio played African music. He hated this place. Some day he would live in a palace.
He knew it was his destiny to lead his people to victory.
He smiled and ducked under the dirty canvas that acted like a door to the one room shack he now called home. In the corner, Promise slept. She was his latest woman. A fifteen year old with a crush on him. Her parents lived on the next dirt street over. They did not approve of Hector but were afraid to complain when Promise had moved in with him.
He had liked his wife better. She had been a good cook and didn't complain about not having anything. But she had died of AIDS. Promise couldn't cook. She kept asking when he was going to lead the rebellion and become rich. Promise was stupid but she warmed his bed and gave him pleasure.
He slipped in beside her and allowed himself to drift into the alcohol induced dizziness of his brain. He felt like he was flying crazily. It made him feel slightly sick. He buried his flushed face into the coolness of the pounded dirt floor and drifted off into sleep.
Danny brushed her teeth furiously. The evening had been spoilt by that fucking bastard Gillery. Now Laurie knew she had killed. No doubt she would add that to the growing list she was unfairly compiling about South Africa. Let her! I don't give a damn, Danny thought. But she did and she knew it. She swilled out her mouth with water and lifted her head to stare in the mirror. Electric blue eyes stared back. There was no innocence there, only sadness and pain. Her lip curled in a bitter smile and she looked away, busying herself with neatly putting away her toiletries. Laurie's, of course, were strewn everywhere. Danny wondered how the woman found anything.
Laurie lay in bed wide awake, staring at the ceiling. Her thoughts had long since left Gillery and were focused on the pain and loneliness she had seen in Danny's eyes after he had left. What had her friend's life been like? What had made her kill?
The light turned out and Danny padded silently to the double bed beside her own. Sheets slid back and the mattress sighed as the tall South African slipped into bed. Laurie waited until her friend was settled.
"Danny do you remember how as kids we used to lie in bed together and tell each other our deepest thoughts and secrets?"
"Yeah, I remember," came a sad voice through the darkness that separated their beds.
"Not that you ever said much," Laurie teased gently.
"Yes, I did!" Danny argued.
"Oh yeah. The vines need rain. Fortune let me ride his horse. I think I broke my arm. Do you remember that? You broke your arm breaking my fall from a tree, and you didn't say anything until that night!"
"It hadn't hurt that much during the day and it was your birthday," Danny observed.
A silence lingered in the air as the two women thought back to those special days. "Good night, Danny. It's so nice to be here with you again," Laurie finally said, before turning over on her side to sleep.
Danny felt relief spread through her. Laurie still wanted to be here with her even after this evening.
"Good night, Laurie. Pleasant dreams," she whispered almost to herself. The night darkened. It was a long time before Danny slept.
The next day, they drove along the coast through the picturesque pioneer towns of Hout Bay, Muizenberg and Simon's Town. They clung to a craggy shore line along beautiful beaches that fringed the Atlantic Ocean. Laurie sighed and relaxed into the leather seat. She had forgotten just how beautiful South Africa was.
Danny had been distant and stiff with her again this morning. She had gotten up early, worked out at the hotel gym and had returned already showered and dressed. Laurie wasn't sure how to take these mood swings of Danny's. It made her reserved when she wanted so much to talk to her old friend openly.
They had stopped along the beach in a suburb of Cape Town and Danny had relaxed and become her old self again as she led Laurie down a path to a small beach where Jack-ass Penguins were nesting. The foot high little black and white creatures waddled about or bobbed like corks in the surf. Each had a unique personality and the two women laughed together as they pointed out different mannerisms. Laurie swung over the railing and crept close to a nest to photograph a female. The territorial penguin let out the loud donkey bray after which the specie had been named and over trotted some friends to offer support , flapping their wings and braying loudly. Laurie snapped some pictures and retreated laughing.
"They are so cute!"
"You wouldn't think so if you lived in this neighbourhood and had to listen to their noise and put up with their mess."
"Yes, I would! They don't hurt the penguins do they?"
"No, they are an endangered species and protected by the government. They have only appeared on these beaches a few years back."
Passed Simon's Town, they had entered the Cape of Good Hope National Reserve. Now they drove over high rolling land with the sea a backdrop far below. The road twisted and curled around rocky hills covered in small succulent brush. The air was fresh, the sky vast and the landscape breathtaking. As they rounded a bend, two wild ostrich ran ahead of them. They held their white, fluffy wings up and out and pranced daintily along on long gangly legs. They looked like caricatures of Victorian ladies, under skirts hoisted as they ran.
At Laurie's excited request, they stopped so she could photograph them with the sea and sky behind. Danny leaned on their landrover and watched cautiously, a half smile on her face. Ostrich were very dangerous animals. In a split second, they could jump up and slash down with one of their three inch claws and open a person's chest from top to bottom. Each year, people died from forgetting the power of these unpredictable birds.
"You be careful! The male has a bright red beak and legs, so you know he is in heat. He'll be very territorial." The warning was only just out of Danny's mouth when she anticipated the bird's next move. She was already diving for Laurie as the bird attacked. They rolled clear of the large bird's claws, Laurie safely in Danny's arms.
"Are you alright?" asked Danny, quickly getting off Laurie from where they had come to a halt, Danny laying on top of the smaller woman. She could feel the heat of desire and embarrassment creeping up her neck. This was not good. "You didn't break your camera. I hope," she added, checking over her shoulder to see that the male ostrich had trotted off with its mate.
Laurie got up shakily, feeling both a bit winded and bruised from being pushed to the ground. "I'm okay. Oh! Danny, your neck is bleeding!"
Danny reached up instinctively to a stinging just under her jaw. Her hand came away with a smear of blood. "It's just a scratch," she noted with a shrug.
"Was it the ostrich? It could have torn your throat out! Oh Danny, I am sorry! I'd forgotten that in Africa animals are still wild. That was really careless of me. I'll be more careful in the future," Laurie rambled on as she rooted through her tote bag, depositing all manner of items on the car seat as she went. Finally, she came up with a small first aid kit and opened it to pull out antiseptic pads and a bandage. She moved close and reached up to wipe the scratch clean, feeling Danny's warmth and the spicy scent that was uniquely her old friend. Laurie closed her eyes and for a second dwelled freely in this wonderful place.
Then she pulled back, dropping the swab into the waste bin, and opened up a bandage to place on Danny's throat. Danny had not moved. Laurie stepped closer still and carefully applied the plaster. Then placing her hands on Danny's shoulders she leaned back to look into her friend's face. "There, all better. Does it feel all right?" she asked as their eyes met.
The sea roared and a gull cried across an empty sky for its mate. Danny swallowed and Laurie stood on her tip toes and captured the taller woman's mouth in a soft kiss that deepened as passion grew. The moment shattered suddenly as Danny abruptly stepped back. "W..What are you doing?"
"Kissing you," Laurie answered calmly, although inside she realized that she had just made a big mistake. "I've done so before."
"Not like that!"
"That was...well...like...well..." spluttered Danny.
"Like a lover?" Laurie suggested with a rise to her eyebrow.
"No, like a fucking queer!" Danny exploded, as she tried to deal with the contradictory feelings that were racing around inside her. Oh God! What have I done?! She wondered.
"That's because I am," Laurie stated quietly, steeling herself for whatever reaction might come next.
For a very long time there wasn't one. Danny just stared at her dumbfounded. At last, she cleared her throat and got out with difficulty. "Are what?"
"A fucking queer. Mind you, I find that really bigoted and rude. I'd rather you refer to me and others of my kind as gay women."
"What? No! You can't be!" Danny managed to protest after a moment of shock.
"Yes, I can and I am," Laurie responded, hiding her disappointment by turning to stuff her things back into her bag.
A strong hand grabbed her and spun her around. "No, you can't be! It's a sin!" snapped Danny looking angry and confused.
"Get your hand off me!" Laurie snarled angrily.
Danny let go immediately and took a step back. "It's wrong and unnatural," she muttered, in defense of her behaviour.
"Oh, for God's sakes, Danny. This is the twenty-first century! What bush have you been living under?" Laurie responded in annoyance. She was deeply hurt and disappointed that Danny had reacted this way. She blinked back tears she was not about to let her old friend see as she busied herself getting into the car. Turning she looked at the South African, who still stood rooted to the spot. "Well, make up your mind. Either we go onto Cape of Good Hope or we turn back to Cape Town."
Laurie waited in the car, her face angry and tense, while Danny paced about outside looking stunned and confused. A beautiful day, a special moment had ended in disaster. It had been really stupid to give into impulse and kiss Danny like that without first knowing whether she was gay or not, Laurie concluded. She would need to apologize to her friend. That is if she still had one.
Well, that had finished one of the goals that Laurie had set for herself in coming to South Africa, and probably closed off any chance of the other. Laurie had always been haunted by the memory of Danny; always known that she was attracted to her physically and loved her deeply. Like so many others, she had tried to justify those feelings and force herself to live a so called normal life. She had married, had a child. It had been a disaster. Finally, she had had to come to terms with her sexuality and accept who she was. Having done so, she had needed to come back to resolve her feelings about Danny.
Some resolution! She found herself far more attracted to the adult version of her friend than she had been to the teenaged South African she had known. And now, she realized, any hope of having a life with Danny was completely shattered. She blinked back tears as she watched the tall, beautiful woman pacing along the road.
Danny felt like her mind had exploded or she was having a heart attack or something. She wiped the sweat from her lip and swallowed hard, resisting the urge to take off in a dead run. My God! What had just happened here?! Laurie kissed her. Laurie said she was gay. Had Danny made her gay years ago by being such a close friend to her? Laurie had been four years younger and very impressionable. Had Laurie bonded to her? Patterned after her? But she had been married! She had a child! Is that why the marriage had failed, because Laurie didn't like sleeping with men?
Danny licked her parched lips, feeling her heart pound in her chest. What should she do? Part of her could feel those soft lips against her own still and she just wanted to get back in the landrover and do it again. Part of her was revolted. It was unnatural, an abomination before God. She'd be run out of her neighbourhood or worse! It would shame her family's name. Then there was the mounting guilt. Laurie had acted with such dignity and she had acted like an asshole. She owed Laurie an apology. It wasn't for her to judge Laurie but God. Laurie was her guest and guests should be treated with honour. She had really reacted poorly.
She stopped her pacing to look out across the beautiful landscape to the sea beyond. The wind blew softly through her hair like the feel of Laurie's gentle fingers touching her. She knew she had acted badly because she had felt threatened not by Laurie's actions but by her own deeply guarded feelings that had rushed to the surface. She had kissed Laurie back. She knew she had and it felt wonderful! Oh God! Why are you testing me like this? This whole situation is such a mess!
Danny gathered up her courage and what was left of her self respect and headed back to the Landrover. Not allowing herself to hesitate, she slipped into the driver's seat and closed the door with a thud. "I need to apologize to you, Laurie. I acted very badly. Your...your preferences go against my religious and social beliefs but it was very rude and narrow of me to judge you. Your life is your own and I respect your right to live it as you feel you must. If you are not too angry with me, I would like to continue on. It would still be a pleasure to visit with an old friend and have the opportunity to show you my country again." Danny said all this with her hands safely gripping the wheel and her eyes fixed on some distant spot through the windscreen.
Laurie fought back tears. Danny's rejection, however nice, tore at her heart. She swallowed and forced herself to answer calmly. "I'm sorry. I violated your space and person. Please forgive me. I got carried away with the moment. I had no right to touch you like that without first knowing how you felt. It won't happen again, Danny."
Danny nodded, although to her surprise Laurie's vow not to touch her like that again sent a shaft of bitter disappointment right to her heart. She wiped the sweat from her palms on her shorts and risked a look at Laurie. "Well, that's over. Lets go stand on the tip of Africa," she said, turning the ignition key and putting the car in gear.
They drove on and down to the beach that was the very tip of Africa. Cape of Good Hope had originally been named Cape of Storms but the King of Portugal, Henry the Navigator, had changed the name to something that was politically more appealing. It was a rocky beach below a high bluff. The aqua surf's thunder almost drowned the cry of the seagulls.
Laurie walked along the edge of the froth and picked up shells and interesting pieces of stone moodily. So deep was she in thought, she jumped when Danny spoke from directly behind her. "You have a girl friend, Laurie?"
"You have had?"
"I do not understand then!" Danny retorted in frustration.
Laurie sighed. She could see that Danny was going to be like a dog with a bone with this. Danny was like that. She wouldn't let anything go once she had focused on it until she had achieved her objectives. Considering the bigotry from which Danny was starting, this inquisition could last some time. "Because I know how I feel. After Daniel was born, I spent a lot of time reading and trying to figure out who I really was. That led me into gay literature and support groups and suddenly, for the first time in my life I felt I belonged."
"But if you have not had a relationship with a woman then you are not gay," Danny argued hopefully.
"Of course I am! I know what I feel inside and I hope someday to meet a woman who I want to have a relationship with."
Danny frowned. "It is okay to be tempted but I have been taught that it is a sin to give into temptation. Do you not believe this, Laurie?"
Laurie looked up at her difficult and complex friend. "I think it is a sin for people to decide what is normal and what is unnatural. If there is a God, he made me what I am. I do not think that love can ever be a sin."
To Laurie's surprise, Danny did not argue but instead stood looking out at the sea. Laurie walked on, wisely giving her friend space. They slowly worked their way back up the beach to the parking lot and in silence drove on up the bluff, climbing steadily to Cape Point.
Cape Point was a towering cliff face that jutted out into the ocean. A lighthouse sat on the highest point, warning ships that they were about to round Africa and leave the Atlantic Ocean currents to enter those of the Indian Ocean. Narrow paths clung to the edge of this thin backbone of rock affording a spectacular view of the ocean, the tip of Africa and the beach a thousand feet below.
They took the cable car to the top, each of them acutely aware of the other's body close by. At the summit, they walked about, Laurie taking pictures while Danny pointed out where the allied forces had maintained a lookout to observe enemy ships passing the Cape during the war.
They lunched in the restaurant overlooking the immense valley behind Cape Point. Laurie figured that on a clear day like this you could see nearly a hundred miles across the rolling hills of fynbos. She knew that over 1500 species of fynbos, or succulent leafed bushes, could be found in this area plus a wide variety of bird life, reptiles and small mammals. There were even Baboon troops in the area. Danny, of course, had pointed out that the baboons had become a nuisance because tourists had fed them. They were bold and were not above stealing lunches or biting humans who wouldn't share.
She leaned back in her chair and sipped her coffee, feeling a happiness in being back in the land of her birth after all these years.
"Can I ask you a question?" Danny asked softly leaning closer after she had seen to their bill.
"Ahhhh, I mean, aaah women, aaahh how do they...well, you know?"
Danny blushed deeply. "Aah, never mind. I'll go start the car and get the air conditioner on."
Laurie watched Danny leave with eyes dancing with amusement. So Danny was curious, huh? Interesting. I guess it's not a sin to hear about it, only to do it, she thought with a chuckle and picked up her bag to head to the ladies.
They got back to Cape Town in the early evening feeling sun saturated, wind blown and tired. It had been a good day despite the disagreement. They had managed to agree to disagree and move on. Having had a large lunch, they chose to snack at one of the many small cafes along the Waterfront and then retire to their room.
Danny saw to some business matters, sending off emails and phoning her estate manager Fortune Abute to see that everything was going well. "The weather has been good, Danielle Agia. The grapes have just the right amount of water content and a good level of sugar. It will be a fine crop this year. I think we can do our early grape harvest in about two weeks time."
"This is good. Anything else?"
Fortune hesitated and then added sadly, "Hector has gone again."
"To Cape Town? Do you want me to look for him?"
"No, but thank you Danielle. He is bad seed. If I drag him back, as I have done before, he will only leave again. A father can only do so much. When he is home, he and his brother Charles argue all the time. Bad talk in the house brings bad spirits. It is not good."
"You have done all you could, Fortune Abute," Danny reassured, knowing that Hector had really made things very difficult for his father.
"Thank you, Danielle Agia. I will look forward to seeing, little Sunshine. You say hello to her for me."
"I will," Danny responded, smiling at the childhood nickname that Fortune had given to Laurie because of her blond hair.
"Ah! One other thing I need to tell you. Peter Beit called. There is a meeting of the Elders of the church, Friday morning. He wondered if you could attend."
"He didn't say, Danielle Agia."
"Hmmm, yes, I can be there. Let him know, will you?"
"Of course. That is it then. I will see you soon."
"Yes, good bye, Fortune." Without another thought, Danny went back to reading her email after passing on Fortune's message to Laurie.
"Here," said Laurie, slipping a piece of paper onto the desk beside Danny.
"What is this?" the South African asked, trying not to react to how cute Laurie looked all freshly scrubbed and smelling of warm herbs after her shower.
"It is an internet site that will access stories about gay women. I believe you were curious about methodology."
Danny went bright red and stood up. " I had better have my shower," she stammered, and nearly ran to the bathroom. Laurie laughed and slipped into the seat that Danny had vacated. She called up one of her favourite short stories and left it on the screen for Danny to find. Then she climbed into bed to read. When she heard the bathroom door opening, she quickly closed her book and pretended to be a sleep. Through a half open eye she watched Danny walk over to her computer and react with surprise and then look quickly over at Laurie. Laurie pretended to be asleep.
Danny sat down and started to read. Several hours later, she sat back and stared at the wall.
"Did that help?" Laurie asked.
Danny jumped guiltily and blushed. "Yes, thank you. It was...graphic...aahhh, yes, thank you."
"Does it revolt you?"
Danny licked her lips and got up closing up her laptop. "Look at the time. It is very late. We should be asleep. We have a busy day tomorrow."
Laurie smiled and rolled over. Gotcha, Agia, she thought.
Danny lay for a long time staring out in the darkness and trying to ignore her more basic needs that the beautiful love story had evoked. It had been a story about childhood friends in New Zealand that had met again years later and had become lovers. Soulmates... it was a word that Danny had not heard before and yet she knew immediately what it meant and she was just as sure who her soulmate was.
She lay deep in thought, trying to reconcile her natural feelings with her religious beliefs. The sky was starting to show the early morning light when she finally slipped into sleep still no closer to an answer.
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