South Africa Part 2 by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal 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!
"You don't have to go," Laurie reassured as they stood in line the next afternoon waiting for their turn to board the cable car.
They had gone to the Cape Town Museum that morning and now were waiting to take the cable car one mile up to Table Rock, a massive mesa that towers over the area. "I am not afraid," protested Danny.
Laurie gave her friend a look. "Yes, you are. You don't like heights and you hate being in a situation that you can't control."
Danny looked down at Laurie with a mixture of annoyance and embarrassment. "Hanging from a cable a mile above the ground does not make me feel secure. I wonder how often they inspect this thing?" she muttered, as she watched the large cable car arrive. Twenty or so people could stand inside the gondola with its glass walls. As it rose up the cable, the interior slowly rotated affording those inside a magnificent view of the shore line below.
They piled in with the other ticket holders and began their ascent. Laurie stood against the railing so that she could look out. Danny stood behind her, keeping well back from the glass. As they neared the top, the cable car slowed and stopped and for a few minutes they hung there with nothing below them but a mile of fresh air and a panoramic view on all sides.
Laurie heard Danny's intake of breath and reached back instinctively. Danny grabbed her hand in an almost painful grasp and leaned against Laurie's back. Thank God for cable cars, Laurie thought, as she enjoyed the feel of Danny's strong, lean body behind hers.
Danny almost pulled Laurie off her feet as she made for the exit, still unconsciously clinging to the smaller woman's hand. "You okay?" Laurie asked, once they stood on the top of Table Rock, the wind whipping around them.
Danny looked down at their clasped hands in surprise and immediately let go. "Oh, sorry. Yes, I'm okay. That's quite a ride up. Aahh, thanks for your support."
"No problem. Caves are my fear. I don't like feeling closed in."
Well, you can't feel closed in here," Danny laughed shakily, as she cautiously looked over the stone wall to the range of mountains and the city of Cape Town far below.
"No, I can't," smiled Laurie. "Oh Danny, isn't it wonderful!" They wandered around the walk ways and look-outs and checked out the gift store on the flat-topped mountain. Laurie took a picture of one of the unusual grey Dassie or rock rabbits that lived on the top of Table Rock. Then they filed on the Rotair for the trip back down. Laurie reached out this time, and Danny gratefully took her hand again, leaning into Laurie's back for moral support.
With relief, Danny led Laurie back to the Landrover having done her duty as a good host of her country. Buckling up her seat belt, she smiled over at Laurie. "So what would you like to do now?" she asked.
"Danny, would we have time to visit Robben Island?" Laurie asked hesitantly.
Danny's face hardened but her voice was pleasant and she didn't hesitate in her response. "Sure, I think we can make the last ferry."
Laurie squirmed a bit. She had taken Danny up Table Rock and now wanted to visit the island that would be, forever, associated with the dark years of apartheid. Robben Island was the site of the prison where Nelson Mandela had spent most of his life, his only crime being his bravery in speaking out against the oppression of the black people of South Africa. "Danny, my newspaper will expect me to write about the prison."
"I understand, Laurie. When the island first opened to tours, I went. Nelson Mandela is an inspiration. I wanted to see for myself what the man had endured for standing up for what he believed in. I would just ask that you give a fair view of South Africa. Apartheid was a dark time in our proud history. I like to feel we have put that time behind us and that now all South Africans can move ahead to a better future."
"Do you really believe that, Danny? There must be some very deep mistrust on both sides and hate."
Danny frowned and considered Laurie's words before she answered. "I believe that the black South Africans have many talents and skills to bring to a new South Africa. I am not in denial though," Danny sighed. "Yes, there is a large element in both the black and white communities that is filled with hate and mistrust. We will have to wait and see if the majority of whites and blacks who have not been poisoned by racism and bigotry can win over these negative forces. This new government was voted in by both whites and blacks. The greater part of the population believes that it is long passed time to leave apartheid behind and move on to a more just society.
"I don't believe that the media of the world has made it clear that it wasn't just blacks who fought against apartheid and suffered the consequences. Look at you and your father, who lived under house arrest for two years and were finally forced from the country. It certainly was the blacks that suffered the most, but there were whites also, willing to take a stand for what they believed."
"What about you, Danny? Why did you not take a stand?" Laurie asked, needing to know but not sure how Danny would react to her question.
"I felt that taking a radical stand would breed even harsher reactions from those who supported apartheid. I felt I could do more good by lobbying for reform that would open the door to change."
"Did I what?"
"Lobby for reform."
"You are not going to tell me are you? You did a lot and you are too modest to take credit for your efforts."
"There were far greater people than me. That time is past. Write about the new South Africa. What is happening today."
"I will, Danny, I promise."
The ferry ride was rough and Laurie felt her stomach going up and down with the waves. She had gone from white to green when suddenly Danny was there, holding her wrist. "I am told if you press down here it alleviates some of the effects of sea sickness," she said seriously.
"You couldn't have told me that back at the dock, could you?" Laurie asked, leaning heavily on Danny.
Danny wrapped her one arm around Laurie's shoulders for support and used her other hand to apply pressure to her friend's wrist. Her hip leaning against the bow rail, Danny let the wind whip through her hair and enjoyed the feel of Laurie so close to her. This was okay because all she was doing was offering comfort to a sick friend. She didn't have to feel guilty about it feeling so good.
They walked somberly with the other tourists past the small cells where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners had been kept for years. They passed the time playing Monopoly on many nights, the guide explained. They saw where they had worked clearing land for gardens and marveled at the strength of character and belief that it would have taken to have your life reduced to four walls because of your beliefs.
The wind had dropped a bit when the last boat took them back to the Victoria and Alfred Wharfs. Silently, they walked back to their hotel. They were physically tired and emotionally spent and looking forward to the luxury of their room.
Once again, Danny worked on business matters while Laurie wrote up her journal. They turned off the lights early, tired after two very full days.
The next few days were also in the Cape Town area. Laurie shopped and Danny scowled good-naturedly. They visited the beautiful botanical gardens and tasted excellent wines at some of the oldest vineyards in Africa. They had recovered from the moments of awkwardness that had plagued their first few days and had re-established the gentle rhythm of friendship that they had shared as teenagers.
Laurie found the old pattern fun but frustrating. Danny found it safe but emotionally confusing. She enjoyed Laurie's friendship and attention far too much. The more she tried to justify it in her own mind the more guilt she felt.
On the fifth day of Laurie's return to South Africa, they booked out of their hotel and Danny drove Laurie home to Stellenbosch. When Danny's ancestors had made the great trek to escape British rule, they had not given up their lands. Nestled in a beautiful valley, shaded by oak trees, was Stellenbosch, a quaint university town and the ancestral home of the Marais-Agia family. The oaks had been planted to provide wooden staves for wine barrels but in the tropical sun of Africa the trees grew too quickly and the wood was too porous to be used. Instead, they had stood for generations shading the tranquil valley.
Danielle Agai's home was built in a classic Dutch Boer style. It was covered in spotless white washed plaster with a thatched roof. The central section's facade rose above the roof line and curved down in a scroll on each side of the massive oak doors. The walls were thick and the windows plain and placed with mathematical precision along each wing. Inside, the floors were two foot wide hardwood boards, deep honey and shining with years of polishing. The walls were high and although the trim was simple, it was made from the best of woods. Beautiful antique furniture graced each room and between turn of the century watercolours there were framed pictures of Danny's relatives, hard working, faithful and stern individuals.
They had been greeted by Fortune and Charles Abute, first formally, and then with joking and smiles when Laurie embraced each of the South Africans that she remembered so well from her childhood. "Mr. Abute, it is so wonderful to see you. Dad sends his love and a bottle of his best Cabernet which he brags is as good or better than anything an Agia can produce," teased Laurie.
"Hey!" protested Danny. "How can I prove him wrong when he didn't send me a bottle!"
"He did. It is in my luggage. I thought you would prefer to do a tasting here."
Danny nodded and beamed with approval.
"The Agia wines are second to none," bragged Fortune. Then, having given Danny a cautious look, he continued with a grin, "We Abute see to that!"
Danny rolled her eyes and swatted her friend and manager on the arm playfully. They all laughed and moved out into the shade of the garden to enjoy their tea.
That evening, Laurie sat in a deep leather chair across from the massive mahogany desk where seven generations of the Marais-Agia family had sat. Danny was a commanding figure sitting behind it, looking at ease with the responsibilities of her vast holdings. As well as her vineyards, the Agia name could be found on the letterhead of a shipping company, several mines, and a number of off shore-businesses. Danielle Agia, like so many of her ancestors, was an astute business person.
At the moment, Danny was smelling the Allen Cabernet with interest. She swirled it around her glass and slowly inhaled the bouquet. Her face was devoid of expression but Laurie did discern a slight nod of approval when she detected the rich scent with its teasing aroma of spicy blackcurrents. Next, she held it up to the light to verify the colour. A bright red wine would be green and not worthy of her palette. This one had the telltale brick red of a well aged wine.
Laurie bit her lip in anticipation as Danny swirled the wine around the glass once more, carefully holding the glass by the stem so the heat of her hand would not raise the temperature of the red wine above a comfortable room temperature which allowed the best of the personality of the wine to develop. This time, Danny looked for the "legs" or the rivulets of alcohol that ran slowly down the side of the glass. The more legs, the greater the alcohol content. "A 12?" she asked with approval in her voice.
Laurie watched as Danny tasted the wine, rolling it around her mouth and then spitting it out into the brass container that sat by her desk for that purpose. She leaned back into her seat and let the wine express itself. The wine had a fruity flavour, reminiscent of blackcurrents with a sweet ghost of apricots. The body was a bit thin perhaps but not disappointingly so. The after taste, that vaporized flavour that remained after the liquid of the wine had been spat out or swallowed, was exceptional. It had a soft scent of wild mushrooms and ended with a delightfully pepper finish.
Danny leaned forward and made eye contact with Laurie. "This wine is exceptional," she acknowledged.
"Good," Laurie smiled and then rushed on buoyed by her friend's praise. "He needs you, Danny. He needs someone to take over until Daniel is old enough and experienced enough for the job."
"Danny, just think about it, please!"
"There is nothing to think about, Laurie, I am an African. What would I know about farming in Canada? This is my homeland. Where I belong. I can't just walk out on everything here to help your father out." Danny laughed in disbelief and then continued more softly when she saw the disappointment in Laurie's eyes. "Look, I'll ask around. I'm sure I can find someone..."
"So can my father, Danny...it just..it wouldn't be the same. It's been a long day and Charles is going to take me around to see the estate tomorrow while you are at your meeting. I think I'll turn in."
Danny watched her friend get up and walk dejectedly to the door. "Laurie....aahhh...I'm sorry."
Laurie gave her a weak smile. "I understand. Really I do. Good night, Danny."
"Good night, Laurie," Danny responded, and for a long time she sat at her desk staring off into a distant past.
Peter Beit, squirmed uneasily as he sat on the ladder back wood chair the next morning. "Danielle, we have been disturbed by information about your conduct that ...well...we feel...all of us... that perhaps it would be better if you resigned your church office as..."
"Wait a minute," Danny snapped out and her commanding presence froze the twelve elders into a tableau. "What charges and why have I not been allowed to defend myself?"
Karl Wernher, coughed. "Danielle, your own father was known to complain that you, well, played the field."
"Who I date or how many I date is no one's business."
The men blushed and looked back and forth. Finally, a bear of a man at the end of the table spoke. "Saint Paul said that it is better to marry than to burn...."
"Don't quote scripture to me, Otto! I know the scriptures, and if you are implying what I am thinking you are, you had better back off because I have never had an affair, and I know you have had several!"
"Hey, just a minute!"
"Danielle, that was not called for..."
"Got you, Otto!"
Beit banged his gavel on the table. "Gentlemen! Danielle, it is best not to lie to this council. Jan Visser here has brought some very serious concerns before this council about your morals and values. We all know you dated his son George in Cape Town and well, George is very sick now and..."
Danielle laughed. She had to or she would have lost it. "Let's call it the way it is, gentlemen, because you seem free to label me with names. Yes, I would go with George to functions when he needed a date. We were childhood friends and I like him. Friendship is as far as it went; you know that Jan. You are trying to use me to cover up what you feel is a family scandal. George has AIDS. I am sure you all know that, although you are far more reluctant to judge men, it would seem, than a woman.
"I do not have AIDS or any other social disease. I have never slept with George Visser or anyone else. George got AIDS from fucking black boys in Cape Town, another fact that I'm sure you have all heard rumours about."
"Danielle Agia! You can't come into this room and slander my son's..." roared Visser, getting to his feet so quickly that his wood chair toppled backwards to the floor with a crash.
Danny got to her feet slowly, fighting for control. "George is a fine man. The problem is not with him it is with you. You and all the men who sit here and judge as if YOU are God. You, who haven't got it within your self-righteous souls to forgive other people's sins while you have no trouble accepting and justifying your own! You will NOT slander my good name to make it easier for you to live with your own bigotry and hate, Jan Visser. None of you will!" added Danny, pleased to see the elders looking embarrassed and uncomfortable as her ice cold eyes raked over them. "If you continue with this course of action, I will take you and the Church to court and make monkeys out of the lot of you."
Danny turned and walked out, relieved to feel the hot African sun warming her cold, shocked frame. She drew in a deep breath of the fragrant fresh air and blinked back tears. Her great ancestor had been one of the founding members of this church. She, like all her family before her, had been God-fearing upstanding individuals. How dare they accuse her of having questionable morals for no other reason than she had chosen not to marry and to run the family business herself. The bastards!
Her hands gripping the steering wheel of her Landrover were white and shaky as she drove back towards her estate. Finally, she pulled over by a shady brook and tried to bring some order to her thoughts before she went home. She could hear her own voice not many days before telling Laurie that her ways were unnatural and disgusting. She had called her a fucking queer. Yet today, she was white with rage because the Church Elders had judged her through bigoted eyes. She was a bit of a hypocrite. Danny stared with sad eyes out over the valley that her family had called home for generations. Today, she felt betrayed. Is that how Laurie felt when she had been put under house arrest?
For one of the very first times in her life, she was unsure as to what she believed in. Maybe it was time to question. Ever since the gun incident, she had never questioned the morals and values she had been taught. Oh sure, she had spoken up in support of reform, had contributed to the parties that had brought the change about, but always she had remained safely within acceptable norms. She had played a heavy price for that respectability. Her life, although content, was ...lonely. She had never felt comfortable in her skin. There was the public Danielle and the secret real Danny buried deep inside.
Danny snorted and put the Landrover in gear. Here were the Elders of the Church believing she was a loose temptress who gave their sons AIDS. She wondered how they would have reacted if she had stood up and told them the truth, that she wasn't interested in any of their sons, only their daughters!
Laurie had had a delightful morning. She and Charles had ridden across the valley, greeting the farm workers and checking on the crop. The older workers, who remembered Laurie, came and shook her hand in the Zulu manner. Both hands were visible in a sign of friendship, first grasping the hand one way, then another and then back to the first. Laurie had been pleased to find that many of the farm hands who had worked for the Allens still worked for Danny Agia, and she had been touched to see her old home and to find that Charles Abute was now raising his family there.
Their last stop had been to a high ridge in the mountainside where the thousands of barrels of wine were aged in oak barrels within caves that maintained a perfect temperature, humidity and stable foundation. The tasting rooms were beautiful and candle lit and the wines that Charles proudly poured for Laurie to taste were excellent.
Charles had excused himself to check on business, and Laurie had settled back into a wing back chair within a side cavern to sip a wine that she found particularly good when Danny walked in. Laurie put down her glass immediately on the carved oak table and went over to her friend. "What is the matter?"
"What makes you think anything is the matter?" Danny evaded with a forced laugh.
"Because I know your body language and you are really upset."
"One of the Elders accused me of giving his son AIDS and the council wanted me to resign my positions within the church."
"What?! Danny that's ludicrous!"
Danny shrugged. "No, it was bigoted and narrow-minded of them. I sorted it out but it has given me a lot to think about." Danny looked down at the woman who stood in front of her, clearly upset and willing to defend her friend's honour. "I guess I realized that I am no better than them. I felt free to judge your life style....I'm very sorry, Laurie. I think I need to re-evaluate a lot of things in my life."
Laurie nodded and wisely chose to let the subject drop. "Come and show me your private stock. Charles insisted that you would want to have that privilege."
Danny smiled and reached out to squeeze Laurie's arm affectionately. They spent the rest of the day visiting special spots of their childhood and had arrived back to the manner house in the early evening feeling sun soaked, relaxed and marvelously happy.
The next day, they left Stellenbosch and headed back down to the coast in the Landrover before turning west to follow the shoreline. For miles, they slipped past beautiful white sand beaches kissed by the Indian Ocean and completely devoid of development. "These beaches, the weather, the ocean, I can't believe that this area has not been discovered!" Laurie exclaimed.
"There are many sharks and the water current is cold," Danny explained practically and Laurie laughed.
"What?" Danny asked in bewilderment.
"What about me?'
"You are such a Boer!" Laurie laughed.
Danny snorted and raised an eyebrow, getting even for this double entendre by reaching over to squeeze Laurie's leg. The muscles felt hard and warm and Danny removed her hand quickly, aware that her heart beat had accelerated.
Hector scratched his groin area absently as he stood waiting for the train that would take him to the north-west of South Africa. He hoped that Rod Gillery knew what he was doing. He didn't trust white people. They said one thing and did another. They were very unpredictable. Danielle Agia you could trust, but that was because she had been partly raised by his father, Fortune Abute and so knew right from wrong. His father loved Danielle Agia as if she was his own. More so, Hector thought bitterly, for Fortune had never loved him.
If he and Danielle Agia made babies, they would be great warriors! The spirit of Shaka had told him so. Like him, Danielle Agia had the fire in her belly and the intelligence that makes a great warrior. Perhaps instead of letting Gillery kill her, he would just lame her and keep her to mate with. With her, he could sire many warriors. Hector was smiling when he boarded the train.
The Agia Landrover left the flat plain of the coastal region near Cape Town and climbed up into rolling foot hills and then on through high windy narrow mountain roads through the Four Passes region. The land was steep and rugged, a rocky land from which hardy evergreens clung in stubborn groups on the scrub covered mountainsides.
Danny surveyed the land with grim pride. Her ancestors, refusing to accept British rule, had packed their family on wagons and trekked over these passes to reach the valleys beyond where they could have self rule. The trek had gone down in South African history as one of the truly amazing feats of mankind. Only an act of faith could have inspired those brave pioneers to carry everything they had up these narrow, dangerous passes to start again from scratch to build a community that reflected God's Will. They had endured broken axles and wheels, wagons that had tumbled down mountainsides, cold and hunger, sickness and injury, even death for what they believed. It gave Danny pride. Her whole family had been Boers with the exception of her great grandfather, a Greek, who had made a small fortune in the Kimberly diamond fields and had thereby won the right to marry into one of South Africa's oldest Boer families. The name Agia had lost its Greek roots and had come to be associated with the Boer farmlands beyond the Four Passes.
Laurie saw the passes through other eyes. They had stopped at a number of lookouts that afforded magnificent view of the world miles below. This was some of the most beautiful landscape in the world and it was totally pristine. How lucky the people of South Africa were to have so much of their beautiful landscape free of modern development.
They had lunch at an inn, high up at the top of one of the passes. Danny was in one of her rare talkative moods, chatting on about her vineyards and what had happened to mutual friends from long ago. Laurie loved it when Danny completely relaxed. It didn't happen very often. Danny was driven. Whatever she took on, she gave it her all, trying to replace twice over the son that her father never had because of her mother's untimely death.
Dropping down into the valley country beyond, they entered the Klien Karoo area, once the home of the Khoi and San tribes. They stayed at a small inn and the next day, drove on to Oudtshoorn, an area that had been settled in 1750 by the Boer pioneers. At first, this fertile valley area had been used for stock farming but with the demand for ostrich feathers for hats in Europe this area quickly capitalized on the trade. Farmers became rich almost overnight and built distinctive sandstone mansions that are still today referred to as ostrich feather palaces.
When the fad for large hats garnished with feathers died, the wealth slowly dissipated. The valley farmers once again turned to farming, this time, establishing vineyards and mixed farming. Coming over the last ridge, and looking down into the fertile, sun-drenched green of the valley below, Laurie thought the neat irregular farms and beautiful manor houses could have easily passed for areas in Burgundy, France rather than Africa.
They drove on, turning now to head south-west, passing through the city of George and arriving in the small coastal town of Kaysna in the early afternoon. After a quick lunch, they headed up to the entrance of Kaysna Bay. It was narrow and flanked by two high cliffs that were excellent for bird watching and for observing the whales out at sea. Laurie delighted in seeing the colourful sunbirds again after so many years and watching the tell- tale wakes of the migrating feeding whales as they broke to the surface for air. Danny delighted in watching Laurie as she scrambled about excitedly.
I am in love with this woman, I always have been, Danny concluded, in her logical way. But to love a member of your own sex is a sin and socially repulsive. Yet, I do love her and I want to make love to her. I won't though, it would be wrong! I'd disgrace my family's name. Besides, she has been married, has experience even though she has admitted to never having slept with a woman. I have never slept with anyone although I have certainly dated many men. I would make a fool of myself! Danny sighed, her good mood evaporating as she realized the hopelessness of her situation.
They stayed at a resort, enjoying the rustic atmosphere and fresh sea air off the Indian Ocean. They dined late at a fish braai or open air barbecue on the beach. The fish was tender and succulent, fresh from the nets of the fishing vessels returned to the harbour that evening. It had been a beautiful day. Laurie worked on her notes later, stopping now and again to share with Danny some of her observations and remembrances. Danny sat quietly going through the motions of reading a book. She had drunk too much wine at the inn's beach party and her mind brooded over her situation with Laurie.
The following day they headed over to Port Elizabeth, making a reservation at the hotel before heading to the north-west to the Addo Elephant National Park. They drove slowly through the dry brush lands, stopping at the shallow, muddy water holes looking for animals. They saw ostrich, and a number of grazing animals such as the Red Hartebeest, Duiker, and Burchell Zebras. They even saw a family of warthogs, their ugly appearance made comical by the way they ran in fright with their tails sticking straight in the air.
Finally, their patience was rewarded, when they dropped down to the Janwalpan water hole to find a massive bull elephant guarding his herd. The animals towered over their vehicle, their average mass being 6,000 kg. The bull watched them carefully but did not see the small bug-like Landrover as a threat to his sovereignty over the herd.
They watched for some time, Laurie hanging out the window taking pictures, for they both knew better than to get out in an area designated for wild animals. When the herd had moved on, Laurie impulsively turned and hugged Danny. "Oh Danny! I had forgotten how magnificent and huge they are in the wild! ...oh, oh sorry, I mean, I shouldn't have..." Laurie stammered, realizing what she had done and trying to pull away. But Danny's arms held her close and the older woman looked down on her with eyes burning with desire. Slowly Danny's head lowered and their lips touched in a soft caress. Danny immediately went back for more, deepening the kiss and demanding entry into Laurie's mouth. Their tongues curled and stroked each other, tasting for the first time their inner beings. The kiss broke, then resumed again with the same intensity. It was some time before they finally parted, Laurie burying her head into Danny's shoulder and holding on tightly. She had come home at last.
Danny swallowed, blinking surprised blue eyes that stared blankly over the African plain. She hadn't wanted that to happen. She wasn't sure how it had. It had been wonderful! She cleared her dry throat. "I guess you realize now, I have unnatural feelings for you too."
"It is not unnatural. Nothing this good could be unnatural."
"I hadn't meant to act on my feelings. We can't...I mean it would be a sin..."
"Shut up, Danny," Laurie ordered softly but firmly. They stayed there holding each other until a jeep came down the hill in a cloud of dust.
Danny pulled away with a start and put the Landrover in gear. "We had better get moving," she stated, her neck red with embarrassment.
Laurie pulled out their park map as if nothing had transpired. She knew better than to push her friend, who was legendary for her temper and her stubbornness. Laurie had rarely experienced either. In the past, she had put this down to knowing her friend so well. Now she realized, in the hot afterglow of their first real kisses, that Danny loved her. It took all her self control not to smile like an idiot. Instead, she gave directions to the next water hole. Danny complied without comment, a rather dazed look on her beautiful profile.
Dinner conversation that night at a beautiful hotel overlooking the promenade and the Indian Ocean was stilted. They did not linger over their coffee and in their room Danny professed that she had business to see to and would be back later.
"No," stated Laurie firmly.
"No?" Danny responded in surprise.
"No, you are not going to take off and avoid this situation. We need to talk about our feelings about one another."
"I don't want to," protested Danny, in a voice slightly cracking with panic.
"Yes, you do," Laurie responded determinedly. "It's gnawing at the two of us and it needs to come out in the open."
"How more out in the open could it get?" demanded Danny, sitting down on the edge of the bed with a sigh of resignation. "Whoever was in that jeep almost caught us!"
Laurie put her hands on her hips and looked at the woman she loved with a raised eyebrow. "Danielle Agia, I never took you for a coward."
"I'm not a coward!"
"Yes, you are. You are afraid to admit even to yourself that you are gay in case society looks down on you."
"I have always been aware of my unnatural feelings. Even when I was eighteen I was physically attracted to you..."
"Were you, Danny?" Laurie asked, coming to sit by her friend and taking her hand. She absently played with Danny's fingers, interweaving her own with them. Danny's were long, strong fingers baked a deep tan by years in the African sun. Hers were petite and seemed porcelain white in comparison. "I loved you so much then it almost hurt!"
"Didn't stop you from marrying," snorted Danny bitterly.
Laurie looked up in surprise and saw the pain in her friend's eyes. "Oh Danny, that's why you stopped writing isn't it?"
Danny looked down at their interlocked hands, nodding sadly. "I couldn't stand the thought..." the South African swallowed and didn't go on.
"But you had all sorts of lovers! Your father used to write to mine complaining about what a heartbreaker you were!"
Danny's eyebrows met in a deep frown of annoyance. "I have dated many men, two I came close to marrying, but I never slept with any of them, Laurie. I am not like that," she responded with dignity.
Laurie looked at her friend in surprise. "You are a virgin?"
"Yes, of course."
"Oh boy," Laurie muttered, hitting her hand against her forehead and getting up to turn and look down at the woman she loved.
"What's that supposed to mean?" demanded Danny.
"It means I can't handle trying to seduce you into my sinful ways AND taking your virginity!" she sighed with a good deal of sarcasm. "Danny, how could you?"
"How could I what?" asked the amazed South African, trying to get her pragmatic mind around Laurie's obtuse logic.
"How could you....well, be So you!"
"Because that is who I am," Danny responded logically.
Laurie gave a soft laugh and shaking her head came to sit beside her friend once more. "Now what do we do?" she asked in frustration.
"We could kiss," Danny responded shyly.
Laurie did not need any more encouragement. She pushed Danny back on the bed and kissed her long and tenderly. Danny rolled over taking Laurie with her, and Laurie let Danny lead the way, knowing her friend needed to set the boundaries on this new path that she had begun. She shivered with need as Danny nuzzled and kissed her throat and reveled in the feel of Danny's weight on top of her. She ran gentle fingers over Danny's back and responded in kind, loving the taste of Danny's skin.
Later, they modestly changed away from each other into their night clothes. Laurie slipped on a cotton nightshirt and Danny sleeping shorts and top. Danny hesitated, pretending to be busy rearranging her already immaculately ordered suitcase of clothes. Laurie slipped into bed and watched.
"We could sleep together. Nothing has to happen. I just want to feel you near. Would you do that for me?"
Danny turned off the lights with relief and slipped in beside Laurie, glad that her friend had had the nerve to ask what she could not. They lay side by side on their backs staring at the ceiling. Once Laurie was sure that Danny was not going to panic, she rolled over, resting her head on Danny's shoulder and wrapping a possessive arm over her hard abdomen.
"Is this alright?"
"Yes," came the soft answer.
The next morning, Laurie woke in the same position. She sleepily opened her eyes to see clear blue sapphire eyes watching her with interest and wonderment. "Hi."
"Are you okay with this?" Laurie asked.
"Yes, we used to sleep together years ago when we were kids. I have never slept with anyone since. It is nice to feel someone next to you. We can't go any further with this though. Already we have gone too far but I could not seem to help myself."
"Danny! For God's sake! You are an adult not some little child who is afraid God will get her if she doesn't eat her greens!"
Danny slipped out of bed in annoyance. "I believe in my God and my church. It is not childish. It is the foundation of my life that my forefathers have passed on to me!" she retorted, as she busied herself finding clothes.
"Danny, I am not asking you to reject your faith. Just look at it with more openness. God's message through Jesus' teachings was one of love and understanding. He said, 'There are many rooms in my father's house'. He never condemned anyone for who they were. It is not the faith that finds homosexuality a sin, it is the men who wrote the teachings down. The men who left out chapters of the Bible that THEY thought didn't fit, including the two chapters where God was referred to as a woman and the chapter that had been written by a woman. Danny, it was men who wrote the laws of the church," Laurie countered, as she worked around Danny getting ready.
"They were inspired by God," argued Danny.
"So THEY say."
"You are too cynical. Do you wish to shower first?" Danny sighed.
"You are too dogmatic. Do you want to shower together?"
"No! Yes, but no," Danny stammered blushing deeply.
"Then you can wait and I'll go first. I'm starved. Can you make some coffee?" Laurie responded, heading for the bathroom.
Danny smiled after the petite woman. She looked so cute in her night dress! It was good that they could argue and still be friends. Laurie had always been able to stand up to her. She placed her neat stack of clothes and toiletries on the bed and went over to the side table to make the drip coffee with the supplies the hotel had provided. It was so good to have Laurie here, even if it was a test of her faith.
They had to forego the pleasure of walking through Port Elizabeth's 1820's British architecture for they had a long ride to do over the next few days. They cut inland and drove almost directly north through flat plain until they reached Kimberly two days later. Here they walked around the world's most famous diamond pit and the historical village that is built there. The last mining was done here in 1914 and today the pit has partly collapsed and filled with water. It was still very impressive though.
Diamonds had been found there by Fleetwood Rawstorne in 1871 starting a rush that left most men poor but some fabulously rich. Entirely dug by hand, this pit reached a depth of 215 meters and over 22.5 million tonnes of dirt were excavated. Each miner had bought a column of dirt to look for diamonds in. Each area was dug at a different rate, hundreds of ropes dangling over the edge to various claims. When it rained, the unstable columns of earth collapsed taking diamonds, fortunes and lives with it. It did not stop people from coming here though and a few got very, very rich, including Danny's great, great grandfather. Before the claim ran out 14.5 million carats of diamonds had been pulled from the mine, or somewhere near 3000 kg of stones.
When they had dug down to the hard blue layer, many of the miners called it quits figuring they had hit bedrock. But people like Rhodes bought them out quietly and kept digging to find some of the most valuable diamonds ever. Agia too clung on to his few worthless claims and kept digging stubbornly until he had hit high quality diamonds in the blue layer.
Danny explained all this to Laurie as they walked around the De Beers diamond exhibit, examining a fortune in diamonds and learning about the hardships and dangers, successes and failures of the miners. They walked on to the reconstructed mining town and stopped to visit the very cabin that had been owned by Georgous Agia. "It was boiling hot here in the summer, and they say the dust got so thick some days in Kimberly that it looked like red fog," Danny said.
Laurie looked up from her camera lens. "You are very proud of your family aren't you, Danny?"
"Yes. Are you not proud of yours?" Danny asked leaning against a wall from which hung an oval wood frame around an grainy photograph of her great grandfather. Laurie could see the remarkable resemblance between the stern man who peered out with intense eyes and his great granddaughter. The Agia genes were still very strong in Danny's blood.
"Yes, but for different reasons. Your family were conquerors of this land and its environment. My family have helped to bring order and culture."
"Then we both have reasons to be proud," Danny concluded, taking Laurie by the arm and guiding her out into the brilliant afternoon sun. "We should be leaving soon."
"Can we not walk around the modern town a bit, Danny?" Laurie asked, as she fished in her bag for more film.
Danny frowned. "I will take you to a restaurant that is very nice. The food is good and you can sit out under cool trees in a walled patio to eat. There is an old trade store too that sells a hodge podge of antiques and collectibles that I can take you to. It would not be good to walk around town. Recently, tourists have been robbed."
"More unrest?" Laurie asked.
"We have a very good and stable government. But there have been many changes in a short time and there are those that will take advantage. It is very bad in Jo'burg and the surrounding countryside," Danny admitted with a sigh, using the local name for Johannesburg.
"Bad how?" Laurie asked.
"You will see for yourself," Danny stated, refusing to say anything more. But Laurie noticed that Danny kept a close eye on her vehicle while they ate. They talked of other things over a tasty lunch and then head back to their Landrover.
By late evening, they had arrived in Bloemfontein and found satisfactory accommodations. Over dinner things started to unravel again. "I will have to meet with Rod Gillery, Danny. My paper expects it. He is a well known name in big game hunting."
"He is not a hunter. He is a poacher! And you will NOT meet with him. He is a dangerous man," Danny bristled.
"He couldn't have been that bad or you wouldn't have gotten engaged to him! Your father would never had allowed it!" argued Laurie, sitting back and holding her arms in defiance.
Danny looked absolutely miserable. She played with her fork a bit and then sighed. "I went through a really rebellious and bad period after you left. I was angry at the world. I did some bad things including getting engaged to Gillery without my father's approval."
"What sort of bad things?" Laurie asked, unfolding her arms and leaning forward surprised at this revelation.
"I killed a man," Danny admitted softly.
"What?! How?" Laurie asked in disbelief.
"There were six of us. Me and five guys. We had gotten very drunk and were out in the brush taking pot shots at tin cans. I saw that one of the guys was going to shoot a dog and I grabbed the gun. It went off in his face."
Laurie reached out and covered Danny's hand, surprised at how cold it was. "Danny, it was an accident."
"No, it was drunken stupidity. My father used his power and money to prevent me having to go to court on a charge of manslaughter. After the hearing, he marched me into his office and closed the door. I thought he was going to kill me. He looked absolutely furious. He walked to stand behind his desk and looked me straight in the eye and said, 'If you ever do anything else to shame me, I will kick you out and never let you use my name again. Now get out of my sight until I calm down.' I never did anything wrong again. I was so upset that I had failed in my father's eyes."
Laurie rubbed Danny's hand reassuringly. "Why did you never write me about all this?"
Danny shrugged. You were young and I guess I was not very proud of the way I was acting and then...well, how do you write about something like that?!" Danny muttered, fighting back tears that threatened to tumble from her brimming eyes.
"So you've walked a conservative, straight and narrow path ever since," concluded Laurie. "That explains a lot about who you are."
"I guess," shrugged Danny sadly.
They did not sleep together that night. After Danny turned the lights out, she padded to the other bed and turned her back to Laurie. Laurie wisely let it ride. Danny needed time alone to fight back the demons that had escaped tonight. Laurie lay for a long time before going to sleep, arranging and sorting the complex pieces that made up the woman that she thought she loved. In all, Danny had killed four people. A boy by accident and three poachers resisting arrest. Could she love someone with such a violent history? Would she want her as a role model for her son after all?
Because that was what this trip was really all about, Laurie admitted to herself. She wanted to see if she and Danny could be the soulmates that she had dreamed about most of her adult life. She wanted to take Danny home to her father who had looked on Danny as his own. Her father had, with bitter disappointment, accepted her divorce and her declaration that she was gay.
Like Danny, she wanted to do something to please her father again. She wanted to bring back Danny Agia to run the huge and successful Niagara winery that her father had founded and was now getting too old to run. Laurie lay awake alternatively filled with doubt, determination, cynicism and hope, until the small hours of the morning.
Hector Abute had not gone far on the train. When it had pulled into Stellenbosch, he had got off, drawn by his old home like a magnet. He still had lots of time before meeting Gillery and the others. He had no need to rush. An idea was growing into a nasty plan in his mind, and he knew he needed to carry it out after Danielle Agia left Stellenbosch to continue her tour with Laurie Allen.
Danny had taken Laurie to Durban next. There she had endured more shopping, for Durban was an amazing blend of European and East Indian cultures. They sauntered through the spice market and took in the bustle, colour and scents of a world rich in images and culture and so different from their own. When Laurie had felt that she had recorded enough of this city of contrasts, they moved on, leaving the coast again and heading north into Zulu country over the next few days.
The flat land gave way to undulating hillsides of tall savanna grass baked golden under the African sun. High, steep mountain ridges framed the setting and the village homes were round and neat. Here and there colourful flags waved on poles over a house. "They are the shamans," Danny reminded Laurie. "African shamanism is still a vital and important part of decision making and health care. Perhaps even more so now with the devastating spread of AIDS through Africa. The European medicine has failed. The traditional shamans give the people hope. The more flags flying over a house the greater and more experienced the shaman."
"Is the spread of AIDS that bad?" Laurie asked with concern.
'It is very difficult to judge. In some areas of South Africa, we could be looking at 40% of the black population being infected. The traditional African life style, the lack of safe sex education, the lack of good medical facilities and financial support and yes, sadly the total disregard for the well being of the black African have all been factors in a situation that has well passed critical. One out of every four children born could have AIDS.
"It is worse in other areas. The main trucking lanes through Zimbabwe have spread the disease there at a terrifying rate. The number of infected could be as high as 80% of the black population. So many people have died there that they are running out of wood for coffins and land to bury them in.
"Oh Danny! Its awful!"
"Yes," responded Danny, through tight lips. She had worked hard to educate her own workers and to provide medical help. But still there were those that were infected. Fortune, she knew, was worried that Hector might have AIDS. His wife in Cape Town had died a year or so ago and no clear explanation had been given by Hector of the cause of death. Nor was AIDS a problem of just the black community. Many whites too had contacted the disease as well. George Visser was a good example of that, individuals who were in denial and thought that AIDS was a disease only associated with fringe groups in society. Fools.
Danny changed the topic, not wanting to dwell on the appalling medical crisis in Africa today. "Do you remember about Shaka?" she asked Laurie.
"Only a little. In North America, we do not learn about African or Eastern history to any great extent."
Danny nodded. Europeans represented only 20% of the world's population and yet they acted as if they were the only ones with a culture, history and religion. The other 80% of the world was forgotten.
They had stopped within a national park to hike up to some bushman pictographs. And as they walked up the hillside of the beautiful valley surrounded by rugged mountains, Danny summarized the life of the famous war chief.
"Shaka is considered to be one of the greatest military minds that has ever lived and the Zulu Wars are seen as some of the greatest battles ever fought. He was born the son of a chief in 1787. The chief had many wives and children and Shaka's mother was not a favorite. He lived with his mother in exile and was raised to feel bitter and rejected. As a young man, he distinguished himself as a warrior under Chief Dingiswago. Even then, it was clear that Shaka had amazing endurance, incredible leadership ability, and a ruthlessness that made him greatly respected and feared.
"At the death of his father in 1816, Chief Dingiswago gave Shaka the leadership of the Zulu. Shaka and his mother returned from exile in triumph and immediately set about making the Zulu nation the most powerful in Africa. He had observed British and French military practices and he incorporated the methodology with his own knowledge of African weaponry and landscape."
Here Danny stopped to take Laurie's hand to pull her up onto a high ledge and point out the pictographs of running warriors and stylized animals painted in white and red ochres on the overhanging rock. The two women stood there, hand in hand, drenched in the African sun, the scent of dust and dry grass in the air, as Danny went on with her story.
"He formed divisions and ranks and trained his troops in a rigid, and incredibly tough manner. They trained and exercised for hours every day and he would do things like running them through the thorn bushes to harden their feet. Quickly, he conquered the surrounding areas and absorbed the tribes into the Zulu culture. Finally, he took on the British and won. Imagine that, spears against guns and yet the name of Shaka and the Zulus terrorized the colonists."
"He must be seen as a great hero," Laurie suggested, enjoying so much being with Danny, and listening to her talk about the history of South Africa.
"Yes, and no. Certainly he is seen as a brilliant military mind, but he was viciously cruel both to his enemies and to his own if he felt they failed him. He tortured and killed many. He liked to impale his enemies on poles around his kraal or fort and leave them hanging there to die or be eaten alive by vultures. His cruelty was legendary. He was feared by all.
"Ugh!" commented Laurie, as she reluctantly let go of Danny's hand to ready her camera.
"When his mother died in 1828, he clearly went over the edge and his killing and torturing became random and wide spread. Finally, his half brother, Dingane, killed him and took over the leadership. The Zulu are of two minds about that. On the one hand, they realize that Shaka was a madman and very dangerous; on the other hand, he gave them pride and stood up to the Europeans." Danny finished, as they stood before the stylized animals that ran gracefully across the stone overhang.
"They are beautiful," observed Laurie from behind her camera.
"Yes. Sadly the bushmen that made them have died out, killed or driven off by the European cattlemen that came to this area."
They drove on after lunch and visited a movie set that had been built for the production of the movie "Shaka Zulu." The set was a complete reproduction of the famous chief's kraal. The Zulus who acted as guides, did crafts, and demonstrated the dances of that time period were proud and comfortable with the traditional dress of a skin skirt and leopard fur collar of leadership.
Laurie took lots of pictures and interviewed the Zulus working there. She noted that Danny knew many of them and greeted each with a warm Zulu hand shake. In the black South African way, their hands remained grasped as they talked. Laurie took a picture of Danny with a group of men, their hands held informally in a silent bond of friendship. It gave her pride but it also made her sad to see Danny so accepted into this world. Danny was right, she was an African.
They over-nighted there in one of the round guest huts, Danny explaining that Zulu houses were made round so that bad spirits could not hide in the corners. They had a beautiful dinner on the open patio of the resort restaurant and watched the sun set red over the African savanna. To Laurie's dismay, Danny went drinking with her African friends, leaving her alone to work on her notes in their hut. It was late when Danny returned smelling of the local corn beer. She showered, and Laurie caught the scent of soap and mouth wash as Danny settled carefully into the bed beside her. Laurie pretended to be asleep and Danny did not touch her.
Over the next few days, they worked their way up to Kruger Park, one of the largest and best wild game reserves in Africa. Rather than staying in one of the main tourist complexes, Danny had reserved a small lodge for them out in the park near Sirheni. It consisted of four small houses surrounded by a high fence to keep dangerous animals out. One of the houses belonged to the park ranger stationed there and the other two were empty.
Out here in the African bush, Danny seemed to come alive. Her normal conservative reserve vanished and she was more playful and full of energy. Their first evening, after a day of filming herd animals such as buffalo, impala, kudu, nyala, hartebeest, Danny cooked steaks for them over the open grill and they ate out of doors on a small patio overlooking the Mphongolo river. A wild civet cat came rustling out of the bush and gnawed on the bones that Danny had thrown it.
Laurie felt contented and was happy to have this very private time with Danny. Danny was regretting it. She was feeling very aroused out here in the African wilds and the closeness of Laurie was driving her mad. If they went to bed anytime soon Danny wasn't sure she would be responsible for her actions. Instead, she excused herself and walked down to the ranger's cabin to arrange a night tour of the park.
Animals see vehicles as one entity usually in national parks. To the protected animals, the vehicles are simply huge, bad smelling, noisy animals that watch them and then move on. As a result, the humans inside are relatively safe from attack even in an open vehicle as long as the big cats such as lions are not active. Nevertheless, Danny loaded both a hand gun and a high caliber rifle. There were those rare attacks and it was best to be alert. The previous year, two people had been killed and eaten by lions. A tourist who had gotten out of his car to take a picture of a pride had been attacked from behind. His wife had sat in the car helpless as the huge beast had carried her husband's body away. A ranger too, who knew of the dangers and who had carefully checked for lions, had been killed when a lioness had suddenly charged from the bush as he worked on doing some repairs.
Laurie sat in the open jeep, the arsenal of guns between her and Danny as they moved along the bumpy dirt roads looking for night game. Their first encounter was with a honey badger, white backed and brown below that scurried along seeking shelter in the bush. Danny drove with one hand and swept a powerful searchlight up in the trees that they passed. It was not long before they were rewarded with the sight of sharp yellow eyes shining in the dark. Danny moved her light until it floodlit a leopard lying on a high tree branch. It licked its paw displaying a long rough tongue and sharp white teeth. Over the branch in front of it hung the lifeless and partly eaten carcass of a young reedbuck.
Laurie was both appalled and fascinated by what she saw. Instinctively, she reached out and took Danny's hand. Danny did not let go until it was time to move on.
Danny turned off the bush trail and bounced down a dead end path to where a small turn-around afforded a good view of a ravine. They had barely got to the bottom, however, when there was a angry wail from the bush and a massive bull elephant slammed out onto the road effectively cutting off their escape route.
Laurie's eyes widened. Everything she had heard as a kid about a bull elephant's equipment when in heat was true. They had clearly caught the massive animal in the act of satisfying some of its harem and the bull elephant was not happy!
The huge creature flapped its ears and stomped its foot and then charged forward a few steps. Danny slipped the car into reverse and slowly eased back, letting the animal know that they were passive and not a threat to its authority. "It was a false charge," Danny muttered to Laurie. "They will do that three times and then if necessary attack for real." Laurie nodded but said nothing.
Again the gigantic animal flapped its ears sending up puffs of dust like angry smoke rising above its head. The foot stomped and it false charged again. Once more Danny rolled back. Now the jeeps wheel were on the very edge of the ravine. There was no where else to go if the animal charged for real. "Be ready to jump if you need to," Danny said quietly. Again Laurie nodded, moving to the edge of her seat and bracing herself in case she needed to jump clear of the rolling jeep. The bull elephant raised and lowered its head, its long ivory tusks shooting shadows through the jeep's headlight beams. It was so close now that it towered over them, its grey, wrinkled knees even with the hood of their jeep. With one final roar, the bull turned its back on them and idled up the path, breaking through the trees to herd his females together and move off to a more private location.
"Wow! That was wild!" Laurie laughed.
"Sure was," sighed Danny, with relief. "That will be a story to tell back home!"
"Oh yeah, like I can describe what an aroused elephant looks like in polite company!" Laurie teased back.
"Whatever do you mean, Laurie? Just what were you staring at?"
Laurie batted Danny's arm playfully and was surprised to feel the sting of her own fingers. Danny was all muscle. She had to remember that!
They drove on capturing a number of other creatures in the beam of their search light before heading back to camp. Danny looked around cautiously, then taking her hand gun she went to open the gates and they drove through into the compound once more. Danny was just out closing the gate when the ranger came out of the house and walked over to them.
"Miss Agia, I had a ham radio message from Fortune Abute your manager. He said it was very important that you contact him as soon as you got back."
Danny looked surprised and worried. "I'll walk ahead and meet you back at the bungalow, Danny," Laurie said, climbing out. "I need to stretch my legs."
Danny nodded her agreement and followed the ranger back into his house. She sat down at his radio and slipped on the earphones and then used the call signs to make contact with her estate.
Almost immediately, a near sobbing Fortune responded. "Danny, please you come back immediately. Oh Danny, the manor house is on fire!"
Return to The Bard's Corner