Witness to a murder; denied police protection, Sammi has no option but to run. Though the longer she runs, the shorter the distance she seems to be from her pursuers…
I touched my brakes briefly not bothering to change down a gear on the familiar road. My trusty old CitiGolf took the speed bump like a horse going over an easy hurdle as we carried on at a good speed. I kept to third gear knowing that the next bump was less than a minute away. Rina had actually turned back to watch the black BMW320i. It had been sitting on our tail hooting irritably for at least the past three minutes. The BMW braked hard but still went over the bump with what must have been an annoying scrape. Lindi cackled wickedly, “You’re evil, darling.”
“Don’t be silly. Everyone in Joburg knows all the speed bumps and potholes. And if you don’t know the road, you shouldn’t be driving so fast.”
“Yes. Everyone in Joburg drives too fast!” added Rina, who had just moved up from Ladysmith.
“Uh-oh. I can feel a Durbanite Joburg bite coming on…,” grinned Lindi giving us her signature hair pat and wiggle. I caught Rina’s eye in the rear-view mirror. We both shook our heads. I had been in Joburg for seven years now and didn’t consider myself a Durbanite anymore. We listened to Björk as I turned left, then right onto William Nicol towards Randburg.
“So you’re really doing it, Sammi?” asked Lindi finally. Rina inched forward on the backseat.
“Ja. It feels like the right thing to do.”
“You sure?” asked Rina, “Because my cousin Priya from Newcastle went to this astrologer lady in Dundee and she told her that she would meet the man she would marry on a cruise. So Priya used all her saving to go on this cruise and almost died!”
“How? In the swimming pool?” I wondered out loud as Lindi looked at Rina with wide eyes.
“The ship sank.”
“What, the Achille Lauro?”
“No, The Oceanus. So it just goes to show!” replied Rina sitting back with satisfaction as we turned into Peter Place and started to move at a more acceptable pace despite the start of the Easter Weekend afternoon traffic.
“This isn’t the same…,” I said lamely, knowing they would never understand. Rina was only twenty-four, yet already married with a child planned for the next year. Lindi didn’t believe in romance and life-long commitment – something her girlfriend found hard to deal with.
“What you need,” began Lindi in her Mama-knows-best voice, “is some fun! When was the last time you just went on a fun date?”
I didn’t reply, still too mortified to tell them the awful truth.
“Yes,” put in Rina, adjusting the bindi on her forehead, “When was the last time you had a date, never mind a boyfriend?”
I opened my mouth with a shrug, trying to think of something off-hand to say when I was saved the trouble by a taxi suddenly cutting in front of me, causing me to break heavily and Rina’s small purse to go flying into the side of Lindi’s big new hair.
My sister, it seemed, had similar misgivings. “Look, Sam, you’re thirty-three. You’ve been waiting too long for the ‘right man’. Don’t you think it’s time that you opened your mind a bit. There’re some really nice guys out there…” I stared at my phone hatefully, half wishing we were back in the days of landlines only – or cellphones which didn’t have loudspeakers. She continued, “What about that delivery guy you were talking about?”
“What! He’s like twenty-three!”
“So?” Easily said if you are married, Aquarian and a femme-fatale yourself.
“So?” I echoed, “It’s not right for me. I need to marry a Taurean born in the year of the Rat ‘cos I’m a Cancerian born in the year of the Dragon!”
My sister sighed in exasperation, “You’re so stupid sometimes. Just don’t get conned, is all I’m saying. I’ve got to go back underground. I have to inspect a new seam. Love you. Bye. Oh, by the way, are you coming over on Sunday afternoon?”
“Yes, see you then. Love you too. Bye.” I sighed then lugged my suitcase out to the car.
For most of the drive to Magaliesberg, I sang along to my favourite songs which helped keep my mind off the next two days ahead, and the fact that I was driving through country roads in the dark – alone. I reached the Lodge just after 7pm. Mary, my friend and life-coach, was there to meet me with her famous hug and irrepressible exuberance. Linking her arm through mine, she steered me first to the main farmhouse to point out the dining room and lounges, telling me all the while about the schedule, before leading me down the enchantingly lit path to my door.
“This is a really special time, Sammi. I can just feel it!” she enthused, giving me one last hug then leaving me to settle in. At 8pm, it was time to go meet the other nine on the course. Introductions were brief. We were left to mingle over a buffet in the dining room of the converted farmhouse. It was warm and cosy; just right for exhaustion to hit, despite the strangers and my reason for being there. I thankfully seated myself down by the fire with a plate of snacky things, placing a glass of red wine by my side.
Mary bustled over. “I’m so glad you’re here!” she said with a hint of nervousness, squeezing my arm affectionately.
A momentary doubt flitted through my mind. If Mary, the facilitator of our Heart-To-Heart course, was feeling nervous… “It’s gonna be great!” I smiled with more assurance than I felt.
Mary smiled back, nodding. “You should mingle,” she encouraged, popping a kebab into her mouth.
“I will. I just feel a bit…beat…”
“That banshee of a boss been screaming again?”
“Ja. We almost missed the deadline for ‘The Times’. Lost booking materialised.”
“What, again? Heads will roll,” said Mary ominously, waving encouragement to a mousey looking person called Susie or Susan or Sheila.
“Definitely,” I remarked absentmindedly as I let my eyes wander over the male occupants of the room. None of them looked like the soulmate I had envisioned.
Mary started to brief me on the possible matches. “That’s Henry. He’s an accountant and a Reiki Master. That’s Matthew, a freelance writer and astrologer. Over there is Vusi – owns his own small ad agency. He’s a Wiccan. You two have a lot in common. Next to him is Wilhelm, another accountant with big plans to open a retreat near Rustenberg. And last, but not least, we have Malcolm. He’s a healer and a vet. You have a lot in common with him too. He could really help you with your healing development.” Mary looked at him thoughtfully. “And he’s a Taurean.”
I looked at Malcolm obediently. He had his back to me. It was a nice well formed back in a white shirt. His reddish brown hair was neatly cut. Blue jeans and takkies completed the look; a pleasing back. Mary looked at me. “Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
“Come on! Don’t be such a chicken or you’ll never get anywhere!” She grabbed my arm, pulling me towards Malcolm and Susie or Susan or whatever her name. I started to panic, quickly disentangling myself from Mary before we reached the pair.
“I’m sorry, Mary. I just need some time to myself. I’m going to go to the labyrinth, then to bed, OK?”
“OK,” Mary was looking at me with disappointment. “You rest and think about what we talked about. Any of these guys would be a great match for you, but it’s up to you to make them see that you’d be best for them. Goodnight, Sweetie.” She gave me a hug.
“Goodnight, Mary.” I scooted out of there as fast as I could.
I walked down through the trees towards the labyrinth. There were three firebrands burning at the edges of the clearing giving the whole scene a ‘Survivors Magaliesberg’ look. The mountains were faintly drawn in the background, illuminated either by a town or a veld fire – I couldn’t tell which. I walked softly not wanting to destroy the almost magical atmosphere, watching my footing on the gravel path to avoid slipping. I’d almost reached the nearest firebrand, allowing me to vaguely make out the dark shape of the tall centre stone. The shadow of the standing stone looked odd. Deformed. Like some nasty shadow creature was squatting at its base. I took a step back, gripped by a primeval fear, with the intention of running to the light and safety of the cottages. A treacherous stone tripped me. I shrieked as I started to fall, attempting to skate on the damp grass to retain some balance. Instantly, a high-powered LED light from the standing stone hit me in the eyes. An angry voice demanded, “What the hell are you doing here?”
It was a male voice; accent indeterminable. Register low. Menacing. I lost my balance completely, hitting the ground with a thump. Survival instincts taking over, I scrambled up quickly and started to run back to safety. I had barely taken two steps when I was jerked back painfully by the arm to be swung around. The horrid LED light hit me in the eyes. Too terrified to scream, I blindly hit out with my free hand at what I thought would be a face. I hit an arm instead. The torch went flying. He dived for it, his grip loosening on me. Self-defence 101 coming back to me, I kicked him as hard as I could. As he rolled away gasping in pain, I picked up the torch, taking a second to blind him with it then ran, frantically trying to turn the thing off. I found the switch seconds before I reached the trees. Softly, I ran into the darkness of the trees to carefully step off the path and lean against a tree, trying to quieten my breathing. I was absolutely certain he was chasing me. Sure enough, he was. Seconds later, rapid footfalls announced his approach, slowing as he reached the darkness of the trees. He stopped. I clutched the torch like a club, praying he would pass me by unawares. The seconds crept by as I strained to hear him – appalled that I couldn’t hear him at all. Then he was gliding past my tree like a shadowy spirit. A minute or two passed as I stood dithering whether to run to the farmhouse or back to my cottage. The thought of meeting him on the way didn’t bear thinking about. The sound of Mary and a little group of people coming down the path was a godsend. Sagging with relief, I waited for them to reach my tree before stepping out to meet them. Mary screamed. I screamed. Everyone shouted or screamed in surprise, except for Henry who laughed…hard enough to scare away any ghosts.