All that glitters…

 

The cave was partly hidden but unmistakable from Cutter’s elaborate description. The steep slope, at least fifty meters down, was daunting but if what he said was true, well worth it. Cutter was a strange one; I still question his motives for telling me about the coins. But I have always been a sucker for an adventure. So here I was standing on this precipice looking for a way down that would not splatter my brains onto the rocks.

I approached it like the Climbing Wall in my gym. Without the harness any misstep would be fatal so I took my time testing my footing before putting my weight on the rock. It was arduous and exhausting work. The cliff-face was too jagged to abseil but I still took the precaution of tying a rope around the bull bar of my Hilux parked as close to the edge as possible.

I rested on a huge boulder jutting straight out about thirty meters from the bottom and peered over the edge. The ledge was a long drop into the foamy waves crashing against sharp rocks. I had no way of knowing whether the water was deep enough to dive and the rope fell depressingly short. I had chosen to do this during low tide but still there was only a thin line of white sand separating the cave from the churning ocean. I wouldn’t have much time before the cave flooded.

I grabbed the rope once more and heaved myself over the edge. I didn’t anticipate the serrated rock obscured by the ledge and it sliced into my shin. I gasped in pain sliding down the rope until I hung about three meters from the water. Drenched by the spray I leapt feet first. The water tossed me like a salad but I was able to navigate the rocks and flung myself towards the sliver of beach.

It was wider than I thought and I lay gasping for breath. I sat up mesmerised by the blood soaking into the sand. A flash of white told me the cut opened to the bone. I removed my t-shirt and tearing a strip off the bottom I tied it around the wound. I haven’t got time for this, I told myself sternly and stood. My shin hurt like hell and the makeshift bandage was crimson in seconds. I hobbled to the mouth of the cave.

It was dark and smelt of bat urine and rotting seaweed. I removed the headlamp from my waist pouch and put it on. The outer cave led to a smaller one, which I had to bend to enter.   An odd whooshing noise made me feel as though I had my ear to a conch shell. I turned my head, the light leached into the corners and shadows danced off the oily walls. I saw the small bag tucked into a ledge cut out of the rock. It was heavy in my hand. I pulled it open and the coins shimmered under the gaze of my headlamp. I tucked it into the pouch, which slumped heavily against my stomach and limped out of the cave.

Getting back up was going to be a challenge especially with my throbbing shin. Blood pooled in my shoe and my foot was sticky. I gazed up at the rope out of my reach and my stomach lurched. The tide was surging in and time was running out. The rocks were uneven and slippery and I heaved myself up, climbing on my hands and knees, ignoring my screaming shin. I steadied myself and leaned over to clasp the rope but it swung away from my fingers. The waves crashed against the rocks almost knocking me over. I bent again and finally grabbed the rope with one hand. Years of weight lifting and bench pressing had finally paid off as my muscles strained under my weight. I kicked myself away from the sheer wall of stone careful to watch out for jutting rocks and pulled myself up the rope. I was breathing heavily from the effort but made headway achingly slowly. I reached the ledge and climbed the rest of the way up. I staggered over the edge with a yell of triumph.

There grinning malevolently was Cutter, a pistol glittering in the afternoon sun pointed at my head…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Atonement.

My chest fills with the thin mountain air of Tibet and my orange robe sways gently in the afternoon breeze. I have been here for eight months already and my past is finally fading into insignificance. I was older coming into this meditative life, all of twenty years. Most of the monks come as children.

It is quiet in the gardens as most of the others are resting in their quarters having been up since four this morning for prayers. I cannot sleep preferring to study the Buddhist texts under a tree. I have so much to learn. I still receive the odd thwack between the shoulder blades for yawning during morning prayers.

My mind wanders and I close my eyes to regain the sense of peace I had moments before. It eludes me and I put the heavy book down on the cool grass and lean against the trunk of the tree. Bells tinkle in the breeze and the smell of apple blossom suffuses the air.

I remember the day I arrived at the ornate doors of the monastery. The deep rumble of monks chanting evening prayers seemed to swirl in the valley. I was exhausted, dehydrated and near death. I fell down at the foot of the door weakly hammering the heavy wood. The chanting was without pause but someone lifted me up. I remember drifting in and out of consciousness as a cool hand mopped my brow or coaxed warm soup between my lips. Later I heard that it was many days that my sickness lasted. They asked no questions and I gave no explanations.

It is as though no time has passed and I am plunged back into that time.

My parents were simple farmers in the mountains. I had loftier ideals and left for the city to seek adventure and wealth. I met a man called Hassid with stubble on his chin and a shifty eye but I noticed only the coins he held out so willingly. If I had known accepting his money would lead me down a path so dark and painful, I would have turned away to look no more on his face. But I did not. He took me to a man he called Hakima, whose mouth held much cruelty and his eyes knowledge of evil that up to that point I had no inkling.

“You are now mine.” He said handing me a wad of more money than I had ever seen. I ignored the uneasiness in my body.

It was not even a day before I was ordered to deliver and pick up packages all over town. I did not open them preferring not to know what they contained. It was through Hassid that I took my orders.

“You go to Hakima now.” He said one morning and his mouth was sulky.

“I don’t want to.” I said, afraid.

“You go now or you go nowhere ever again.” He said ominously.

Hakima was like a tiger circling me. I held my breath as he prodded my chest with his finger.

“I am happy with your work but it is now time to prove your loyalty to me. You will go with Sadat and follow his instructions.” He held out a handgun. I shied away but he took a step towards me. I took the pistol from his hand although I trembled.

Sadat was a big man with a shaved head and I followed him without speaking. He walked fast and purposefully up and down deserted alleyways. I followed tripping to keep up with him. He stopped and took out a pistol tucked into his belt. The gun Hakima had given me was still clasped in my hand.

A fat man with sparse strands of hair plastered wetly over his scalp was standing smoking a cigar and talking to three men listening with furrowed brows.

“This comes compliments from Hakima!” Shouted Sadat and his gun exploded and the man fell to the ground. I dropped the gun and ran. I ran for days without food, drinking from stagnant puddles and finally dropped at the doors of the Monastery.

The bells ring out the start of evening prayers bringing me back to this place. I pick up the manuscript and walk back inside. The Monastery is my sanctuary. I have been called to this life of quiet contemplation and I will live out my days here.

Do unto others…

 

She felt a fizz of excitement, like an electric shock running through her body. What had felt overwhelming just moments before now seemed quite manageable.

Rayne had been in this position before. Why had she felt so trapped? Cape Town wasn’t the only place to live. She could move to Durban. The sea was a significant part of her life now she was reluctant to return to concrete and landscaped gardens. The constant humming in her head had confused her but that was starting to fade. She would move and leave it all behind. Like before. Disappearing had solved the problem of Kevin.

The cave wall was cool against her hand and the rumble of the ocean was background music. Her mood had fluctuated the last few days but today she felt more optimistic. She pushed aside the recurring vision of Jake lying in that awkward position on the floor of their apartment. She hadn’t hit him hard although the vase had shattered scattering glass all over the parquet floor. The shards were like diamonds catching the light from the huge picture window that had sold the flat to them both. She had panicked and run to the only place that felt safe.

Jake had brought her here right in the beginning. They met two years ago only a day after she arrived in Cape Town and the sea was thrilling and foreign. He had crossed through a throng of people on the beach to introduce himself to her. He had pursued her and looked intently into her eyes and said she was beautiful.

Perhaps they had moved in together too quickly? He changed when all he had to do was roll over in the bed to find her. She only wanted to be noticed, acknowledged. Was that too much to ask? But he had sneered, his lips curling in that dismissive way he had. High maintenance, he called her and then he turned away. It was instinct to grab the vase. Kevin had been the same. She chose the wrong people every time. Or maybe she was too eager when they chose her? Next time she will be elusive and make them work harder for her.

The cave was a good place to think. The rhythm of the waves soothed like a mantra and she felt rejuvenated. She repacked her beach tog bag, hitching it over her shoulder. The scramble up the steep path took all her attention so the two burly men holding badges out in front of them startled her. Her car was bathed in oily sunlight behind them but they barred the way.

She smiled and flicked her coppery hair over her shoulder. The men looked disconcerted and shuffled nervously.

“How can I help you fellows?” She said.

“You need to come with us to the station, miss.” They said in unison.

“Okay. You can tell me why in the car.” She said and smiled again. She had been in this situation many times before and always got out of it. There was no reason why she shouldn’t again.