From behind her rock, the artist hears the voices drawing nearer. She forces herself into a small bundle – alone, afraid, and all too aware of the possibilities… This spot is so isolated, these people can do anything to her and nobody will ever know. She hears them …having an argument?…and then, suddenly, it is quiet.
“So your father only brought you here? He showed you the entrance and then took you back?” Boggel eyes the crack in the huge rocks with a certain degree of doubt. Where is this leading to?
“Yes, he said I only had to know where to find it – and he said he hoped I never have to go in to the cave. His idea was that somebody had to know where to look for the documents – but only if it ever became really, really necessary. And as you can see, it is virtually impossible to find the cave if you don’t know exactly where to look.”
“Well, lets get on with it, then.” Gertruida takes the ball of wool and the torch from her backpack and steps forward. Unravelling the ball of wool, she puts a rock on the one end of the wool. “Like Hansel and Gretel,” she says.
Servaas makes sure he brings up the rear, mindful of that short skirt and the long legs…
The passage they follow is so narrow that they have to move sideways to get through, but after a few minutes of awkward shuffling, they enter a larger chamber.
“It feels like an ancient vault,” Boggel says as his shines his torch on the high roof where white stalactites reflect the beam to cast eerie shadows on the walls. “And it’s cool in here.”
“Dad said the temperature is a constant 18 degrees Celsius and the humidity low. That’s why it’s such a perfect place to store these documents. According to the map here, there should be a passage of sorts leading off to the right – but I can’t see anything like that.”
The walls do seem solid and surprisingly smooth. “It’s the limestone,” Gertruida tells them, “hundreds – thousands – of years worth of limestone sludge slowly laying down coat after coat of sediment when the water table is high enough, or when it rained. It gives the soapy texture to the surfaces. And just look at the patterns it formed.”
It is Boggel – with his natural stoop – who finds the passage: It is a dark hole, just at floor level, and it is obvious that it had been enlarged to be a square rectangle, big enough for a person to crawl through.
“Go on, Servaas, you lead the way. You’re the only able-bodied one around, aren’t you?”
The artist takes a deep breath and slowly lifts her head to peek over her boulder. Nobody. There’s nobody around… Where…?
Carefully emerging from her hiding place, she looks around to figure out what has happened to the group of people. They can’t just disappear in thin air, can they? Then her colour-conscious mind picks up something that shouldn’t be there. A line of blue leads from under a rock towards the crack in the rocks. Realisation dawns: so that’s where they went! But why…?
She’s still contemplating the question when the regular thudding of a helicopter disturbs the silence. It comes in low and fast. Instinctively and without thinking, she heads for the crack.
“There’s somebody!” Colonel Tshabalala sighs with relief. It was easy to find the Volkswagen, but finding its occupants proved to be a problem. The car-guard in the parking area said some people wandered off towards the mountain, while the attendant at the entrance booth to the regular caves was sure he hadn’t seen the red-haired woman. That’s when the colonel, in an almost-hopeless attempt to find his quarry, instructed the pilot to fly in wide arcs across the terrain. With the light fading in the late afternoon, the window of opportunity is slowly closing.
But his gamble paid off, didn’t it? He spotted the figure running towards some rocks – and who else could it possibly be than that the woman he has to find?
“Land! Land there!” He points at the small clearing next to a rock formation.
When the artist hears the helicopter landing, she tries to see what is going on outside. Three black men are getting off the helicopter: one in uniform and two rather suspicious-looking men. What are they doing here? Is it a police investigation? Was somebody murdered here and now they brought the criminals to point out the spot? Worse…point out the…corpse?
She has to get away! She’s only here to take a few photographs, dammit! There’s no way she wants to get involved in some investigation. No! There’s only one choice: follow the passage, hide, and wait for them to go.
She’s about halfway through the narrow passage when – to her horror – she hears them following her.
Patrick Ngobeni – despite his headache – hides a smile while he follows the colonel in the narrow passageway. An easy life and an unhealthy diet have combined to create an impressive figure: now the colonel huffs and puffs his way ahead, drawing his stomach in as much as possible in his efforts to forge ahead. He progresses slowly, painfully, down the passage. The pilot has supplied them with a single torch, so the two hung-over men are following the bits of light that escape past the heaving body of their superior officer.
“She’s left a line of wool on the ground, we simply have to follow it. Hopefully we’ll get to an easier section.”
The artist gropes about in the dark. She has emerged from the narrow crack in the rocks and now finds herself in a larger space. She’s never experienced such intense darkness – it is impossible to see anything at all. The passageway acts as a loudspeaker but the sound of the voices is distorted and she cannot make out the words. One thing is certain – they’re following her…
Lances of light! Oh, my word, they’re near! Panic-driven breath escape through pursed lips. Where to? Where to?
The reflected rays of light down the passage create monstrous shadows of evil and dread, but at least it dispels the darkness to some extent. There! Some stalagmites! A recess behind them… She crawls over to her new hiding place to cower down as the men enter the chamber.
Is this it? The end of her life? What do they want with her? Rape? Noooo….!
Scenes from her life flash by. The happy childhood. University. Dates with nervous young men. The wedding. A pregnancy. And then, over the years, the disillusionment of the realities she had to face. Her husband’s secrecy. The affair with the pretty young blonde. The arguments. De Rust.
She used to be the golden girl, the envy of so many. The perfect student, the perfect wife, the perfect mother…she played these roles because they were expected of her. But deep inside, in the shadowed areas which others never saw, she hated the routine of living up to other people’s expectations. Yes, she chaired the Women’s Reading Circle and helped various charities. She attended PTA meetings and church services. She lived the life others dictated. But she hated it. Every second of that make-believe world was unbearable. And she stuck it out, because that’s what society wanted.
She fitted the mould with a pretended smile and a permanent mask. She ceased to be herself.
The divorce was the key to the lock in her jail. She needed an escape and she grabbed it with both hands when the opportunity arose. At last – at long, long last – she could be herself. Dress in shabby clothes, get up early, have only one person’s washing and cleaning up to do. It took eighteen months to rediscover the artist inside her. And now, now that she’s established herself, she’s hiding in the pitch-dark of an unknown cave. Caught, like in real life before – in a situation with no escape.
Has it all come to this? Unknown men looking for…what?…in a cave?
Kneeling down on the smooth surface of the chamber, she starts praying softly.