Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chapter 07: It starts to happen

Over the next few days all the arrangements fell into place. I had Daise booked on a flight from Kiev to Istanbul, then to Johannesburg connecting to Durban on an internal flight.

We chatted on the phone every day about inconsequential things, as both of us seemed to want to avoid committing ourselves to anything too serious until we were actually face to face. We were definitely becoming less still and awkward with each other on the phone though. I was hopeful that this would translate into a similar ease in person.

I think Beverley was just as excited as I was about the impending visit, although her sister and mother couldn't have been more disapproving. She came over to the house a few times, 'just to check on things' but I saw that she made sure that the maid had washed all the linen, prepared the guest bedroom (her old room) properly and generally made sure that everything was ready. My protestations that I had made reservations at a local guesthouse were dismissed out of hand. She had decided that Daise would stay in my house with me, and just to make sure that there was no pressure, she would have the guest bedroom with its en-suite bathroom.

On the Friday that Daise was scheduled to arrive, I got up early and went out to do some shopping for some groceries and other odds-and-sods. Then I moped around the house waiting for it to be time for me to leave for the airport. I had just finished eating some lunch I had prepared, when my cell rang, and I saw it was Daise from the caller-ID, calling me from the cell I had sent her.

“Hi Daise.”

“Hello Rupert. I am calling you from the airport in Johannesburg. I am through customs and about to board the flight to Durban. I just thought I would call you and tell you that I am here safely.”

“Thanks Daise. I am really glad to hear that. I will see you in about an hour?”

“OK. You will be there when I arrive?”

“Yes. I'm looking forward to it.”

“Me too. I must go now.”

“Bye. See you soon.”

After I hung up the phone, I cleaned my teeth one more time out of sheer nervous anticipation, and jumped in the Land Rover. I had a bit of problem with my two Labradors. They had obviously picked up on my excitement and thought they were going out to the bush with me as they did at irregular intervals.

“No Jaxon. No Holly. Down. Not today.” I told them. They were not terribly convinced and they gave me the peculiar wet-eyed look of sadness that Labradors do so well. I had to firmly suppress the guilt feelings that they were so adept at producing and I watched carefully until the motorised gate had closed fully behind me to ensure that they weren't trying to follow after me.

It took me just over half an hour to get to the Durban International Airport. Fortunately, the fifty or so kilometres wasn't congested too badly at this time of day. Parking was a lot easier now that the parking garage built in anticipation of the 2010 Soccer World Cup was completed, and I was waiting in the arrivals hall in good time. I was glad to see on the announcement screen that the South African Airways flight was scheduled to arrive on time.

Once the status changed to Landed, I got up from the seat at the coffee-shop where I had been sitting to watch the passing parade, and stood at the doorway that separated the hall where arrivals collected their luggage from the rest of the airport.

I was surrounded by the usual crowd of people waiting to greet the arrivals. The composition of crowds like this neverseems to never change. I was pretty oblivious though as I waited anxiously for my first glimpse of Daise 'in the flesh'.

It took just over twenty minutes before the first arrivals from her flight started coming through the door. She was not in the first group and I was barely able to contain my impatience. I finally spotted her at the rear of the second group. She was wearing a small back-pack and carrying a small battered suit-case by its handle.

I stood for a few seconds and watched her as she walked closer, obviously scanning the crowd to try to spot me. I really liked the way she looked. The photos on the website, and the few others she had emailed to me since, did not do her any justice. Her skin had a clear, translucent look and her hair was extremely fine and very long. It was a brown colour with natural highlights that made it look blond. As she got a little closer though, what struck me was her eyes. They were a piercing blue. I couldn't understand how that hadn't shown up clearly in the photos.

Just then, she turned her head again and her eyes caught mine. She stopped, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car travelling on a dark road at night, looking as if she was frozen in place but ready to bound away at any second. I decided I had been right; this was one woman that had to be handled very gently; coaxed almost like a wild horse being gentled to the reins. I smiled at her and half-lifted my hand in greeting. I could see it took a conscious effort for her to break free of her apprehension and greet me in turn.

“Hi” she said.

“Hi. Welcome to Durban. It's great to finally meet you.” I reached out and took the suit-case from her hand and our hands touched briefly. I was instantly transported back to when I had been twelve and had held hands with a girl for the first time. I was in the same state of excitement mixed with apprehension. “Here, let me take that for you.”

“Thank you. It is nice to finally meet you too.”

“Are you OK? Do you need to use the ladies' or something?”


“The Ladies.” I pointed to the universal airport sign for the toilet and she suddenly grasped what I meant.

“No thank you.”

“OK. Let's go then. There is no need to hang around here.”

With that I led her out of the arrivals hall and across the road to the parking garage. It wasn't more than ten minutes and we were on the N2 highway heading back towards Durban. As we drove, I took the time to evaluate what I had just experienced. I hadn't even had a second to think about what I thought about her; I had just stored my impressions.

She was wearing one of the dresses that I had seen on the website. An orange coloured, peasant style dress whose hem rested just at the level of her knees and had slightly puffed sleeves that were just off her shoulders, showcasing her slender neck. Her hair was clipped back from her face, but fell in a long continuous wave from the top of her head, down over her back. She had delicate, flat leather sandals on her feet, and I could see that her toe-nails were painted a delicate pink. I thought she had on just a little too much make-up, especially around her eyes, but on reflection decided that she was probably wearing her best dress and had made an effort to get her makeup right. Unfortunately, there was just a bit too much and it was done just inexpertly enough to be jarring. I decided that if I had watched the two of us meeting, I would have thought that she was the teenaged daughter meeting her father or uncle. She looked as if she was a thirteen year old girl who had borrowed some of her mother's makeup.

I could see that she was very thin, even with the way that the dress concealed her figure, and her face looked a little gaunt. She looked very much as if she had been eating too little for too long. Everything about her told me that she was exactly what she had claimed to be; someone who was almost all alone in the world and was looking after herself in the best way she knew how.

“So, what do you think of South Africa so far?” I could have kicked myself. What an inane question. All she had seen was Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg (from the inside), Durban International Airport and about fifteen kilometres of freeway.

“I am surprised. There are so many white people. I thought everyone would be black.”

I laughed. “Yes, most people who come here for their first time are surprised by that; also by the fact that we have such a well developed infrastructure.”

“You have beautiful roads. This one is wonderful.”

“Yes. There is some deterioration around the place, but the main road are still well maintained. How was your journey? Are you tired?”

“The journey was wonderful and I slept a lot on the plane. I have never flown before that I can remember. My father told me that we flew to Kiev from Moscow when I was very young, but I have never left Kiev again that I can remember.”

“Oh, I thought you were born in the Ukraine?”

“No. We are Russian. My father moved because of the Army. After everything changed, we could have moved back, but my father decided that it was safer for me in Kiev. He was away a lot of the time anyway, so he just visited us when he could.”

“That's sad. Parents have to make hard choices sometimes, but it's still difficult on the children, even when they understand what the reasons are.”

“There was much trouble with the Glasnost and the breaking up of the USSR. I think my father was scared that something bad would happen in Moscow.”

“Wasn't it difficult being in a place where you didn't really know anyone?”

“I had Alina and her mother. We kept to ourselves a lot. The others at school didn't really like us because we were Russian, but it was fine because we had each other.

“OK. I can understand that. I was asking because of the arrangements. I have booked you into a guest-house …”

“I am not to stay with you? I didn't understand this from your message.”

“No. I thought that might make you think I was putting pressure on you.” I glanced sideways at Daise and her expression was slightly panicked. “What's wrong, don't you like that idea?”

“Is it not possible to stay with you? I don't know anyone else.”

“Ok. My daughter, Beverley, thought that you might want to. Seems she knows better than me. She has prepared the spare bedroom in case you wanted to stay.”

“That is much better.”

I could see the relieved look spread across her face. Obviously, she was a lot more apprehensive that I had thought.

“If you are up to it, there is a function tonight that I have been invited to. I don't want to overwhelm you when you have just arrived, but I thought you might like to go, especially after finding out about your father.”

“Why? What sort of function is it?”

“It is my Regiment's Spring Ball tonight.”

“Your Regiment? Are you a soldier? Why didn't you tell me this?”

“Sorry, I suppose I should have. I am a part-time soldier. It doesn't take up much of my time at the moment. I am just involved with training.”

“Oh, OK. There is much for me to learn about you.”

“And me about you. So, would you like to go?”

“I don't think I can. I don't have anything to wear. This is my best dress.”

“That is an easy problem to fix. How about we stop at some shops before we go back to my house then we can get you sorted out?”

“Ok. If you think that this is what we should do, then it is fine.”

I was happy about that. I looked forward to arriving at the function with this beautiful girl on my arm, but more importantly, to introducing her to some of the important people in my life.”

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