Perilous Journey

by Charlotte Tsoku

He sat motionless staring into space.

“Are you ok?” Julie asked, brushing a strand of hair from his face.

“Can we meet at the park?” he enquired tapping his fingers on the table

“Of course” replied Julie, tilting her head backwards.

Julie took a deep breath, taking in the rich aroma of the coffee that filled the air.

Micah took a mouthful of the hot coffee savouring it`s taste.

“Shall I order you a mug of coffee?” he asked

“No thanks Love I`ve got an appointment with Prof!” she replied. A smile spread across her face, exposing a dazzling set of white teeth.

Julie stood for some time, transfixed to the spot, momentarily lost in thought. Her thoughts were in a turmoil.

Micah had acted strangely these past few days, she thought. He had changed since he met that girl with long black hair.

  Famida had joined their class late in the first semester. She had instinctively become friends to both them. Julie had gone out of her way to make Famida  

welcome to Wits University.

One day as they sat having dinner, Famida had blurted out that Micah`s parents would not approve of his relationship with Julie. The cultural differences she

 said were too vast to bridge.

Julie could not shake off the feeling that Famida   was secretly in love with Micah. Was he equally in love? Was he going to tell her today when they met at the park?

Julie`s thoughts went back to that enthralling evening in the cafeteria at Wits University.  They had had a couple of drinks which loosened their tongues. Micah had tipped a glass of red wine over Julie`s white blouse.  Julie was enraged, but when their eyes met, a spark ignited. They kissed passionately afterwards and became inseparable lovers since then.

Micah, sensing Julie`s presence was suddenly jolted back to life. He stood up and pulled her towards him.  His strong arms encircled her tiny waist, in a long tight grip.  A gasp of air escaped from Julie`s mouth. Breathing heavily Micah sealed her open pouting red lips with a deep passionate   kiss.

Whilst in this embrace, Famida walked in, strut across the floor with a familiar clank towards their table. She sat down, eyeing the two lovers with envy. They however, were oblivious of her presence. She cleared her throat loud enough for the two to jump apart.

Disentangling herself, Julie held Micah at arm`s length, admiring his tan and muscular body. A shiver ran down her spine, a yearning for consummation. She threw herself back into his arms.  Famida red faced, rose   from her chair and strode across the floor. She could feel hot tears burning her face.  Midway the floor she turned her head back, gave a last glance at the two and ran out the door.

 Back in class, Julie recalled when she had first introduced her boyfriend, to her parents. They had not said much nor revealed their feelings. She remembered her mum`s slips of the tongue that evening. These had cast unanswered questions in her mind.  An Iranian?  Julie`s mum had thought to herself. Was her daughter venturing into unchartered waters?  She had wondered, but dared not to ask.

Her thoughts were in a turmoil, when she met with Micah later that afternoon. She had almost tripped, as she raced towards the park. The thought of losing him was hard to contemplate.  Famida, it seemed had become a wedge between them, a formidable enemy, the thought was painful to bear. Why had Micah frozen and held his breath when Famida ran out of the cafeteria?

Micah was sitting on the bench, in the park, when she arrived.  Breathless she planted a quick kiss on his full lips and nestled beside him.  He remained motionless, his face etched in furrows,   brown eyes staring into space.

“Have you been waiting long?” she breathed, a pink warm glow highlighting her high cheeks bones.

“Too long……yes too long?” he replied sternly, his face contorted as if in pain

The pink colour left her face. She nestled closer to his muscular body, to feel the spark that had joined them. Her large blue eyes were searching intently into his face.  A lump rose to her throat, a sniff, and then tears suddenly rolled down her pale cheeks. Julie pulled a tissue under the sleeve of her white blouse. A torrent of uncontrollable tears flowed from her sad blue eyes .She   blew her sharp pencilled nose quietly, dabbing the tears.

Micah`s brown deep set eyes evaded her gaze.  He stood up, his medium sized frame towering over her. Micah frowned as he put his hands in his pockets. He took off his jacket, hands shaking; he was frantically searching for something. Julie looked up, her large blue eyes narrowing from the glare of the setting sun.

“I`m so sorry Julie, to have wasted your time” said Micah in a dull voice

“Please Micah, I can`t bear this anymore” cried Julie turning her face towards him

“Julie I`m truly in love for ever!” exclaimed Micah

“Oh no please!” screamed Julie, as Famida`s face flashed past her mind.

He lowered himself back on the bench besides her, brushing off the offending tears from her face.  Micah cradled her in his arms.   The pain in her heart and behind her eyelids was intolerable.

Micah suddenly disengaged himself and turned away from her.  He reached inside his pocket and held his hand in there for a while.   Julie kept her throbbing eyes shut; this seemed to soothe her eyeballs.

Like a man possessed, he moved closer to her again. He opened the blue box in his hand, exposing a shimmer of diamonds set on a gold band. When Julie opened her eyes, they fell upon the most exquisite set of shimmering diamonds. Her heart missed a beat. She gazed into his face in utter shock and disbelief.   Hand on her breast, she held her breath, let out a scream and burst into tears again. They were tears of joy this time.

“Will you marry me, Julie Anderson?” asked Micah, in a low husky voice

“Yes….Yes….Micah, I will!”  Cried Julie, her voice echoing in the air, in sheer exuberance.

She extended her left hand towards him. He held it in one hand and slipped the ring gently on her left finger.

Micah scooped her up into his arms, and sealed her mouth with a long and deep passionate kiss.

Julie clung to him as she returned the passion.

Famida had been seating undetected a few paces from the now newly engaged couple. She was wearing a burka. The long black apparel hid her face, neither of them saw her as she quickly walked past them. They sat on the bench holding hands and kissing, oblivious of their surroundings. Famida was the first to be told the good news. She seemed to share their happiness. She joined the couple and their friends for a night out. Julie could not resist flashing her diamond ring.

The following months had gone quickly, Julie recalled, as they prepared for the wedding. Micah`s parents had been invited but a week before the wedding, they had rung they couldn`t attend. Julie had felt very disappointed as she had been looking forward to meeting with his parents. Now happily married to Micah, Julie wondered about her in-laws, was Famida right after all?

She remembered the day of her wedding which had taken place in a small country church.  Julie had looked radiant in her shimmering, pearl studded white wedding gown. The church was filled with Julie`s family and friends. Famida was not among the guests she had suddenly gone to Iran a week before the wedding. Why had she suddenly gone back to Tehran.

They had taken their vows, promising to love each other for better or for worse until death do them part. Julie wondered if Micah felt the same about the vows. She felt elated and proud that her parents had shown up. She was however apprehensive about Micah`s family. What connection does Famida have with her husband’s family? Had she gone to Iran to antagonize her with Micah`s family?

Julie soon fell pregnant with their first baby two months after the wedding.  Micah had taken a job at his uncle`s car sales company as executive director. They had bought a house in a plush suburb in Manchester.  Their life had settled into domestic bliss, she could not have been married to a more adoring husband.  Although Julie had yearned to start a career of her own, she thought motherhood should take precedence. She put her aspirations on hold. She calculated that a year later after birth of their first, she would find a job. She would become a Solicitor in one of the popular law firms. As for now she should be content with being a housewife and soon a mother to be. Micah worked hard to make up for it and tried to give them both a good life.

One day before the birth of their first child, Micah came home excited. His parents wanted him to visit with Julie to Tehran.

“I will book us a flight within a week” said Micah

“Oh no! I`m not ready to travel on the plane, my morning sickness will be worse.” replied Julie,

“We can`t delay this, Dad wants us home” said Micah beaming with joy.

His parents` absence at his wedding had hit him very hard. Micah would go to any length to gain his parents` approval.

A week later Julie found herself in a strange country, surrounded by a different culture. Micah seemed to have turned into a different person. Julie could not understand his thinking. He seemed unable to reconcile with his British life. He seemed to have forgotten about being British. Julie for once in her life felt the pang of emotional desertion. She felt isolated and a twinge of anxiety crossed her mind

 It came as a surprise when he told her to wear the burka like all Iranian women.  She had not thought about it nor discussed it with him.  It did not occur to her that he would expect that from her, on this short visit. Why hadn`t her husband warned her? At least she would have had time to choose what to wear.

Micah  couldn`t afford to antagonize his parents anymore she thought. Julie realised for the first time, that marrying an Iranian man was a challenge. To Julie`s horror he announced he was returning to England alone. Micah finally put the nail on the coffin when he told her that his parents wanted the child she was carrying to be born in Tehran.

The days went by quickly as her bump grew in fits and bounds. Micah was prepared for his return to England without his wife.  Julie`s   heart cried out in anguish as Micah left. She couldn`t accompany him to the airport.  She was confined to the Bungalow with no outside communication or means of transport.

Life for Julie became torture, she had no one to talk to, and she felt isolated. She had never met with her in-laws. However she had all her material needs to live catered for. The ten roomed bungalow was full to capacity and brimming. Julie had all she needed except freedom and a husband.  It felt like living in hell`s hole. She would sit outside the bungalow in the backyard reading to pass time

 She yearned to go for a walk outside the house. Julie knew she dared not as she was being closely watched.   There was no contact from her beloved husband either. Julie would lie awake every night worrying about her unborn child`s future. She struggled to erase her husband from her thoughts with no success. The feeling of isolation and rejection was overwhelming. She felt like she was being buried alive.  She became increasingly anxious and paranoid. She felt unsafe and panicked she was going to lose the baby.

She thought there was a woman next door who was watching her every day.  She could not distinguish between her delusions and reality any more as she sank into depression. One morning she imagined that the woman was waving at her, from the top window of the house. Julie apprehensive, by now did not know whether to wave back or not. At some stage she thought she could hear a familiar voice of a female laughing in the house next door.  

One day she heard the voice clearly calling out to her. The voice called itself Samantha. Julie was taken by surprise but also responded. This developed into little chats across the fence with the unseen owner of the voice

When a trust relationship was finally established between Julie and the figureless voice, she would share her frustrations and despair with the voice of Samantha. Alone Julie wondered about the familiarity of the voice. She however shrugged off these feelings as a fiction of her imagination.

The voice of Samantha promised to help Julie all she can.  She told Julie to always wear all her jewellery on her body. She would arrange for her to be smuggled into nearby Turkey.  Where she could make her way back to England. She promised her that a friend would be waiting at the Turkish border to take to the airport. The voice said if the baby was born before the planned escape Julie had to have a contingency plan. She would give Julie some sedative drugs to give to the baby to make him sleepy, keep him quiet to avoid detection. 

She also advised her to strap him across her tummy with a big blanket to keep him out of sight.  She would have to barter her escape by paying with her jewellery.  This was the only hope she had of ever leaving Iran. She was to meet with the smugglers out of Tehran.  Samantha would   drive her to the next town so she is not detected. Once outside the city she was going to be left on her own.

The escape was planned for night time. Julie would not be able to see the two men who were going to smuggle her out. These two men spoke very little English, the voice said and didn`t want to be detected. Escapees often spilled the beans when caught. Samantha`s voice told her a donkey cart would be waiting for her outside the city. Julie was to climb into it without saying a word. The donkey cart would travel through mine fields and mountains across Tehran into the border post of Turkey. Where a known friend will meet her as arranged

 The voice warned her there was a risk of being captured by the authorities. The smugglers sometimes get greedy or double cross escapees.   These arrangements made Julie anxious. She however believed in the supernatural. She was convinced in her mind a power beyond her comprehension had come to her rescue. Her overwhelming determination was to leave Tehran, this desire made her feel able to cope with her present circumstances. However in the back of her mind she was not sure whether to trust or distrust the voice and the reality of smugglers made her fearful.   

On the day of escape Julie wore all the jewellery she had and all what Micah had bought for her, on her body. She wore a large burka that disguised her body and spread a blanket across her now large frame. True to the voice`s promise, a car had arrived at past midnight to fetch Julie, it was parked outside her bungalow. Julie climbed into the car. There were car keys in the ignition, instructions were scrawled on a piece of paper lying on the passenger seat. Julie was to drive herself to some meeting place. A satellite navigator gave her the instructions how to get there.

Julie was calm as she contemplated what lay ahead. The car sped off skirting and screeching finally coming to a halt in a dark deserted strip of land. When Julie looked around, all she could see was the large expanse of dead desert. The mountains stood out like human frames against the backdrop of the moonlight.  Julie felt a cold shiver run down her spine when she saw the donkey cart and the donkeys parked in the darkness.

 Julie switched off the car. lumbered slowly and heaved herself onto the cart. Once settled on the cart, some woman dressed in a burka appeared and whispered something into her ear. It was that familiar voice she recognized.  Julie nodded; slowly she peeled off her rings from her finger. She held them fondly against her breast. A single tear dropped from her eye. She reluctantly let go and gave them to the lady dressed in a burka. This had startled Julie, satisfied with the payment, Julie waited for the two men to arrive

 Julie must have fallen asleep, from sheer exhaustion. When she opened her eyes the woman was sitting beside her on the donkey cart. Julie attempted to speak to her but there was no answer, it was like talking to a brick wall. Perplexed Julie turned her head towards her rescuer. To her shock she looked straight into the face of Famida.  She had taken off the burka. Her long black hair falling down her shoulders.

Julie suddenly felt sweeping waves of nausea and dizziness. Her heart began to pound hard against her chest.  An excruciating pain shot across her abdomen. The pains came hard and fast.  Julie finally passed out.  She kept drifting in and out of consciousness. She could hear Famida`s familiar voice distinctly clearer now.

“Julie you`ve got to hold on!”  shouted Famida in desperation

“The baby is coming anytime!” cried Julie, panting 

Famida pulled the reins, racing against time. Searing pains shot through Julie`s body as the donkeys galloped into the darkness

  Will she make it on time?

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