I found out that she had flown to Israel while under the influence of cocaine. She confided this to me later, after she felt she could trust me. After the months on the farm had passed and I had decided to move on to the city.
Lots of people did a similar thing after their six month contract as a volunteer on a kibbutz ended.
As the days approached for when I was to leave we got drunk together and danced in the cheesy international disco nights they used to have in the bomb shelters with their makeshift bars and cheap Israeli vodka. On one occasion we sat outside in the warm air of summer while I harped on about how I was going to see the rest of the world and do something with my life.
There were forty volunteers, some stayed and some went early, you lost your deposit if you left early after signing your contract for six months work.
I suppose some didn’t care and the work proved too hard for them. I had been there a week when Angela arrived, she was the only other English girl on the farm. Angela was from the East end of London and she made me laugh.
She rolled her own cigarettes and said she was twenty seven but I saw lines under her pale blue eyes that made her look older. She drank a lot, could drink most of the commonwealth contingent under the table and she didn’t conform with rules very well.
There were many different jobs a volunteer could do, they alternated duties to test the persons abilities. I ended up as a full time gardener. Angela got put in the kitchens. She liked it, on nights after work when there was a lull between hedonism and excess I would spend time with her in her room, we were neighbors on the first floor of the big dorm like volunteer house. I rambled on as the innocence of my nineteen year old life hung in the moonlight and she made tea and watched me and listened.
On the day I left I wrote down my address in England, my parents’ address, but she never gave me hers. I said ‘I want us to stay in touch’, but she just smiled and said ‘I will see you again’.
I went to Tel Aviv and worked on various construction sites and in hotels washing dishes and cleaning. I slept on the beach when I ran out of money. Sometimes a friend would sneak me in to the nearby hostel overlooking the beach when there was a spare bed in their room and I would saunter out the next morning trying not to look like I wasn’t a resident. One night when I’d been successfully accompanied into the hostel under the guise of having paid to be there I saw her.
Angela was there with a South African who had been on the farm. They were a couple. I felt no jealousy, only happiness for her. Like everybody else in the biblical land of Israel, she was looking for something and I hoped she had found it. I hoped this because my intuition told me that behind the strong and frank external character she prevailed upon, she was fragile.
I got the South African a job, we became friends and he would talk of Angela as a goldmine of discovery. It was unexpected when she said she had to go back to England. She had been in Tel Aviv for only a month but she was adamant she had to go back. Wynand, her boyfriend was gutted, so was I.
On the night before she flew back we all got drunk, she explained that she had to go back for certain reasons but that mainly she wanted to set things up for Wynand to come and live with her there. It seemed to make more sense as the night went on. I reasoned that she was the leader type, independent, capable, determined. The next morning I woke late and heavy headed, she had gone. Wynand was asleep snoring loudly. I reached for my boots under the bed and thought about Angela. There in the boot she had left me a small note. It read…
‘I will see you again’
Wynand and I walked the streets of Tel Aviv for a week, we lived by our wits to get by and when a group of other South Africans arrived at the hostel we became a part of a home grown community, everybody knew everybody else and a natural bonding surfaced in a group human kindness and goodwill that kept the both of us in Israel for another month.
Wynand told me that Angela was going to send him the money through when she had things organized. It was strange but we weren’t even sure what she did. I left Israel before my flight ran out, I had no money to extend it further. Wynand and the South Africans all gave me their addresses and said they would see me in South Africa.
After I returned to England I worked on a construction site for a year and saved so as to go travelling again. I did want to go to South Africa, actually I wanted to go anywhere and everywhere I possibly could. I had family in South Africa though which made it all the more possible, an Aunt who lived in a place called ‘Mafeking’. I actually ended up in the suburbs of Johannesburg in a place called ‘Randfontein’.
I got a job and a car and my money went quite a way because of the exchange rate for sterling to the Rand. I was twenty one and living my adventures out in a foreign land. I worked in a bar and one evening a familiar voice asked for a beer. I was stocking the fridge below, my head down, but it was a funny moment when I stood up and looked at him. It was Shane, one of the South Africans from the hostel in Tel Aviv. What ensued was almost like the finding of a long lost brother. It was a great evening, we got drunk together after I finished my shift and he told me eventually about Wynand and Angela.
Angela had sent the money across to Wynand and he had flown to London where they had lived in a small flat. Wynand had spent his first winter there in England and became almost physically ill from it. His father had heard about this and sent him two tickets for a flight back to Johannesburg.
Angela had come with him, they were engaged now and living in Mafeking. In the darkness of the early morning as I laid on the sofa in Shanes’ front room I smiled in anticipation of seeing them again.
A few weeks later I turned up at Wynands parents’ house in Mafeking. I’d popped around briefly to see my Auntie and had coffee and cake. It was all a bit stinted and tense but I had promised my father I would pay a visit and I suppose it was difficult for my Aunt as she hadn’t seen me in over twelve years. I received a much warmer welcome from my friends. They were standing outside waiting for me. They felt like family.
We went dancing and then unbelievably I won a bottle of champagne at Karaoke. They seemed happy. I spoke to her only a few short times alone, she spoke of Wynand a lot and their plans. It was almost as if she had hidden the old Angela away, the fragile Angela, she was strong in love now and seemed certain of her future. In the few days I spent with them I heard them argue once, it ended quickly. Wynand walking away from her like a puppy with a tail between his legs and then Angela calmly taking out her tin of tobacco and deftly rolling up a cigarette.
The sky was clear blue on the morning I drove back to the suburbs of Johannesburg. It was about a five hour drive. Before the waving goodbye from the open drivers’ window I had hugged them both. Wynand his usual easy going amiable smile showing his slightly crooked front teeth and deep blue eyes. He stood slightly above her in height.
I took her hand.
‘Angela, take care of yourself, stay in touch’
She just smiled back.
I think now as I look back on that morning that perhaps it was her way of saying a final goodbye, by saying nothing.
I neither heard from nor saw them together ever again. Once the money had run out in South Africa I returned to England once more and began the process of trying to find some sort of career. I tried a Sports Science course at a local college but that didn’t work out very well, I suppose I was still restless. A friend in London said he could get me a job in a book-makers so I thought ‘why not?’
In the end I managed to get two jobs in London, I worked through daylight hours as a clerk on the betting desk and then as a waiter in a café that stayed open till the early morning hours near the district of Soho. It was an eye opener working there, tramps in the toilets and a variety of lost souls in colourful drabs and displays filing past the windows.
It was approaching winter, the last hues of autumn were signaling their own passing and the city seemed oblivious. I was caught up in it, the nature of money. I offered to do a dayshift in the café on my day off from the book-makers and after a three o clock finish I took a short cut to the tube station through the inner streets of Soho.
Perhaps seeing her like that was my own punishment for chasing money too much, but if I had had a choice I would have chosen to remember her as I saw her that morning, stood underneath the blue sky, baize shorts and a yellow t-shirt. Her fair hair falling beyond her slight shoulders and her eyes distant but yet still smiling with specks of happiness visible. I have often considered that if she had seen me walking towards her that afternoon she would never have allowed me to see her but then perhaps she wanted me to see her, to help her. I should have stopped when the spark of recognition flickered in my brain. I should have stopped in front of her and not walked on as I did around the corner of the street. It was there that I stopped, something stopped me, some internal urge to finally recognize and act towards what I had reluctantly believed to be her.
It was only a matter of seconds, perhaps twenty. But when I returned to the spot where she had stood she was gone. Angela, dressed in black boots with a short red leather mini skirt, her hair dyed magenta and tied back behind her head. Dark eyeliner and red lipstick brutally contrasting her calm, pale features.
Angela, the brave traveller, the keeper of secrets, the fragile woman that was my friend.