Johann made his way to the reception area and selected a comfortable chair reaching out for the Sunday paper to scan headlines while he waited.
Manja picked up Stephanie and went to the elevator to punch in her floor level. Stephanie was quiet now but glancing over her shoulder to try and discover where the ice cream man had gone. Manja placed her daughter on the floor of the room and headed for the bathroom where she sat and fussed over her hair combing it this way and that until she was moderately satisfied it was in place. She wondered whether there’d be a strong breeze on the harbour where they’d be taking the promised cruise. It looked nice from her window and she looked forward to this outing after being confined for a couple of days now that Stephanie seemed to have recovered. Perhaps the effects of jet lag had worn off at last. Perhaps it would be well to tie her hair up in case there was a breeze? She tried that but didn’t like the result. Then she remembered her bathroom kit and reached in to extract her favourite hair spray. She re-combed her hair until exactly right and sprayed it liberally. Then she picked up Stephanie and gave her a quick wash before dressing her in a playsuit then headed for the foldable stroller. Best to take that in case Stephanie became weary or to secure her for safe transport. Having done all that she suddenly paused. She was going out with a stranger who she’d met by chance over lunch. How did she know it was safe? This country was unfamiliar to her and she knew she had to be careful. Her husband had seemed wonderful before they were married but subsequently turned out to be controlling and abusive. At first her brother who counted him as a friend had thought she was exaggerating these negative traits as he’d never seen that side of him, but marks on her face and body eventually convinced Berend his sister was not exaggerating and there’d been an altercation between them and her husband had left to return to Germany and his pleasures. When Manja heard he’d died in a ski accident she’d not mourned. He’d drained her emotions in that marriage, and she thought it impossible she’d ever love outside her family again. Berend felt responsible for introducing his sister to Weber and became her protector and substitute father to Stephanie. Manja sat by the window and stared out at the harbour forgetting the time.
Johann glanced at his watch. It was a half hour since he’d settled in this chair and he wondered if there was a problem. He went to reception and asked to be connected to Manja Smit’s room. Normally the receptionist would make that call as they were not permitted to disclose information about another resident but as Johann was a regular they often bent rules for him trusting him completely. The receptionist handed him the phone after punching in the room number and after a delay Manja picked up her bedside phone.
“Do you need any help Manja?”
There was silence and then the sound of sobbing before the phone disconnected.
The receptionist had been listening in on the conversation and looked concerned as Johann turned to her. “I think Mrs Weber is in trouble and I need to help her. What is her number?”
The receptionist paused. They were not supposed to give out that kind of information. “Are you a relative?”
“Yes!” Johann said it confidently, but his conscience pricked him at the obvious lie.
The receptionist smiled knowingly. “Room 202 second floor.” If he were a relative he’d have know that, but Mrs Weber obviously needed help and she’d seen them at the lunch area together as she passed through.
Manja heard urgent knocking at the door and got up from the side of her bed to check out who was there. She opened the door and was face to face with Johann tears still streaming down her cheeks. Memories of her marriage to Weber had been painful and this was the reason Berend had bought her the ticket to Australia to try and wipe those memories. Now she was confused about trusting this man at the door. She’d never allow herself to go through that trauma again, specially with a daughter to protect now.
“Can I come in?” The question was directed gently, and she read genuine concern in his eyes. She’d never marry another man but that shouldn’t deny her the pleasure of seeing new sights to try and erase these terrible memories should it? She nodded and opened the door. Stephanie ran to meet him extending her arms once again to be picked up.
Manja dried her eyes with the back of her hand. “I think Stephanie misses my brother Berend. He and his wife used to dote on her, and she seems to think you’re his substitute. If you wish you can pick her up.”
Johann picked Stephanie up and a wave of pleasure ran through him. He too had doted on his nephews and nieces as they grew up and showered presents on them all whenever he’d return from one of his trips. He took the little girl over to the window and talked to her in German as she pointed to different activities happening on the harbour. Then he turned to Manja who was staring out over the harbour too.
“What’s the problem Manja, is there anything I can do to help you?”
The story of her life came out in a torrent. The happy childhood with her family, the frequent vacations they were able to take in their affluence. The years leading up to marriage with Weber her brother’s friend which also seemed to be ideal. Then in blow by blow detail the slow decline in her love for a husband who tried to control every aspect of her life and very soon became abusive. How she was secretly glad when she heard he’d died in a ski accident. Finally, a declaration she was afraid all men outside her family were the same and was fearful of leaving the safety of this hotel with him that afternoon.
Johann was appalled someone would consider him a potential danger to women. His first impulse was to leave if she felt this way about him. He put Stephanie down and she clung to his leg. “I suppose I’d better go then if you think I’d be like that Manja. It’s very hurtful to think someone would think that about me as I’m not at all like that. I love family and am quite protective of the women in my family.” He gently removed Stephanie and pointed for her to go to Manja. Then sighed and headed for the door.
As the door clicked shut Manja realized how insulting her statements must have been to this man who’d shown nothing but kindness to them. She needed to apologize and rushed to the door to open it. She stood at the door and called out loudly. Mr Kavel please come back. You forgot something!”
Johann turned in puzzlement. He hadn’t bought anything with him. He reached into his pocket to check his phone had not slipped out. Then he checked his back pocket for his wallet which was in place securely buttoned down. Reluctantly he retraced his steps still smarting from Manja’s statement.
Manja held the door open and beckoned him inside. He hesitated and entered reluctantly. “What did I forget Manja?”
“Us! You were going to take us on a harbour cruise remember?”
Johann shook his head in amazement. This woman was hard to figure out and maybe he needed to cut and run but he’d promised and hopefully she’d have a better opinion of men after this afternoon was over. He’d take them both as promised but that would be the last time he’d see Manja again. For a while she’d distracted him from his predictable life routine and he even had to admit he was very interested after their encounter at lunch in pursuing this woman. That urge had now faded.
He looked at his watch. If we hurry we can still catch the Harbour Highlight Cruise. It goes for about one and a half hours. Then we could do the IMAX theatre in Darling Harbour which I think would fascinate Stephanie and finally your choice of one of the upmarket restaurants in Darling Harbour.
Manja smiled in anticipation. “Let’s see how the cruise goes and then think about the other two possibilities later.” They rushed to the harbour cruise venue and were fortunate to just make it before they closed the ticket office.
Manja thoroughly enjoyed the outing on the harbour and Johann watched her carefully to see if she was prone to mood swings. He had to admit she’d good reason not to trust men if she’d been let down so badly in her marriage.
In fact, she had such a good time she volunteered to try out the IMAX theatre suggestion and Johann was right, Stephanie was transfixed with the scenes she seemed to be folded into. Then as the sun was fading Johann suggested they finish the day dining at his favourite Thai restaurant with views over the water. Manja’s eyes were no longer tear filled but dancing with excitement at the afternoon activities and Stephanie had been very well behaved. She seemed comfortable with this man for some reason and Manja’s reserve against him began to evaporate. But she was still firm in her belief marriage to another man was risky after her sad experience.
When they reached the hotel, Johann carried Stephanie to her room as she was now fast asleep while Manja carried the folded up stoller. She opened the door and placed the stroller inside then reached for Stephanie thanking Johann for a happy afternoon and evening. He nodded courteously and wished her a good night then headed for his room to make a phone call home. He’d not share with his family the events of the day knowing his mother Anna would take and active interest in that and commence her marriage suggestions again. He found that a little irritating. Tomorrow he’d follow up on some business leads around town and then after gauging new interests would decide on the day of his return to Adelaide by air and then on to the Barossa Valley and home.
After the phone call he settled down to watch the news on TV but his mind kept turning over the events of the day. He was still a little resentful over Manja’s remarks about trusting him but had to admit after spending the whole afternoon with her she was a stable woman who’d had a bad experience she still hadn’t been able to shake off. He felt they’d both enjoyed their time together though. Too bad things hadn’t worked out as she fitted his ideal of a partner for life. Besides, she lived in Europe and his interests lay here in this country.
He struggled with these thoughts and at one stage returned to the bed and picked up the phone. He knew her number now so could contact her from his room. Then his logical mind took over again and he put the phone down, went for an evening shower and climbed into bed turning off the light. He had a restless night, waking to read for a while then sleeping again only to repeat the performance. This was unusual as he always slept through the night. In the morning he woke with a hangover and considered going to the gym for the usual early morning workout, but this didn’t translate into action. He knew what the problem was but wasn’t prepared to admit it. Finally, he gave in and picked up the bedside phone punching in her number. A sleepy voice answered, “Yes?”
Johann put on his professional voice. “This is Johann, just checking to see you’re OK before I plan my day’s activities Manja in case you need anything.”
Suddenly the sleepy voice was replaced with a clear voice. “Thank you so much, Stephanie has been looking for the ice cream man and driving me nuts. I think both of us had such a good time yesterday we’ve both had an adrenalin rush preventing us from sleeping properly.” She laughed. “What about you? Were you able to get any sleep after we had you rushing around looking after us all afternoon? I really appreciate you doing that and think the Angels sent you to help me when I most needed a friend. Incidentally thinking about our conversation in my room yesterday afternoon I owe you an apology. I do trust you, you’re a good man Johann.”
Johann had a feeling in the chest he’d never experienced before. He was having a real struggle after that. Finally, after a pause he spoke softly. “I’d love to see you again Manja!”
Manja sniffed as she tried to control her emotions. “Johann I’ve been struggling all night sleeping because I do want to see you again but have been such a mess myself I don’t want to mess up anyone else’s life.”
Johann plucked up courage. “I couldn’t get you out of my mind all night so developed a terrible hangover this morning.” He laughed at having the courage to make this admission.
Manja spoke again after a pause. “Have you had breakfast yet?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Then why don’t you come to my room and we can order room delivery and talk about this?”
“OK, I’ll do my usual clean up in the bathroom and come up when I’ve finished, and we can order breakfast there.”
Manja laughed happily. “Well Stephanie and I have no intention of getting out of our pyjamas so I hope that’s acceptable to you if not we will have to meet later on.”
“That’s OK but I’ll probably take a half hour to get there, see you then.”
Johann rushed to the bathroom, shaved, showered, and quickly got dressed. Then rushed to the next hotel level to his breakfast appointment and was met by a surprised Manja at the door. Stephanie sped to his side as he entered. Caution told him to guard his heart, but he quickly dismissed that, and his courage increased.
“Manja you look beautiful.”
“You must be hungry your vision has been clouded.” Nevertheless, she beamed with pleasure, but caution flashed in her mind too. Weber had told her that before they were married but look how that had ended. Nevertheless, she wanted to cherish this statement and hoped against hope she could be happy again in a relationship somewhere, sometime. Perhaps it could be with this man though there was so much logic working against that possibility.
To be continued.
© Copyright 2020 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved