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Jo'Burg Days: The Twelve Apostles

"Wonder what he's got in mind? Have I got myself into something I can't handle?'' Barbara Durlacher writes enticingly of an invitation by a bronzed and good-looking man in his mid-30s to go swimming from one of South Africa's most famous beaches.

Satisfied, she snipped the last of the threads from the pale mauve linen trousers and cropped top she had spent the last two days sewing. “The black bobble fringe adds the final touch; I knew it would,” she thought, knowing it would show off her sleek sun-browned mid-riff to its best advantage.

Within a few minutes she had the outfit pressed and finished, was dressed and starting to fix her hair and makeup, preparatory to attending Zoe’s 35th birthday party. Zoe had received six bottles of genuine French champagne, and with customary generosity, had invited all her friends in the bohemian village snuggled under the lee of Table Mountain to a birthday bash. The picturesque village where many single mothers, divorced fathers and unusual people lived in the charming thatched and recently renovated two hundred year old cottages carried a special charm and cachet. This was happily exploited by the residents, who all had individual and different stories to tell, some worth listening to, others not.

“I’m going now, ” she called hastily to the three children playing monopoly in the sunny room at the back of the house. “There’s pasta salad in the fridge as well as plenty of fruit, and I’ll be back in a few hours.”

With that, she walked quickly to the village green, across from which was the simple, elegant outline of the Cape Dutch style cottage in which Zoe and her two children lived an erratic and, it seemed to her, ultra-sophisticated life.

Within minutes the cool rooms had filled with a chattering crowd and with the mingling exchange of fabricated and genuine stories, the drinks party was soon underway. It was not long before a bronzed and good-looking man in his mid-30’s approached her, and, flicking a glance at her lean, exposed mid-riff - still a novelty in the conservative society of the Cape in the early ‘60’s - proceeded to chat her up with cool assurance.

A few casual questions soon elicited the information that he had originated from Calgary in the Canadian North West, and this seemed to give him a special gloss of the unexpected and unusual, so different from the sun-tanned beach boys she was familiar with in Cape Town. He mentioned knowing and working with the Eskimo people (it was long before the days of them being renamed Inuit) and subtly inferred that he had many friends in those frozen wastes, tempting her imagination with thoughts of a place as exotic and unknown as the other side of the moon.

In the fashion of these things, the party waxed noisier and more boisterous; long legged stories got taller and more outrageous, rosy cheeks glowed and the noise level grew. Light snacks were brought in, glasses refilled, and although the French Champagne was long since finished, there were always reinforcements, even if it meant that friendly neighbours raided their liquor cabinets to keep the supply coming. Assignations were made and couples paired off and gradually the crowd thinned as some of the ‘regular guys’ popped home for a late afternoon kip.

“How about a swim?” he suggested.

“That sounds lovely,” she agreed, unquestioningly.

Rather to her surprise, instead of driving down the coast to Muizenberg and the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean, they swooped along Table Mountain Boulevard under forbidding cloud-shrouded Devils Peak, past the University and pioneer heart-transplant Chris Barnard’s Groot Schuur Hospital to beautiful Clifton with it’s pristine white beaches. On this late winter Saturday afternoon with the Atlantic chill creeping into one’s bones, a swim in these freezing seas seemed unlikely.

“Wonder what on earth he’s got in mind?” she mused fleetingly. “Have I got myself into something I can’t handle?”

The reckless excitement of the cocktails was beginning to fade. “Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to an invitation from an unknown stranger, I’ve been very stupid.” Meanwhile, the handsome man was unlocking the door to a penthouse flat overlooking the world-famous Fourth Beach, Clifton, and she didn’t seem to have much choice.

He moved swiftly through the flat and into the bathroom, while she fidgeted around the sparsely furnished and obviously rented bachelor apartment. When he reappeared a while later, and said “Take off your clothes, and go into the bathroom,” she felt very uneasy.

Nervous and apprehensive, this innocent swim that had sounded such fun during the exhilaration of a convivial party, now seemed to be turning into something very different. Sex with a complete stranger was not what she had intended.

”I never thought he was the type to make such an indelicate suggestion,” she mused uneasily.

However, when she entered the bathroom, all she saw was that the hot taps had been opened and the room was filled with aromatic steam, clouds of deliciously scented, warm and comforting vapour. He left her quietly alone, but ten minutes later called to her, “Wrap up in a towel and come with me.” Quickly they descended to the beach in the building’s small lift. With his encouragement she dropped her towel and they dashed naked into the Atlantic surf of that overcast, and distinctly cold, winter’s day.

The wonderful warmth of the sauna stayed with them long enough for them to enjoy the boisterous buffeting of the incoming tide, as they jumped energetically in the strong waves. Then, as a chill started to creep into their bones, “Grab your towel,” he shouted, “Let’s go back to the apartment!”

Exhilarated with the unexpectedness and fun of the brief adventure, she happily complied. His kindness, imagination and delicate handling of an erotic situation had made her relax, and she now felt that she could trust him completely. They ran up the beach, laughing at the outraged stares of the residents of adjoining luxury flats, drawn to their balconies by the unexpected sight and sound of two naked figures cavorting in the winter surf.

After the impromptu sauna, hot water was at a premium, and she had to content herself with a quick lukewarm shower. Regretting her inadequate linen slacks and short sleeveless top, teeth chattering, she joined him on the balcony.

“Have a mug of hot chocolate with cognac,” he said, offering her the benison of a hot drink. Companionably they sipped their drinks together. Slipping into the sitting room, he switched on a record, and a moment later the sonorous, beautiful chords of Bach’s Great Fugue pealed out over the darkening sea. Gradually the red winter sun slipped into the western ocean and above Camp’s Bay the twinkling lights of the new luxury housing estates took form, while the bulk of The Twelve Apostles stood outlined against the night sky.

“He’s a very unusual person, with tact and grace, imagination and flair,” she mused, idly stroking her fingers through her hair.

These unusual few hours were an adventure she would always remember. “I wonder if I’ll ever hear from him again?”

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