A Terrifying Night - this story follows An Intruder in the Night


In the middle of the night, I awoke gently, feeling the warm breath of my mother, maybe my father, on my cheek, and opened my eyes slowly. It was neither of them, but a black skinned man, on his knees next to my bed, reaching underneath to retrieve something. My mind registered 'He's reaching for my suitcase' in that split second before my heart hammered in terror, before my voice screamed out. I was only eleven years old, but already educated in the ways of Africa, so I merely closed my eyes once more, and feigned sleep.

I listened as he dragged that suitcase out, his breath departing - and imagined his stealthy steps as he walked towards our bedroom door, hampered by its weight. My sister Susan, older by seven years, slept peacefully on, her breathing steady and measured. My heart was racing, my body both hot and clammy, my mind swirling with dreadful images of savage terrorists and my parents and little brother in the next bedroom with knives sticking out of their chests, sheets turned crimson with their blood. I opened my eyes a chink, and could clearly see in the moonlight coming through the window above my bed, the door ajar, and the form of my sister on the opposite side of the room. Everything looked normal, except for the sounds - the silence broken intermittently with doors opening and shutting, dragging and shuffling, then a long silence, when my heart began to abate, and I imagined the terrorists departing. I silently begged my sister to wake up, pleading with her, “We need help! Pleeeease wake up ....” And then the sounds starting again, a sound like glass scraping, a key in a lock, silently I prayed "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name ...." over and over, a mantra, a begging of God to please keep my family safe. It was working. My sister's breathing began to change, it was faster, shallower, I dared to think she may wake up and help, relieve me of this dreadful responsibility of keeping my family alive. I knew I had to shout out, I knew I had to call for help. Yet I could not move. My body remained frozen, I opened my mouth and nothing came out, not a sound. I felt tears slide out the corners of my eyes and roll down into my ears. Please God, help me. Nothing. Wake up my father, God. Nothing. Help me, Lord.  Nothing.

Then I saw something strange. A luminous dial come around the side of the doorframe, and lifted off the dressing gowns hanging on a hook on the door.   I realised it was a watch. A watch on the arm of the man who was a short while ago on his knees next to my bed, whose breath warmed my cheek, who slid out the suitcase - was now removing the gowns off the door. I watched, transfixed.  I saw just his arm, and then the gowns disappeared and silence ensued. I held my breath, and waited, and for a long time there was nothing.   Minutes passed. I kept telling myself to shout out to my Dad, to alert my family, to warn them that the house was full of terrorists. But my body defied me, and laid there, as rigid as a plank.

Suddenly, the room was ablaze with light - unbelievably, the overhead light had been switched on! And there in the doorway stood a black man, staring at me. I flew from horizontal to upright, every cell in my body alert and firing, screaming over and over and over "KAFFIR DADDY, KAFFIR!" The man had fled, and still I stood there, hysterically screaming as my father dashed to my side and grabbed me in his arms, rocking me like a baby, murmuring soothing sounds "It's a dream baby, it's a dream." And still I screamed - and then my mother appeared, shaking her head and looking very worried, saying something to him.

They had woken to my screams, and my Dad, as he always did, was the one who came in the night with soft words of comfort, or butter in sugar for a cough, or to sing a song. My Mom got up too, and as my Dad comforted me, she realised our home had been burgled, there were doors open, clothing and belongings strewn everywhere. It transpired that a huge pile of our possessions were in the back yard, awaiting collection.

I was traumatised for months. And probably still am. Here I am 55 years later, writing about it. I slept between my parents every night for a year, and even during the day, I was upset and scared and could not be left alone. I made a habit of turning around suddenly, to ensure there was nobody behind me.

They captured that bad man, and his team of helpers. And one of the reasons they were able to identify him, was that he was the only man they interviewed who wore a watch on his right hand - the man whose hand crept around the door in the moonlight was left handed.  And when accused, he eventually confessed, expressing bitter outrage about the 'little white madam’ who screamed out “Kaffir Daddy, Kaffir!”

That is a terrible, racist, ugly word I have not used - nor probably even heard - since that long ago era in Northern Rhodesia in 1960.  I realised some years later that he was not from a gang of terrorists, but a gang of probably hungry, desperate, unemployed men doing what they could to feel their families.

If I saw that man in a street today, I would instantly recognise him. It was one of the events that shaped my life.