Fear in the night

Well, it had to happen sometime I guess. Statistics, if nothing else said so. I’d had one before, clambering through my window, but that was several years ago. More recently there had been an intruder in the garden. But this was the real thing, There I was, confronting an armed burglar in my bedroom at four o’clock in the morning. Not that I checked my watch in the circumstances, but it was something like that.

I don’t know what woke me up. But then there he was, gun pointing at me from the other side of the room. It was a moment I had prepared for, in a vague way. I had spent quite a lot of money surrounding the house with an electronic curtain, or moat which triggered an alarm with the help of movement detectors. And if they beat the alarm; ah, well that was the stuff of nightmares. Create some confusion and then run for it, was the general idea. Thank goodness my partner, Ellen was in Cape Town with our youngest son.

I could not see him very clearly, in the dark. Just his shape, right arm extended and making a sort of shuffling motion, as if hesitating on the obvious line of action. When he failed to shoot, or say anything I decided he either had a misfire, or was trying to bluff me with a non-existent, or a toy gun.

Time to go, I decided, totally forgetting the alarm panel above the bed. Shouting obscenities I skedaddled into our en-suite bathroom, bashed open the flimsy window catches and dived head-first into the garden. Clad only in a pair of boxer shorts I ran for the perimeter door — one of two servicing the house — and then realised I was trapped. That door is permanently shut and the wall topped with vicious-looking ”crown of thorn” spikes which I wasn’t going to risk in my nearly-naked state.

So I turned, a householder at bay. I had at least managed to trigger the alarm and the siren was going. Inside I could hear the distant sound of a telephone ringing, which meant headquarters had got the wireless signal and were trying to check my code. Nobody in Johannesburg’s suburbs turn to the police in such circumstances nowadays. Two major, private security firms do the job instead, houses, virtually without exception, boasting placards on their walls boasting allegiance to one, or the other.

Arms crossed against the winter chill I watched the house, waiting for the gunman to come running out. He was a clever guy, this burglar. He’d beaten the movement detectors to get in and had managed not to wake the dogs. Admittedly the one dog, an elderly chow, had arthritis, and would happily sleep through the 1812 overture, while the puppy, her understudy, would have licked any burglar half to death. But still, just a woof, or two.

Now, as the seconds went by without any sight of him, it was beginning to look like he had sufficiently kept his nerve to depart from the other side of the house, out of my line of sight.

Car engines and torches signalled the arrival of the South African version of a posse — six big black guys wearing bullet-proof flak jackets and excitedly brandishing automatic revolvers the size of bugles.

It was as we were inspecting the house that I had a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and a thought hit me. It was the sight of my pace-maker that caught my attention, buried under my collar bone, but still prominent if I was not wearing a shirt. It was the only visible sign of the brain operation I had had for Parkinson’s.

Brain operation? Hallucinatory drugs? Could I have been dreaming? Or even hallucinating?

Later, after the posse had left amidst reassurances that they would be in the area through the night, I lay in my bed in the dark gazing up at the ceiling, peering every now and then across the room to where he had stood. Could it have been?

As I lay there I remembered the Nobel mathematician, John Nash, who had beaten his hallucinations by simply ignoring them.

In the dark I decided it was time to review my panic strategy. I just hope that, if it is a real burglar next time, he won’t mind too much if I tell him: ”Oh, piss off.” – Guardian Unlimited Â

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