Five-minute memoir: Christopher Radmann recalls the night he faced an intruder

 

I wake up to a nightmare. An intruder is in the house.

The realisation is not slow. It is as sudden as a blade in the brain.

I am paralysed by the adrenal intensity: the gland pulses with primal recognition. The warm bed is rigid.

Now, now, very now, it is fight or flight. I almost laugh; I bare my teeth and grimace at the dark. Fight with what precisely? I am not armed. A second ago my hands still cradled sleep. And I am in bed. I cannot run.

A floorboard somewhere in the depths of the house creaks. There is a pause before another cautious, resolute squeak.

I do not need to be told. No smash 'n' grab headline required. This is Johannesburg, one of the murder capitals of the world

We live on the grounds of one of the most private of private schools: St John's College. A bastion of Herbert Baker stone with statues of defiant David about to fell Goliath, a pelican feeding her own flesh to her clamouring young. Biblical symbolism abounds. There is even a crypt chapel snug beneath the huge dome of the main chapel for God's sake. On the watershed of Johannesburg, this faultline of Anglican tradition and academic excellence runs. Yet we lie in our bed hardly daring to breathe: Africa has come calling.

We are 'haves'. There are too many 'have-nots' out there. Now they are in here. They have come in the night to redress the imbalance. I almost wonder what has taken them so long. Our world tilts; the darkness slides. There is another creak from behind the locked door down the passage. Categorically, we hear it.

I turn to my wife, dumb beside me. Our year-old son sleeps peacefully – we hear his warm snuffling from the bedroom next door. And out there, somewhere in the house, another floorboard winces.

Panic is not blind. It sees all too clearly.

I recall the images of my brother and sister-in-law carjacked. Just as they described. Doughnuts in their hands, held aloft, half-bitten. The sudden guns to the head. Thrown to the ground. The car sped away, but their handy doughnuts remained, shot through with perfect, gasping holes and teethmarks. The shocking collided with the ordinary – for what is more mundane than a doughnut?

I remember our next-door neighbour a year ago. His body found after he went missing in his new, white car. He is recovered, charred to a crisp. Black as the ace of spades, clubbed to death and set alight: a one-man conflagration. Heartless.

My brother and his wife, again. This time a Bible study hosted by friends when a mid-week gang gatecrashed the gathering. They tied up the God-fearing folk and looted the house, wrenched wedding rings from supplicant hands. A late arrival stopped the pillaging. No one was raped this time. Prayers were answered.

I remember how we returned from a seaside holiday to find sandcastles on our driveway. Life is a beach it seems: someone was shot dead outside our gate and the sand swallowed the evidence, soaked up the red surprise.

Now, in this catalogue of crime, we wonder what will happen next.

My wife's cold hand touches my arm. Michael, she mouths. If we are to die, let us die together. We must get Michael.

I nod. Our son. The stupid cell phone is deep in the womb of my wife's handbag, somewhere in the kitchen. There is no one we can call. We must get our son before they do.

Heir today.

Odd thoughts jam my head. I rise and shun the sense that death is down the passage. I bunch my hands in disbelief and stare at my lily-white fists. They are moonlit flowers, knuckle dusters, pale bluster.

We do not have a gun, I silently confirm. My wife, radiant with fear, holds up her open palms. Look, she seems to say, no gun. Just white skin, pale flags, helpless surrender.

But I am the man of the house. Surely, I can make do with a bat, a sharpened wicket, a sudden seven-iron? But they are all in the garage, neatly stowed. I curse neatness and order as chaos comes. Another floorboard creaks. Closer this time.

Fear becomes floorboards. What rough beasts slouch their way to our bedroom?

After an age, my son and wife silently huddled together, I have to face the dark house. I make it down the passage. Bated breath, trembling fingertips and the lights flare. There is no sudden scamper. I wait. I fling open the kitchen door. Nothing. The dining room reveals the same. No one. I check everywhere, weeping with laughter.

So, I go back to my wife and son, and back to sleep. Somehow.

No, we did not have an intruder.

For another night, we are safe. Just creaking floorboards. For one more night, we do not have an intruder.

'Held Up' by Christopher Radmann is published by Headline Review as a trade paperback and ebook. To order the paperback at the special price of £9.99 (usually £12.99), including p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 0843 0600 030

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Arts and Entertainment

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment