Which means someone is driving down our driveway at 3:30 in the morning.
The dogs, somewhere in the depths of the garden, finally hear the car, too. Their barking, gradually becoming hysterical, is amplified in the still night.
My heart races as harsh, bright lights break through the curtains and bounce off the dark walls of my bedroom. There is not a single reason anyone should be at our gate at this hour.
I unglue my stiffened body from bed and tiptoe to the window. Lifting the curtain a fraction, I squint through the window. The sky flashes blue-silver before I hear a second low rumbling – this time the distant beginnings of thunder. The lightning illuminates a white Isuzu, standing still and staring at me from behind the gate, its lights turned off.
I see him, peering through the gate in my direction, while pressing his cell phone to his ear.
And then suddenly I don’t see him at all; the outside lights flicker out and everything goes black.
My heart stops. My eyes fight against the darkness, but it’s no use, I cannot see anything.
My body refuses to move; unlike my mind, unable to stop itself from jumping to terrifying conclusions about what is going on while the outside light is absent. My breathing is heavy as are my legs, but I force them to turn and rush to the master bedroom where my parents lie fast asleep and ignorant.
I prod my snoring father.
“Dad. DAD. Wake up, there is a van parked outside the house.”
My mother stirs. My father utters something incomprehensible.
“Hmmphhrghgg?” is all he can manage.
“A van. Parked outside,” I whisper urgently.
He fumbles with his alarm clock. “Now?!”
We make our way to the front door and peer through. The outside lights are back. And the van is still there.
My father unlocks the door and steps out into the chilled air. Something in his hand glints in the moonlight.
I steal a glance at my mother. “Please be careful,” she croaks. Her eyes are wide.
My father walks toward the gate hesitantly, his gun hanging at his side. He stops twenty metres before the gate.
“Hello? Who are you?” he shouts out.
“Hello?” he calls again.
Nothing. No one gets off the van; it remains silent and dark, and too dark to see through the windows.
Fear caresses a long spindly finger up my spine. “Dad, come back inside.”
“Call the police,” my mother adds.
We lock up again. While my mother rushes to the phone, my father and I keep our eyes fixed on the van, watching for any movement from within.
My mother joins us again, phone in hand. “Can you believe they are not answering their phones?!” she shrieks in disbelief. My father takes the phone and dials again.
“It’s ringing…yes, hello. I want to report an intruder on our property. A white Isuzu has parked on our driveway. No one is getting off the van. Please can you send someone to our house to check it out…what? Oh no…yes…yes…I see…”
He rattles off directions and his cell phone number, and puts the receiver down.
He lets out a sigh. “They told us to wait, there’s been a break-in close by, once they’re done there, they’ll come here.”
“So they only have one police vehicle?!” my mother asks incredulously.
I check the time: 4:00am. Like three gargoyles in the night, we continue watching the van.
After a few minutes, my mother leaves us and comes back equipped with a pair of binoculars. And we resume our watch, my mother now with the binoculars pressed hard to her eyes, as if the view would be clearer the harder she pressed it to herself.
“Too damn dark; can’t see a thing,” she says, setting aside the useless binoculars.
Despite it being too dark, we can tell there is still no movement from the van.
Why is he just sitting in there and watching us for over an hour? Why does he refuse to get off? What is he doing? Who was he phoning?
The phone rings, making me jump. My father picks it up on the second ring. I check the clock again: it’s been 52 minutes since we phoned the police.
“They’re done with the break-in and are on their way.”
“Good thing this isn’t an emergency…” my mother retorts.
There is still no sign of the police at 5:27am, but the phone rings again.
“Nononono,” comes my father’s voice, now tinged with impatience. “Keep driving! Go past the boulder! Past the boulder!”
The dogs hear the low rumbling of tyres on the gravel before us. It’s 5:45am when, finally, bright blue lights flicker against the inky sky. But our hopes die as quickly as they rise. My father’s face slowly crumples in confusion as the realisation dawns on his face that the police are making a U-turn before driving off into the dark distance again.
“Wha- ” He bolts to the phone and wrenches the receiver off the hook once again.
“Nononono, stop, stop, STOP!” he cries. “You were at the right place! Turn back, turn BACK!”
Before I can stop myself, a half derisive, half nervous laugh slips out as I reflect on the latest turn of events. I realise I haven’t checked on the mysterious van in a long time, but by now my fear is as lost as the policemen.
At 5:55am, for the third time that morning, we hear a low rumbling over the driveway.
“At last,” my father exclaims as he unlocks the door.
There they are again: the splotchy blue lights of the police van, which finally turns into our driveway. The front lights of their vehicle bounce on the rough gravel ahead and shine into the back of the white van, illuminating its interior and finally allowing us a glimpse of any silhouettes inside. There is a sharp intake of breath from the three of us.
The van is empty.
The police van comes to a halt beside the white Isuzu. Both doors fly open, letting out two zigzagging torch lights. One of the dark figures shines their torch into the driver’s side and peers in. And then he starts yelling and tapping at the window.
“Ay, Numzan!” (Ay, Mister!)
Someone is inside.
A second dark figure stands close by as the other taps harder on the window, harder and harder until eventually the tapping evolves into banging and the yelling evolves into bellowing.
My father, much braver now, walks up to the gate to watch the show.
The door of the Isuzu opens. And out stumbles the same man who was on his cell phone earlier. He can barely stand and his mutterings are incomprehensible.
“WENZANI?!” (What are you doing?!) shouts one of the policemen.
“Hmrgharghmahsh,” comes the nonsensical reply.
“DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE?!”
“Hayi…,” sighs the fed up policeman.
A bang makes me jump and starts the dogs again as one of the officers heaves the backdoor of the police vehicle open. What follows is a pandemonium of yanking and stumbling and clamouring, until finally they haul the unbudging stranger into the back of the van. My father trots back to us, eager to fill us in on what he’s witnessed.
“He’s absolutely drunk…,” he announces. “…no idea what’s going on…passed out in the van the whole time.”
The police van revs angrily before it reverses out drunkenly, somehow misses the entire driveway, zigzags through the outside lawn and off into the purple-tinged dawn. A few seconds later the white Isuzu follows, driven by the other police officer. Now, with the lifting darkness, I can see the back of the van is smashed, no doubt a souvenir of the stranger’s drunken shenanigans. I’m sure he’ll enjoy waking up to that in a few hours…
For a few seconds the three of us merely stand there and stare blankly, but eventually we turn around and walk back to the house, silently digesting the past three hours.
My eyelids feel heavy as I head back to my bedroom in an attempt to resume my sleep. After scanning the garden one more time, I slip under the covers and drift into an uneasy sleep, interrupted by dreams of angry handcuffed lions and blinding, blue lights.
It’s 10:00am when I wake up again. The birds are their usual chatty selves and the sun baths the garden in yellow warmth. I groggily make my way to the kitchen and find my parents breakfasting and chatting quietly. We exchange tired smiles as a way of greeting.
Just then I hear light footsteps from within the passage, progressively growing heavier as my sister approaches. She slept through the entire debacle.
Rubbing her eyes, she looks at all of us, beams ignorantly and says, “man, I had a great sleep!”