When I lived in Pelican Heights, I worked at an office in the CBD. In 2014, I was very pregnant with Rose, and my sensitivity to the inexplicable was heightened.
Every day, when I still chose to use the car, before my stomach decided for me that I could no longer reach the steering wheel, or my toes, I would take the drive from home all the way to town, all alone.
In 2014, I did everything alone.
So, one winter’s morning, while driving towards the very long, very steep Pelican Heights hill, I was more than happy to stop the car, and offer a pedestrian a lift to the set of robots at the main road, that connected the quite secluded suburb to the rest of the world.
The pedestrian was a stranger, but the culture of the area was that we were all a family. We looked out for each other.
The community was, and still is very small.
So, at 5.30am, I stopped my car outside of the corner shop. From my back seat, I could have sworn I heard laughter. The laughter sounded young; adolescent.
I decided I must have heard something/someone from outside the vehicle, and as I let my passenger in, my stomach dropped, as I was overcome with a feeling of nausea and dread.
“Hello Shana”, she said.
There was a slight pause, before she continued “I am Ishmail’s sister, man”.
Relief. I had never met her before, but I knew her family, and was close friends with her sister in law.
In the short period between the shop and the car, she revealed that she too worked in town, so I asked her if she would like a lift to my offices, which was walking distance from hers.
We got along very well. She was a few years my senior, so she was friends with my friends’ older siblings.
The next morning, I saw her again, and picked her up.
Again, the faint laughter hit my ears from the backseat. I turned around, but didn’t see any kids outside. Again, though, I convinced myself that it must be school kids waiting for their van to pick them up.
As the week progressed, we decided that she would just catch a lift with me on the mornings that I would see her. I declined any petrol money; we were going the same way. She too was a single mother; it didn’t feel right to take her cash.
For the next two months we drove together, and I honestly enjoyed the company. But each time, the sound of someone laughing hysterically would grow louder in my head. As soon as my travel buddy would hop out of the car, silence ensued.
One morning we were talking about the father of my child, and the useless nature of most men, and I asked her “So, where is your kids’ daddy?”
There was a strange pause, in which I realised that we only ever spoke about my history.
“He is actually coming out now soon”, she said coyly.
My mind took several seconds to understand what she was saying.
Prison. He was in prison.
“Oh my word, also drugs?’, I asked, as we had chatted many times of the Heights boys who were destroyed by Heroin, bouncing in and out of rehab and Pollsmoor, year in and year out.
No further explanation followed, so I chose not to pry, against my journalistic nature.
We parted ways, and for a few days, I must have missed her along the road.
One extra rainy Thursday, I remember spotting her again, and as I stopped the car, the familiar laughter from my back seat startled me. I had forgotten about it.
“Morning babes. You oraait?” I asked. I was working on the perfect Segue into our last conversation. I felt the need to apologise for prying. Not everyone was as willing to share as I was and that was okay. But, to my surprise, she beat me to it.
“I don’t really like talking about him. It’s been ten years almost and my kids still ask about him.”
“You don’t have to tell me babes, I totally understand”, I offered.
“No, it’s fine man. (Pause) yoh, don’t think different now of me.’
“I literally told you about my whole life and my two different kids from two different dads out of wedlock. I am not very judgmental”, we laughed.
I should have known from the sigh that my day was about to be tainted. I was still new to accepting this whole ‘I’m clairvoyant’ thing.
“So, my boyfriend was a drug dealer. He is in jail now for ten years. The appeal is coming up soon”.
I knew that unless he was manufacturing the drugs and distributing to the whole of the southern hemisphere, there was more to the story if he had already served a solid ten.
“… but he is away for murder. Do you know where Yellow Wood Primary school is?”
I did not.
Apparently. She had met this man in her early twenties, and fallen deeply in love. They had children, and of course, a very successful drug cartel in Mitchell’s Plain.
The children from the neighbouring areas would sell product for the group, as to infiltrate the schools.
She says she wasn’t a business partner, but certainly an ally.
‘I took a plea, and he went to jail. He said I must so I can raise the kids’.
Already, I was feeling uncomfortable.
“Okay, so there was this one boy, he was 14. He didn’t bring the money in full for the product he sold, and he didn’t have the product. My boyfriend was very angry. The ouens hit that laaitie whole night’.
I couldn’t resist asking, “Where were you?”
“I was there. I didn’t go in, they were in the garage. I wanted to stop them but how could I? Yoh, I just heard him chunking whole night. Every time the guys took a hit of the drugs, then they more angry then they moer him from overs. ”
There was a brief, contemplative silence. It wasn’t awkward, just very present. Before she said; “Just before the sun came up, I finally heard them hit him on the head, and I could hear his skull crack. He was quiet after that”.
“Okay”, I said. “Was he a Yellow Wood Primary kid?”
“No”, she said. “When the drugs started to wear off, they didn’t know what to do with him. He was dying, but not dead yet. So the one guys said we must send a message”.
The men carried the child, limp and battered from their drug fuelled beating, and a rope from the garage; the rope that had kept him tied down all night, while his parents searched for him.
The next morning, the Students of Yellow Wood Primary School were met with a gruesome scene; the boy had been hung from a tree, with the rope around his neck.
This was a warning, but also a grave mistake for the perpetrators. Had they not hung him out to be exposed by the rising sun, they would never have given police the evidence they needed to arrest the whole crew.
“Ja, so he is maybe coming out soon. I don’t know what to do”.
I didn’t really talk for the rest of the journey. All I could muster was agreeable grunts and head nods.
I couldn’t shake the laughter I kept hearing, and the feeling of dread I had suppressed in her presence, until the moment she told me her secret.
The laughter was following her around, as if it was attached to her very being. But only when she got out of the car that morning, and the memory of the broken – almost forced, guttural, teenage laugh played over and over in my head, I realised what I was hearing.
I wasn’t hearing laughter at all.
Every time I saw her, I was hearing a young boy cry.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; “Is Shana wearing a diamond Jersey in that picture?
And the answer is an unequivocal, “I’m sorry’.
Before he met me, my husband made many the fashion faux pas. The items are now my staple ‘period clothes’. I have repossessed many a Markham’s boxer to keep my menstrual pad firmly in place.
The day of that photo, I wasn’t feeling very lekker, and my most comfortable clothes are the ones I find in Riyaahd’s cupboard. Community of property is a sweet, sweet temptress. Also, this Jersey smells like him, and reminds me of the boys who tried to steal my virginity as they came from Mosque on a Friday.
But the purpose of the image is to show you the infamous pearl necklace from my last blog post.
When I tied it around my neck, I felt a tingle, and a heaviness on my chest, but I am not always ready to chalk everything up to the supernatural.
But the nights were longer, with every 24hours that went by while wearing the seemingly harmless, plastic chain.
“Mama, I don’t know what he is saying, but there is a man screaming in my head since Monday. Even at school, I keep hearing him scream”.
I finally mustered up the courage to tell him the truth.
We had never really had this conversation, but I wish now, as an adult, that someone from my family, who I later learned also experienced similar glimpses into these hidden realities, would have had it with me.
‘You and I sometimes hear things that other people can’t hear…”
“Yes, I know mom. My class didn’t hear the screaming guy”.
I said many things, but mainly “…don’t ignore them, just tell them to speak to you without hurting you. And pray the blood of Jesus over yourself every day. Don’t tell anyone what you see or hear though, baby. Some people don’t understand… but you can talk to mommy about it anytime, okay?”
In true Jonah fashion, he gave me a nonchalant shrug and continued with what he was doing. What I didn’t share with him, was the recurring dream I had been having all week, in retrospect, since Monday too, since I put the necklace on.
This night, though.. I would experience the extended version… I would see the screaming man’s face.
The maternity ward’s toilet was covered in remnants of blood, urine and other bodily fluids. Not sufficient for a murder scene, but definitely enough to notify the Health Department.
“Ma’am, you can’t be in here”.
The nurse’s face looked oddly familiar. “You need to leave”.
I believed her, and only in my waking state, did I realise that she was the woman that visited me to inform me that Lyle would die; a different dream from a previous blog.
I ran from the building, and found a desolate house that had an ajar front door.
I entered, and walked down the passage, towards a door that seems to be locked from the inside.
Before I could knock, Lyle grabbed me.
He pulled up my skirt, and penetrated me so hard, forcing, me to be still as he bent me over and raped me. He kept punching my head to stop my movement, and I eventually resigned, and closed my eyes… until he disappeared.
This was a memory that had made its way into my head, and obstructed my dream… but I know why it was present. This however, is something I speak of in detail in my book. A story for another time.
When I open my eyes, I am standing at the door, with my hand, open palmed, pushing onto the red wood.
It opens, and in the room is Sidney-Jonah’s lifeless body, being cradled by a burly man.
But I wasn’t afraid.
The man was my grandfather, Louis. He died when I was 8 years old.
He was my ma’s husband.
His presence felt protective, and as I motioned to sit at his feet, a knock at the house’s front door startled me.
I ran to answer, but a woman I had never seen before had already barged in.
“Where is he?” She asked me.
I didn’t answer, although I know she meant Sidney.
“Where is he? Where is my son? I want my son?’.
She stood there crying.
“He’s mine”, she said.
“He is mine”.
When I awoke, I was unsettled each time. But I knew who the voice was in my son’s head. And I knew why.
I opened my robe when I realised that my chest was still tight, as in the dream, and in my panic… I saw a rash had formed on my torso. A rash that was spreading across my body.
And then, my own inner voice said, “Take off the chain, Shana’.
I struggled to grasp the metal clasp with my acrylic nails.
He ran to the room.
“I can’t breathe. It’s the chain. Take off the chain”.
As soon as I removed it, my airways opened up and the rash was stagnant; fading with each passing minute.
The clock said 10pm, and the children were fast asleep. I took Scarlett from Riyaahd, and called my mother to explain what had happened.
Riyaahd took the chain outside, and after several unsuccessful attempts, set it on fire, and watched as it melted into nothingness.
We prayed. We anointed our home. We went to sleep.
My night was peaceful, and on Friday morning past, Sidney woke up, more cheery than usual. I didn’t want to jinx his vibe, but before I could ask, as we got into the car he said “Mom, that screaming guy is gone…”
I smiled with Riyaahd, relieved that my pa had decided to speak to Jonah, to tell him to get me to take off the necklace.
I closed the door, and fastened everyone’s seatbelts.
Jonah looked out the window and said quietly, “he says the Fire brigade was here’.
I laughed it off.
There are still so many things happening, I am just taking the victory that for now, Jonah isn’t part of it.
The idea of ghosts intrigued me from a very young age. I lapped up scary stories, and binge watched Tales from the Crypt. Freddy Kruger was on repeat on our VCR, even though my mom didn’t really enjoy my 7 year old self singing “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you’ up and down our hallway.
When I was old enough to read, I finished the entire Goosebumps collection, although I remember always feeling disappointed at the cheesy, safe for children happy endings that I assume R.L Stein’s publishers insisted on having.
Besides ghosts, I was oddly attracted to death.
Death, and the indescribable dread that comes from the truth of knowing that one day, without exception, you and everyone you know will die. The only variable is in which order we will go.
Time, in retrospect is fleeting. However, in its presence, it is glacial. This too, in itself is a scary reminder of life’s fragility.
This, to me, is scarier than any story of things that go bump in the night.
The mistake most horror writers make is forgetting to show how the line between natural and supernatural blurs, and how the one informs the other.
My obsession with the macabre lies in the subtle similarities it shares with the ordinary. That, in my opinion, is what makes my story terrifying.
There are several significant moments in my life, in which a feeling of dread overcame my body, a feeling most unbearable.
I would feel it, it would bring death. Or in retrospect, predicted it. Sensed it.
I remember July 14, 2003 very vividly, but not the story everyone else knows.
“… Her skin is missing”.
I tried to stare past my friend Fadielah, onto the Pelican Heights field. The way the roads ascended, you could see the scene even if you weren’t actually on the field.
“What do you mean ‘missing’?” I managed to direct at her, while keeping my eyes fixed on the commotion.
Behind the yellow tape, swarms of pyjama laden residents peered into the now tent-covered sport’s ground.
I was 15 at the time of all the disappearances.
The police had been searching for this little girl for days. The sirens woke the entire neighbourhood before the sun rose. It was now 7 o clock, and the scene still hadn’t been cleared.
“They are waiting on the coroner’s office apparently. They have an overflow of cases on weekends”.
These were the conversations and whispers of the people hovering at the field.
I tensed up at the thought of child corpses being carried in and out of the morgue.
“This is the third missing child who has been found dead in the last week”, witnesses whispered. The crowd parted, as the coroner led his team to the row of bushes that hid the child from the rest of the world. Her body, shoved in a plastic bag, had been discovered by a security guard making his rounds.
He noticed a group of dogs gnawing at what seemed to be a doll, however at closer inspection, the dogs were tearing away at the little girl’s lifeless body, eating her flesh.
What was most terrifying to me, however, happened 12 hours prior, in my bedroom.