26 February 2019
I’m woken up by a stranger in my room. He’s pressing my head down with a duvet so I can’t move. I open my eyes and see an unfamiliar face. He’s worked up and shouting with a sense of urgency, warning me of the consequences of screaming.
I suppress the natural instinct to scream in the hope that I won’t be harmed.
He has not only invaded the privacy of my home and inner chamber of my bedroom, but he’s also interrupted my slumber.
I stare blankly at him as I awake and realise what’s happening.
“Who are you?” I want to ask, but he won’t let me. He speaks again, gesticulating with his hands for emphasis.
“We don’t want any noise, just show us where the money is.”
“What money?” I ask, totally lost. The warning is not lost on me, but the problem is I don’t have money on me, apart from a few dollars that I haven’t counted. I make a mental calculation of the money in my bags. It won’t be anything above $500, I think. Under the circumstances, they can take it all, as long as they leave me alone.
The agitated stranger shouts repeatedly, demanding money.
I see some movement behind the one pressing my head down as another stranger crosses to the corner with the stand where I keep my hats and hang my handbags.
The second man tells me someone told them “there’s always lots of cash in this house. ”
“Really?” I’m surprised again, because that’s not true. “I don’t keep money in the house.”
I repeat my initial statement because I don’t keep money in the house.
“Where do you keep it?” the second man asks, as he goes through the contents in my collection of handbags, takes what he wants and throws the rest on the floor.
“In the bank.” I’m surprised they don’t know that people keep money in banks. Indeed Zimbabwe is facing a cash crisis and many people have stopped banking their money because they can’t withdraw it.
Besides, once banked, it will be converted to a valueless pseudo currency recently called bond notes but now known as RTGS dollars. In spite of this, I still don’t keep money at home, I prefer to transact via transfers as it’s generally safer than transporting wads of money in a cash strapped economy. However, the strangers in my room don’t know that and seem to expect cash to rain from somewhere.
I can’t believe I’m discussing my financial decisions with strangers who’ve broken into my house and feel entitled to my money.
I’m asked for the umpteenth time where I keep my money and I tell them, once again, that I don’t have money in the house.
I’m not sure what time it is, but by now, I’ve figured that there’s a third man in the room, working through the contents from behind me. It seems they have clear roles, one holds down my head while the other two comb through the half of the room they’ve allocated themselves. I start praying under the covers.
As I generally sleep in a fetal position, I’m still curled up in a ball, lying on my right side with my head pressed down at the foot of my bed, it counts for variety when I can’t move my furniture. I can only see what’s within my line of vision so my other senses are heightened.
My head is released and uncovered. I briefly take in my surroundings. There is chaos everywhere. Everything that was carefully packed and arranged is strewn all over the bedroom floor. The strangers are tramping on everything they’ve discarded on the floor, disregarding its value to me. It means nothing to them, they’re a group of thugs on a mission to earn money through unlawful nocturnal means. The sentimental value of gifts from family and friends or mementos from my travels are not worth anything to them, as long as they can’t be converted to fast cash.
“Cover her face,” one of them barks as he realises that I’m quietly observing them. The others echo the chorus.
By now I’m apologising profusely to these intruders for not having what they want.
“I’m sorry I don’t keep money in the house, I’m sorry for….,” I catch myself. Why am I apologizing to strangers who’ve invaded my house for the precautions I take to protect the money I earn? They don’t have a right to it, so I owe them no apology, yet I apologize because I hope it will pacify them and make them go away.
I explain to them that I have no other cash apart from what they’ve taken from my bags. I point out that they’ve already helped themselves to my cash, so I can’t give them anything more. By now my tone is more of a plea than dialogue.
The men realise that my response won’t change, and they change their tactics. One of them calls someone and another man emerges from the spare bedroom adjacent to mine. I don’t get to see much of him and I don’t think he speaks at all.
“Tie her up” one of the two men who’ve been speaking to me says. My face is uncovered and I’m moved roughly into a different position by the men, a bit like grilled chicken being turned over, my hands are forcibly clasped in front of me and my wrists tied together with a cellphone charger cable, then reinforced with an orange ribbon. I recognise the charger, it came with my latest mobile phone when my sister and I visited Dubai last October, and the ribbon, well, was probably saved from some girly toiletries I bought long ago.
I squirm as my wrists are tied, tighter than necessary in my view, but right now I have very little say about what’s going on in my house. My feet are also tied at the ankles.
For the first time I catch a glimpse of the man who was working behind me. He seems very young, probably the youngest of the squad, with a disproportionately large head compared to the rest of his body. Perhaps he should consider auditioning for an alien movie, he’d do well, I think. That could be his ticket out of a life of crime, but I can’t advise him, he has the upper hand and wants cash, not advice.
I’m now fully awake, drinking in the scene and it’s sickening.
The mingled odours of four strange men who clearly aren’t fond of soap and water fills my room.
Someone has brought some knives, they look familiar. They’re knives from my kitchen. One of them is blunt, my youngest niece complained about it the day before yesterday, when it was her duty to cook part of the meal that thse girls had decided to treat us with. She felt it was slowing down the preparation of her contribution to the meal.
Two of the strangers point the knives at me and threaten to kill me.
“Tokuuraya,” they chorus as one of them prods my side with the blunt knife.
I’m afraid of both knives and the pain they could inflict. I fear the sharp knife because of the incisions it could make and the blunt one for the effort it may take to make it cut.
“We are going to rape you,” the leader announces.
At this point, I realise that I’ve been bargaining with the devil. Complying with the command to stay silent hasn’t helped me. I start to scream.
“In the name of Jesus you won’t,” I scream repeatedly.
“Iwe, iwe nyarara, kuti Jesu Jesu ndokuneyi (shut up, what’s Jesus got to do with this)?” one of them says.
They abandon the idea of the knives and rape altogether as a new command to strangle me is given.
“Mudzipe,” one of them commands. At this point I’ve established that the second man to enter my room is the leader, dishing out orders of the various abuses that should be meted on me.
My torso is roughly raised up into a semi sitting position by two pairs of hands, while the third pair grabs my favourite blue shawl from the mess on the floor and gags me with it. I try to fight, but can’t do much with my hands and legs tied, while two strangers hold me up and a third one gags and chokes me.
I think the youth with the big head is the one chocking me, but I’m not sure as it’s being done from behind me. He tightens the knot on the shawl and I gasp for breath.
“So mother, you’d rather die than tell us where the money is?” the youth asks as he chokes me. I wish I could ask him if this is how he’d treat his mother, but I can’t, I’m literally suspended between life and death.
He tightens the knot with each breath, so that eventually, I can’t breathe. My airways are blocked and I can neither inhale nor exhale. I stop fighting, it’s futile. I can’t see anymore, I feel as if the whites of my eyes have turned upwards and rolled into my eyelids. My tongue fills my mouth and chokes me too. I hear a strange gurgling sound coming from my mouth, it feels like my tongue fighting for space in my mouth and expelling the saliva. I feel my body going limp.
“So this is what death feels like,” I think to myself as my body succumbs to the pressure being exerted by the strangers. I’m reminded of the sheep and goats that died to put meat on our table. I wonder if this how they felt.
“Muregedze (let her go),” the leader commands, and the shawl is loosened. My body bounces on the mattress as I’m released and once again, the tactic is changed.
Two of the strangers start beating me up with twisted white iron rods. They look familiar. I recognise them. They’re burglar bars from my windows, although I’m not yet sure which window they were taken from. At this point, I notice that there’s been a change in roles. The one who held my head previously and the leader have switched positions. The leader is now pressing my head down while the previous head presser occupies the space in my line of vision and beats me.
They’ve also covered their faces with scarves, my scarves, leaving just their eyes in view. Only one of them has a scarf I can’t recognise.
They still want to know where the money is. I’m back in a fetal position with my head covered. I’m being beaten with my own burglar bars, mostly on my left leg. A few blows reach my head. I think the youth behind me also has a burglar bar, which he uses less frequently than the one who’s beating my legs. I cry out in pain and am beaten again. “Be quiet,” they shout in unison. How can I bear such beatings in silence? I can’t tell how many times I’m beaten, although I can say my left leg absorbs most of the blows.
I’m tossed to and fro as my bed and later my mattress are lifted to check for money underneath. They seem convinced that there is money in the house, although I don’t know why.
During the breaks in between the beatings and tossing, I notice that someone is mopping up, going through my dressing table and jewellery boxes. I’m not sure what he’s taking. He’s slinging my grey and blue Nike gym bag, which I bought in Botswana some years ago and hardly used, on his back, and wearing my latest light brown leather jacket. My valuables are in that bag. I don’t know in detail what they’ve taken yet, but I know they haven’t left anything of value.
The unwelcome visitors have overstayed and I wish they could just go away.
The beatings stop.
“Give us the keys to the door, we want to get out,” one of them demands.
I offer to open the door for them.
“We’ll let ourselves out,” the youth says angrily.
I ask to be released from the pressed down position so I can get up and give them the keys. They consent. I sit up and open the drawer where I keep the keys and hand them over. The bunch also has my car keys. One of them takes the bunch.
An instruction is given to bring me water. The youth goes out briefly and returns with water in one of my smoked white wine glasses.
“Here, drink some water,” the leader commands as he hands me the glass.
“I’m not thirsty,” I respond.
He orders me to drink the water again and I refuse.
“Do you honestly think I’d kill you? Look, I’m drinking it,” he says as he takes a sip then hands me the glass and commands that I drink the water. I look at him in disbelief. This is a man who ordered that I be choked and beaten some moments ago, after entering my house unlawfully, and he asks if I think he’d kill me?
To avoid any pain that might ensue from confronting him, I take the glass, tilt it and touch my lips with it, but I don’t drink the water. He notices that I haven’t drunk the water and tries to coax me again. His tone has changed from the previous brutal commands to a softer, more persuasive one but I’m not fooled by it.
“It’s to calm you down,” he says. I’m not sure what the water is laced with and why I’m being forced to drink it, but I gingerly take a sip.
I tell him once again that I’m not thirsty and he orders the youth to take the glass from me. I’m not sure why it’s important for me to drink the water, but he seems satisfied that I’ve taken a sip.
I’m pressed down again. This time I’m lying on my back with my covered head turned to the right. There seems to be less movement in the room. A draught enters the room, adding to the eeriness of the night.
There are fewer people in the room.
“Don’t you have any jewellery of value?” the youth asks.
“No,” I tell him. “I only wear beads.”
He asks again, sounding quite desperate, but my answer remains the same.
I hear him walking out.
I’m left with the leader, who makes a final futile attempt to extract information about where I keep my money.
“Right now I’m your god, your life is in my hands,” the leader says calmly. He tries to coax me into revealing where the money is. The truth is I have no cash outside the bank and I’ve already said so numerous times.
“So what do I tell my boss?” he asks me, claiming his boss works for the government. I don’t believe the irrational claim and am not intimidated by it. I tell him to tell his boss the truth, that I don’t keep cash at home. He asks me a few questions about my job and I don’t say much, then he accuses me of supporting the opposition political party.
I respond with a question and he reminds me that he’s the one to ask the questions. I comply.
“Don’t move, I’m coming back,” he says as he pats my covered head.
Once again, I comply and stay still.
An eerie silence fills the room.
I sense that I’m alone. I wait a bit, still no movement or sound. I uncover my head. Yes, I’m alone in the room.
I untie my hands, then my feet, but wait, what if they’re still in the house and find me untied? I cover myself again, just in case. No, I’m definitely alone. I see my tracker on the dressing table and reach for it. I check the time, it’s 01:19am. I walk out of my room, down the passage and feel a draught again. The kitchen window is open and two burglar bars have been removed.
“Oh, so that’s how they got in,” I conclude.
The water tap has been left running. I shut it.
I move further and notice that the lounge door and screen are open. I peep outside, and pause briefly, what if they’re still in the vicinity and spot me. They may come back and hurt me.
I scan the room for my keys. It seems they’ve taken them and left the lock.
I rush back to the kitchen, shut the window, then remove one of the locks from the screen gate and use it on the screen gate for the lounge.
I shut the lounge door and go back to my bedroom. I start to process what has just transpired as I can’t sleep. I wonder if anyone can sleep after such a violent invasion.
The entire place has been turned upside down and is in a mess.
I start taking stock of my valuables. Two laptops, professional camera and accessories, cash and gold jewellery are the first missing items I notice.
My new mobile phone and tablet are nowhere in sight. The landline has no credit. I can’t call anyone. My old tablet, which was not charging, has been left on the TV stand. I take it, go to my Facebook page and send messages to my family via messenger. I then write a status update on Facebook about what has just happened to me.
Time is dragging and I long for daytime to come.
I hear the distant beep of a message tone but can’t tell if it’s from my phone or other tablet. I also can’t tell if it’s in the house or was dropped outside as the thieves left.
At 05:30 am, my alarms go off simultaneously. I manage to trace my phone and tablet, which have been hidden in the spare bedroom. My phone is in a red toiletry bag I got from my former landlady and the tablet is tucked in a box with some clothes. I’m not sure if they packed it with the intention of taking it. My phone has been smashed, with the burglar bar they used to beat me. I can see the outline of the burglar bar where the impact hit most on smashed screen. It smells like it’s burning. The tablet is still intact. I retrieve them both carefully to avoid tampering with any fingerprints.
I wait until daybreak, then go outside in the hope of finding my car keys. They are nowhere in sight. I take a tour of the yard and do a video recording for my family. How else does one tell such horrendous story at once to loved ones who are scattered across the globe?
One of my scarves the thieves used to cover their faces is thrown on the ground. One of the burglar bars they removed and walloped me with is suspended on the lock by the gate. They have vandalised the water supply pipe and clean water is gushing out. I’m expecting the plumber today, so there’s no need to call him. I simply shut the water supply to avoid further wastage.
I go back into the house, finish my video recording and send it to my family. My siblings call immediately and offer words of comfort and advice. My mother can’t get through to my line, which is already blocked with incoming calls, so she calls my sister instead. I manage to retrieve my truck keys from one of the handbags on the floor.
I decide to take a shower before going to the nearest police station to report the case. Elsewhere, or in the past, I’d have dialled an emergency number immediately after the crime, but in the current Zimbabwe, the police force is poorly resourced and the quickest way to get a response is to provide transport, so I drive to the police station tho pick them up.
I can still smell those men’s ordours, especially when I look at my bruised wrists.
As I enter the bathroom, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. There’s a huge bump on the left side of my forehead from the beating. I thought this only happened in cartoons.
I shower then leave for the police station.
On arrival at the station, I’m asked what happened. I show the police officers the bruises on my wrists, ankles, legs, head and mouth, and as I narrate the story of the horrific night, the charges quickly shift from simple theft to housebreaking and attempted homicide.
For the first time since my ordeal began, the tears flow.
My left side is so badly beaten, one of the police officers offers to drive as we return to the place I’ve called home for the past seven years, but has overnight become a crime scene.