Ignorance is Bliss by David Macfie
Half an hour ago my wife, Jennifer, and my ten year old son Gareth, were hijacked. They were on the way home from school when they were held up at an intersection on William Nicol. The crooks bundled Jenny into the back to look after my son and then took off. Jenny managed a short message before her phone was snatched away. That was how I knew.
Now, I’m in my car in hot pursuit. Luckily, like me, both Jenny and Gareth have iPhones. And we all have ‘Find my Friend’ installed. I reported the stolen vehicle, with the hostages, to the police and told them to stay in touch so that they can follow me. I’m steadily gaining on the fleeing vehicle. It has passed Hyde Park corner into Jan Smuts Avenue, and is heading for Rosebank. Now it is only half a kilometer ahead. We seem to be heading for Johannesburg Central, but why there I have no idea. I expected to be going to Alexandra or Soweto.
Alternately looking at the road and checking the unfolding map on my phone, I’ve managed to keep up with them and they haven’t stopped at all. I’ve spoken twice more to the police, on my spare phone, to update them on progress. They say I’m closer than they are and they keep warning me not to do anything stupid. I figure I can be stupid if I want to – it’s my wife and son that are at risk.
Suddenly, I lose the car. It just blinks off the screen. I’m beside myself and speed up to get as quickly as I can to the last location I know – half way between Dunked and Rosebank, at the intersection with Hume Road. There is no sign of my wife’s car. I panic a little and turn right into Smits Road and park to regroup. I phone the police to tell them. They aren’t sympathetic. They suggest I should go home and wait for news, but I just can’t. I compose myself and try to think the problem through. My frustration and worry multiply. My brain is not rising to the challenge. I have no ideas at all. I’m about to scream my distress to the skies when a blip appears on the phone. I nearly cry with relief. Somehow my son has managed to switch on his phone.
The car is still on Jan Smuts, at the entrance to the zoo. I, quickly do a U-turn and resume the chase. I know there are speed cameras in the next section of road but I ignore them and gain speed. I report the new location to the police and drive as fast as is safe. When I pass the zoo, my wife and son are approaching Parktown. I speed up a little more, but the traffic is heavy. I relax a little, reasoning that it’ll be the same for my quarry. At St Andrews Road the car turns left. I follow about a kilometer behind but I’m catching up quickly. I turn to follow as they go into Carse O Gowrie.
“Where the hell are they going,” I mutter to myself. It’s a complete mystery to me. They turn right into Houghton Drive and left into St Andrews Street. Now I’m only half a kilometer behind again. I still can’t see the car because of the traffic, but I’m heartened by the new proximity. From St Andrews they feed into Joe Slovo Drive, but they seem to have slowed down. I guess they’re looking for something – a street sign perhaps. I continue to catch up and soon they’re in sight. I can just make out three heads showing. That makes sense. My son is too small to stick up above the seat-backs. The head in the middle must be Jennifer. My heart pounds with adrenalin and my breathing quickens. I’m tense and feel nauseous. My body is preparing for the confrontation to come. I report once more to the police. They say they’re still in Jan Smuts Avenue.
“That’s not much help,” I mutter, calmed by the sound of my own voice. I have to slow down because I’m getting too close, but I can clearly see Jenny’s head is the one in the middle. She doesn’t appear hurt and that’s a relief. We pass over Charlton Terrace and bear left at the fork. Finally, the car turns left into Beit Street. We pass Emirates Airlines Park and I lose track of the street names, following the blip as if my life depends on it. We twist and turn and I doggedly keep them about three hundred meters in front. We drive around in a seemingly aimless way for about ten minutes then the car stops. I continue on and finally pass the blip.
The car is pulled up in front of a private house. As I go by the front doors open and two men get out. They open the back doors and extract two struggling figures. I watch in my rear view mirrors and recognize my family. I continue until I’m round a bend and out of site then I park and call the police one more time, giving the street name I read off the map on my phone. I get out, lock my car, and retrace my steps until the stolen car and the house come into view again. I’m just in time to see the two guys hustle my family into the house.
I don’t understand this at all. What do they want with Jenny and Gareth? It doesn’t make sense. I stroll past the car as if I’m just out for a walk, but I carefully study the frontage of the house on the way. No front wall, an untended, dusty, dried up garden, with no living plants. Front door in the middle, two windows to the right and one larger window to the left. I guess bedrooms on the right and living room on the left. I see movement behind the net curtains and decide this supports my guess. I walk on until I’m beyond the building then I turn and start back.
I need to get in without being seen or heard. None of the houses here have front walls so I leave the side of the road two houses before. I walk right up to the first house then creep slowly along the wall, completely out of sight from the windows of the house where my family is being held. At this point, I am not feeling fear. I’m tense, my heart is still pounding and my breathing is ragged, but I’m not scared. I’m more angry than scared. I’m desperately trying to make a plan, but I don’t know enough yet.
I slowly and carefully approach the big window and press myself as flat against the wall as I can. My eyes are everywhere, making sure I’m not being watched. I slide along the wall until I’m right next to the left side of the window looking from in front. I stop and listen. I hear three voices. They’re discussing the prisoners. Two of the voices must be the hijackers because they’re defending the decision to bring the woman and the kid. They’re trying to persuade the third voice that a ransom can be demanded. The third voice doesn’t agree. Quickly, the discussion gets heated and the voices get louder. I figure I won’t be heard above the din and crawl under the window to the front door.
I listen again and wonder if the police will ever arrive. The argument is still in progress. I peer through the glass panes of the front door. I can’t see much through the opaque orange, but there is no movement. I take a chance and try the door. It isn’t locked. I silently push it open just enough to edge inside then silently close it again. I’m lucky for the second time today. It is the lounge on the left and the door there is ajar but not open. I creep over to the side with the hinges and, keeping out of sight, I listen again. Under the argument, I hear a snuffling together with faint sounds of sobbing. It’s coming from my left. I figure Jenny and Gareth are on the settee. From listening to the voices I gradually place them in the room. Voice three is also on my left, but further away, and it sounds below my mouth, so I guess its owner is sitting in an easy chair to the right of the settee. The other two voices sound as if the hijackers are still standing to defend themselves. The two seem to be positioned almost directly in front of the door. I guess they will not, under these circumstances, have their guns in their hands. The third voice sounds like the boss and he’s now talking about removing the difficulty “you two idiots have created”.
I don’t have time to plan now. The situation is rapidly moving in the wrong direction. I can’t wait for the police. If I don’t act now, my wife and son are going to be killed. I don’t hesitate. I slam the door open, hoping the noise will disorientate the two gunmen. I rush inside and charge the nearest guy. He’s absurdly fast and his gun appears as if from nowhere. I close and grab his wrist, twisting it fiercely away from my family. I keep twisting until the wrist breaks and the guy drops the weapon. I catch it in time to see the second guy level his firearm. I shoot to kill and the man drops to the floor. The first guy recovers and grapples, with his good arm, trying to get the gun away from me. But I don’t budge. He dives to the floor, reaching for the second gun. I wait to see if he’s seriously going to try to use it, and when he starts to lift it I shoot him too. Jenny and Gareth are both crying desperately, but the third guy hasn’t moved.
“I knew it was a mistake to bring them,” he said quietly, as the police arrived. One of the guys is dead and the second might not make it. The third guy is arrested.
I’m asked to come and give a statement and my wife’s car is impounded as evidence. Then I take my family home. It’s a very shocked, silent journey.
They say ‘ignorance is bliss’ and now I understand. I never knew I had such violence in me, but now I do. And I think the knowledge will give me nightmares for the rest of my life.