Understanding Childhood Fears


Cocooned. Caged. Castaway.

No matter how fancy the fretwork …

A cocoon with bars is a cage

We dared to escape

… and my bogeyman followed


Aged ten

We’re in Cyprus on holiday
Enjoying peace from the political instability around Zambia
But the Turkish military invade
Gunfire wakes me
By daylight we cross a zone guarded by tanks
Mum pulls me close, her hands a curtain to my eyes
But through the bars of her fingers I see homes spilling their guts on the pavements
Glass fragments fringe windows that once kept trouble out
No point in having burglar guards when there isn’t even a house to keep them up

Aged eleven

Our family moves to England
Casements seem naked without bars on them
My lips press against the glass, creating foggy heart shapes
It’s safe to leave the window open …
But too cold to do so
I sleep soundly cocooned by my quilt

Aged thirteen

It was a smooth BOAC flight from London back to Lusaka
But a turbulent journey for me
My parents are thrilled to be back
I’m anguished about all I’ve left behind
Dad’s work takes him to remote places like the Chirundu escarpment
notorious for serious truck accidents requiring his expert recovery
I beg to join him
But he’s resolute: “It’s not safe for a girl”
Affronted I grab a lipstick
Swiping a pout across my lips
The rouge mirroring a smear of crimson between my legs
And I seek adventure instead with new school friends
We bunk school
Roll tobacco
And between the red dirt of a thousand blushes …
and the grass swaying like drunken sentinels
We break the rules

Aged fourteen

Mortified my parents banish me
Cast me out of the family nest
To fly to an all girls’ boarding school on the Isle of Wight
A year ago it wasn’t safe to travel with my father in Zambia
Now I travel alone internationally
(no cell phones in those days)
A filament of grief pierces my heart
And the trelliswork of my inner cage starts to take shape
Where do I belong?

Aged fifteen

Each boarding school holiday is spent back in Zambia
Visiting the family nest
Reuben, our driver picks me up
A truck in front is dangerously overloaded – extra passengers cling precariously to the outside
We’re so close behind that, through puffs of diesel smoke, I look directly into vacant eyes
and I worry she will lose her grip
Inexplicably Reuben suggests we hook up for a weekend
Feathers ruffled, my mind clouds over in anxiety
Suddenly it feels safer to be out the car hanging to the side of the lorry with its wonky chassis
But a road block looms close
A second whoosh of nausea hits
The overloaded vehicle is waved through but our car is pulled over for searching
My body is frisked under the watchful eye of several learing AK47s
Reuben and the soldiers exchange words
I understand not their dialogue but in that moment know I want to go with Reuben
Confused child as I am, I realise one thing:

Safety is relative to circumstance

Part of my 'Bogeyman' series - this one Bogeyman Follows

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