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The Disappearance of Me - Part II

Story ID:3036
Written by:John Ward (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Mbabane Swaziland
Year:1969
Person:John Ward
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The Circumstances of my disappearance were different the second time it happened, but the fear that caused me to disappear was about as intense.

As the years went by I forgot about the first time I disappeared. I grew older and was sent to a strict British boarding school just outside Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland called Waterford School. I was there from age 12 to age 18. It was an experience that gives me nightmares to this day.

The masters and prefects were very generous with punishment and I spent a lot of my time doing hard labor, running around the athletic fields for punishment or up one of the nearby mountains to sign my name on the beacon as punishment. In addition there was some fairly severe corporal punishment meted out. I was caned on several occasions and ran away from school one night with only a hockey stick for defense. I mention this only to illustrate that one had to live with a significant amount of fear on a constant basis.

You never knew if you were doing something that could get you into trouble. The things that you knew were not allowed, that you did because you couldn’t see anything immoral or unethical about them, gave you the tremors the whole time you were doing them. For example: after lunch you were obliged to retire to your cubicle in your dormitory and rest, whether you were tired or not. You could not visit your friends, you could not talk and you could not leave your cubicle. There seemed no moral or ethical basis for this sort of rule and so it was broken by many, quite often.

My good friend Steven Anderson and I would try to use this time to visit one another and catch up on what was going on in our lives. He was a member of Henderson House and I was a member of Guedes House. His house had been named after a poor sensitive boy called Angus Henderson who had committed suicide on weekend leave.

Surprisingly, his parents reacted to this tragedy by donating a lot of money to the school. They had no idea what the source of his misery was, but we all knew. So from then on we had a house called Henderson House and a collection of benches with “Angus” carved into them.

Pancho Guedes was a brilliant Portuguese Architect from Mozambique who designed the school for nothing and kept designing buildings for the school as it grew. He also sent his children: Pedro and Godofreddo to Waterford and later his daughter, Lonka, when the school started accepting girls. For his continuing free services a house was named after him: Guedes House, pronounced “Gedge House” by the boys or correctly, in Portuguese “Geddeszh House.”

Pupils who belonged in Guedes House were not allowed to fraternize with pupils who were members of Henderson House, particularly during rest period. I believe it had something to do with creating a spirit of competition between the houses. Most of us thought it was an idiotic and unnecessary form of segregation. During rest, several of the boys would sneak over to the other house’s dorm and visit friends in their cubicles.

The cubicles were a design masterpiece of economic efficiency. They were approximately 6 feet six inches square. The door leading into the cubicle, when opened, closed the cubicle’s closet and if you opened your closet, you closed the door to your cubicle. As you walked in there was a concrete slab, about 6 inches thick on the left. This slab ran the depth of the cubicle and a foam mattress was placed on it to provide your bed. When the dorms were new, there was a strange contraption that was put down first to separate the mattress from the concrete. It was 5 strips of masonite with one by two inch strips of perpendicular wood holding the masonite together. The masonite strips ran the length of the bed, but after a few weeks, the masonite weakened and dipped so that your mattress was touching the cement anyway and to avoid an undulating mattress, most of us removed the contraption entirely.

On the right, opposite the bed, as you entered, there was a closet and then a desk from the closet to the far wall. That was it. A bed on the left, a closet and a desk on the right constituted the entire design. Each of the cubicles had a louvered window facing the outside. You were allowed a curtain on that, but it was discouraged.

On this one occasion, I was over in Henderson House, visiting my friend Steven Anderson. There was a special way of doing this. Because of the design of the cubicle, when you went to visit a friend, you entered the cubicle and then closed the door. At this point the closet would be open and you would sit in the closet on the single, low-level shoe-shelf, so that if anyone: a senior, a prefect, or a master, happened to sneak up to the cubicle and open the door; he would inadvertently shut you in the closet and not see you. Your host would look appropriately innocent and hurt until the intruder left and then call you out when the coast was clear.

I was in the closet, visiting Steven when someone gave the warning cry “Chips - Khaki!” Chips is the warning cry, Khaki was the nickname of the House Master of Henderson House, Anthony Hatton.

A master coming to a dorm to check on rest period was an extremely unusual occurrence and in this case Khaki walked straight up to Steven’s cubicle and opened the door. If he were to catch me visiting Steven, during rest period, he would undoubtedly report me to my House Master, an enigmatically cruel man called Deon Glover, and I would most certainly be caned and gated from going to town or home to visit my family for at least a month.

Fortunately, upon the alarm being given, I stood up in the closet on the low shoe-shelf and got behind the bar on which Steven hung his uniform jacket and trousers, for what little cover that one outfit provided. The fact that Khaki had burst into the dorm and rushed straight to Steven’s cubicle was a clear indication that one of the boys who didn’t like Steven or me had told Khaki that we were meeting and he was determined to catch us in flagrente delictu.

As he entered the cubicle the closet went dark - pitch black. I could see nothing but I heard him ask Steven who was in here. Steven had assumed a very restful posture on his bed with a comic book open as if being read.

“Anderson! Who’s in here; what’s going on?!”

“Nothing sir” said Steven giving the universal response. “Nothing sir” was the most useful response one could learn and one learned it very quickly at Waterford. It could be used for questions like: “What are you doing?” “What are you whispering about?” “What do you know about the Visigoths?” “What have you been doing with that finger?” It had universal application.

At this point Khaki opened the door to the closet. He had moved into the cubicle tripping over Steven’s shoes, which he thought were strewn on the floor out of laziness on Steven’s part, but which I had chucked out so I could sit and then stand comfortably. The shoes caused him to struggle with getting the closet door open, but he eventually got it wide. I stood there in the bright light, frozen; scared out of my wits! I just looked in his general direction, but not fully into his eyes. His face was two feet from mine and I could see him peering into the closet. He was livid and his face was creased with anger. I felt myself sucking myself into myself again. I wanted to disappear. I stood stock still and tried to not exist and Khaki was searching the small 3 foot by 3 foot by 7 foot space, his eyes darting all around the place, scouring the corners and not seeing me! I was amazed. He looked directly at me and did not see me! He also gave indications that he believed something was there that he just wasn’t seeing, but although he kept looking for quite a while, he never saw me!

After a while he stepped back and said: “Well don’t let me catch you with anyone here during rest period!” “No sir!” said Steven invoking another tried and true response, from his repertoire of “innocence” catch phrases.

When Khaki left we sat there frozen for about 15 seconds and then Steven burst to the door and looked. I had relaxed by this time and I almost fell in a faint. He was astounded. “How did he not see you?” “I don’t know” said I. “Good Christ, how did he not see you?” He just kept asking it over and over again. We sat there quietly going through every possibility. We wondered if he had seen me, but was just being kind, but that suggestion was a desperate one to put our minds at ease, because we knew the masters delighted in punishment. We wondered if it had been too dark, but when we opened the closet door, it was as bright as the cubicle. There was no rational explanation.

The years flew by. From Waterford I went to study in South Africa in 1971, where I got into trouble protesting for equal education for blacks and whites, then on to Rome, Italy where I got an Associates Degree in 1974. From there I went to England and then the USA for a Baccalaureate and post graduate studies.

I forgot all about these two occurrences until I was in Atlanta, Georgia, studying for a Masters degree at the University of Georgia and I saw a film called Sharkey’s Machine with Burt Reynolds. At one point in the film Sharkey’s black police partner, Archie, played by Bernie Casey, describes a situation he was in when he disappeared! His description was so familiar to me that the memories of my disappearances came flooding back. I felt sure the writer, William Diehl, must have had the exact same experience I had. The circumstances, the extreme fear, the attempt to suck oneself into oneself, it was all there. Near the end of the movie the police officer, Archie, is confronted by a drug-crazed Henry Silva who is trying to escape and finds the officer wounded and lying in his path. He tries to shoot him and Casey does the best interpretation of disappearing I have ever seen on film. Silva seems unable to see him, even though he is pointing his gun at him and eventually runs off frustrated.

When I left that movie theatre, the memories of the two occasions of my disappearance were vivid in my mind. As unlikely as it sounds, I know I have disappeared twice in my life. I also know William Diehl has at least some knowledge of this weird phenomenon. I feel sure others have had the same or similar experiences and probably never mention them to avoid being put in a rubber room and perhaps because they don’t want to be interviewed by the CIA, MI-6 or some other agency which would love to know how to disappear at will.

I have never been able to duplicate the experience and wonder if it has anything to do with the essential ingredient of abject fear in the mix. As a child or even a teen one has an enormous capacity to fear what adults or others in authority might do, but as one ages, this fear is less severe and tempered by experience. Who knows, under the right circumstances the ability could return. I hope I am never that afraid again. Now, - when people say: “Good to see you.” I always answer: “Good to be visible!”