When I heard 14 Riverside was under siege, I had just picked my children from school. I have a friend who works at the complex — a former journalist. Their office is two floors above where one of those terrorists blew himself up.
In 2016 we would have lunch daily with him and others before he moved to Riverside Drive. We’ve had a few drinks. We talk weekly on Whatsapp because he always gives me a critique of some personality profiles I do on this sister newspaper. He’s funny and witty, always sending curt and often funny critiques like; what a glog of rubbish is today’s interview; how is that person a CEO?
I could drink whisky with this one — if they are buying; your questions were beautiful today; Had you fully woken up for this interview?; Sometimes I see you as a genius, sometimes, like today, I see darkness for your art, among others. It’s always a laugh.
Two days after the ordeal, he tells me that he understands fully what the word terrorism is, and what the noun terror is. It’s a state of extreme fear. The type that makes men and women pee in their pants. The type that makes you confused and disoriented, and forget the simplest of instructions.
Together with two guys, they were marooned in the bathroom downstairs of their building. They could hear the gunshots; loud and terrifying in the closed lobby of the reception.
The AK-47 sounds like thunder in a pot, he said. They could hear the terrorist shooting outside and the sound got louder and closer until they could hear his footsteps right outside the door. At this point they were sure they were all going to die because the guy was going to shoot open the door and slaughter all of them in a hail of bullets.
One guy sat on the floor, paralysed with fear, saying his last prayers. They stood against the wall, eyes closed. He had sent his wife a message saying it looked bad. He has two young children. They would grow up without a father — rather without him. His wife would probably get married to someone else after a few years of mourning and perhaps this man would help raise his children in a decent way. Maybe his children would remember him vaguely; remember his love for soccer. When they grew older and curious, they would go online and read about this day and how their father was killed in the bathroom by people who he had no quarrel with.
But then God works in mysterious ways, because the gunshots and footsteps of the terrorist started moving away from the bathroom and were soon gone. Not long after, the Recce guys kicked in the door. He described them as big men, rough and gruff and tough. Saviours. They shouted commands.
When they opened the door they were asked to raise their hands and since they were confused and terrified they couldn’t comprehend simple instructions. “They slap you to bring you to your senses. It’s more like being woken up.” He laughs telling me that. Then they were led outside in a file. He doesn’t recall how he got home but when he did his wife was there and she clung onto him and cried.
He says he didn’t leave the house for a number of days; and neither did his wife leave his side. She never let him out of her sight. She would follow him everywhere. If he went to the loo, she would lurk around the corridor. If he went to the kitchen to fetch water she would follow him. She sat near him on the sofa to watch 90 minutes of soccer — something she wouldn’t be caught dead doing earlier on. If he went to bask outside in the sun, she would be there basking next to him.
She spoke so softly to him, picked up after him without a word, personally made him his favourite meal and when the children shouted and made a ruckus, she said, “stop shouting, you are making noise for your father.” He would catch her looking at him sometimes, with that appreciative look. He said, laughing, that it almost felt like they were newly married. That terrorists had injected a new life into his marriage.
His role as the man of the house was suddenly being appreciated in many beautiful acts of kindness and love. He mused how amazing that such horror can spring up such love again. And although he’s traumatised and he thinks of those hours in the bathroom, he rather loves the attention his wife is giving him. The terrorists have lost again — they have managed to put his marriage back on the beautiful path it was many years ago.