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"THE HOSTAGE"


Day 5

I've been pleading with them for days – and today they finally gave me a biro and a notebook. I was sure that, unless I could write something on my experience, I'd go crazy. Normally I only write business reports but I need to put some words on paper now to get some sort of control of what's going on.

So these notes are for me to try and keep some kind of order in this terrible madness. If I get out of here, I might be able to use them to construct an account of what happened. If – God help me – I don't make it, perhaps Fiona will find the words some consolation.

But this just is a school exercise book - the red covers the brightest colour in this miserable place - and, when I opened it and found that most of the pages had been ripped out, my heart sank. They've told me that I won't get any more writing material. So I'll have to be brief in my entries and I won't be able to write often. I just hope that I'll be out of here before I run out of pages.

I can't even write on the walls (brick) or the floor (rough plaster).

Day 6

I'm in the cellar of a house somewhere – no idea where. It's the size of a standard cellar: around 20 foot wide and 30 foot long. There's one light – a naked light bulb – and two light switches – one at the top of the door leading down from the main floor and one at the foot of the wooden staircase. They allow me to switch the light on and off as I wish and I'm trying to have it on when I think it's daytime and off at night.

They took my watch and everything in my pockets, so I'm guessing when it's daytime by the times they bring me food and drink. I usually get two meals a day – one around mid morning and the other in the early evening - although calling them 'meals' is something of an exaggeration. There's never much and I'm already sick of rice, beans and millet. Meat has been quite rare and fruit even rarer.

Basically there's nothing in this cellar except a filthy mattress and a rickety table and chair. And the bucket, of course. This is my toilet. It may be my shit – but it still stinks (especially in the heat of the day). It's emptied each morning when I'm brought a small bowl of water and a tiny piece of soap to freshen up a bit. I'm not able to shave so I suppose that I'm already looking pretty wild.

The room is stifling hot in the day and rather chilly at night.

Day 7

I've no idea who's holding me but I can guess why.

The system is that, when the door to the cellar is unbolted, I have to put on a blindfold that they gave me at the beginning. So I never see their faces. I try to talk to them but they rarely offer me more than a word or two. They have absolutely no interest in me as an individual and clearly know all they want to know about me from the information in my wallet and briefcase (they might have been watching me for some time before the kidnapping though). It's obvious that all they want to know is what my company is prepared to pay for my release.

The people in this country don't appreciate the investment we're making here. All they want is more of the revenues and all they do is moan about the environment.

Day 10

There's nothing to report. My life is one of total isolation and my time is utter, utter boredom. Normally I'm intensely busy all the time and in complete control of events and my life, so this experience is very, very difficult for me.

I suppose I could explain who I am and how I got here. I need to remind myself.

My name is Alistair Stewart. I'm Scottish and aged 43. I'm married to Fiona, a marketing consultant, and we have an eight year son called Hamish who's just started at a new boarding school. I did a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (even then I wanted to get away from Scotland). I joined Helios straight from university because it's a really big oil company with extensive interests around the globe. Thought it offered prospects.

I started as an engineer and worked my way up with various assignments in a variety of different countries. But increasingly I moved into general management with an emphasis on new sources of supply. I've done a lot of travelling: Africa, of course, but also Latin America and the Gulf States. I worked hard and have been promoted regularly, so I've being doing well professionally, but basically my life is simply work and family – with much more of the former than the latter – plus a little golf (bad). It was my work that brought me to Nigeria and why I've spent so much time in the Niger Delta in the last few months.

Of course, I can remember clearly when I was taken captive and how it happened. It was Monday 9 November 1992. I was following the usual routine – perhaps that's where I went wrong – going into the office in the same company car by the same route as usual. When we stopped at traffic lights, the car was stormed by masked men with weapons. One covered my face with a cloth that must have been soaked in chloroform. When I woke up, I was on the mattress in this cellar. I could be anywhere in the Delta. I occasionally hear traffic but nothing that indicates whether I'm in the same town or another one.

I could write more – but my life has been pretty routine and anyway I have so few pages in this notebook.

Day 11

I 've no idea what's happening in the world and, of course, the world has no idea what's happening to me - assuming anyone cares.

I wouldn't have imagined how disorientating it is to be without radio, television, newspapers for so long. I just have no notion of what's going on out there. The last thing I recall from the news was Bill Clinton beating George Bush in the US Presidential election. The Americans have someone as charismatic as Clinton and we have 'Mr Magoo' as Prime Minister. I'm a Conservative, but how John Major managed to succeed Maggie Thatcher and how he won the General Election in the Spring is beyond me. Clinton should be a great president.

Here it's a event if I spot a new cockroach and excitement when I kill it.

I don't know if our Foreign Secretary has been briefed on my case. I don't imagine that Douglas Hurd will have it on the top of his files. But Helios must be doing something to get me released. Presumably they've had a ransom demand by now and are negotiating the details. It shouldn't take this long.

Day 12

I cannot describe how bored I am. I've decided that I need some routines. This notebook helps but it's so small. I've started some exercise schedules: walking briskly round the four walls plus sit-ups and press-ups.

Day 13

My beard is really rough now and my hair matted. I must look wild. I feel wild.

Day 14

This evening, there was a ferocious thunderstorm. Even in the cellar, I could hear the thunder but, of course, without any windows I couldn't see the lightning which was strange. The rain must have been tumultuous because, even this far down, I could hear the rhythmic sound on the roof of the building.

I wanted to walk out and feel the rain striking my face and dripping inside my shirt. I wanted it to soak my hair and all my clothes and swallow me up. I wanted to be wet and clean and fresh and alive. I must stop this. It will only make this incarceration more difficult to bear.

Day 16

I can't understand why there aren't negotiations for my release. What the hell is happening? Pay the ransom, you idiots! Get me out of here!!

Day 19

My exercise schedules aren't working. The food and drink I receive are not enough for the strength I need. I'll have to find something else to fill my time and occupy my mind; otherwise I'll go mad.

Day 22

Things I want to say to Fiona:

Day 30

At last! A sign that something's happening!! But mustn't hope too much too soon.

Obviously Helios has kidnap and ransom insurance and I'm not the first businessman to have been taken hostage in the Delta. But, until today, this didn't seem to have been of any help to me because nothing whatsoever has been said by my captors about any negotiations that might have been going on.

When I started travelling for the company, I had to give our insurance company proof of life - some information that captors could not obtain from any source but their captive so that the company knows its employee is still alive.

I decided to choose the name and breed of my first dog as a child. It was an Airedale terrier that I called Magnus.

Today I was asked this information and gave it. I hope to hell that this means that I'll soon be out of here and home again.

Day 33

I'm a fool. Out of frustration or curiosity, this morning I peeked over my blindfold to see the young man who brought me my washing water. He immediately spotted this and struck me across the face with a heavy stick. There was lots of blood and I probably need stitches but, without a mirror, I can't check the wound and anyway nobody is going to give me any medical support. I suppose I'll have a nasty scar to show for this stupidity.

Day 34

Something new and terrible happened today – or it might be tonight. Was sitting at table thinking. Had nothing to write and have very few pages left anyway.

Became very aware of beating of my heart and it started to sound louder and faster. Started to sweat and thought that was going to pass out. There was growing pressure on my chest and tearing at my stomach. Then black wave seemed to rise up and bear down on me. Honestly thought that was going to die.

Struggled over to mattress and lay flat. Wave crashed over me and gradually subsided. Had no idea what was happening. Gradually breathing and heart rate returned to normal. But, about a quarter hour later, wave started to rise again. Seemed to be inside me but was simultaneously washing over me.

After few minutes, there was another wave – and then another – and then another. Was left utterly drained and absolutely terrified.

Eventually decided that they were panic attacks. Never had one before. Petrified of having more. Need to be out of here. Need to be able to run.

Day 35

After terror of yesterday, decided that, if can't exercise my body, need to exercise my mind – otherwise boredom and loneliness are going to give way to panic and attempt at suicide. Going to walk slowly round outside of cellar and try to compose some stories.

Meanwhile had more panic attacks and they shatter me.

Day 36

This story business isn't easy. Usually all I write are technical reports and business plans. But read lots of fiction and devour novels. So working on it.

Even attempting to devise some narratives seems to have helped panic attacks. Getting fewer.

Day 37

Some stories are coming. As walk round & round, crafting & recrafting plots & paragraphs in mind. Don't have enough paper left for more than few sentences, let alone set of stories, so have to carry them in my mind. But keeping me occupied. Giving me something to do.

Another panic attack though.

Day 41

Almost out of space.

Fortunately short stories really flowing now – but told nothing about negotiations.

Day 43 (I think)

No longer sure know how long been here. Only mental composition of stories saving me from going crazy.

Day 46 (I think)

All guards seem really edgy & one muttered something which makes me fear that negotiations have broken down.

Day 51 (possibly)

Even with story memorising, can feel myself losing grip on reality. Starting to see things. Don't know how much longer can keep my sanity in this hell hole.

Some day

Been gun fire for what guessing around hour. Stopped now. Don't know what's happening. Nobody been in cellar today & been given no food or drink. Am weaker & grubbier. Feeling more hopeless than ever.

**********

To: Alistair Stewart
From: Alhaji Abdul Mustafa
Date: 20/12/08 10:22

Subject: Your notebook

Mr Stewart,

I know that you will think that an unsolicited e-mail from Nigeria is some sort of scam, but please be assured that it is nothing of the sort. I Googled your name, found your web site, and discovered your e-mail address, because I have something to tell you and to give you.

When you were rescued as a hostage in my country in 1992, I was the leader of the special response unit. As you know, the firefight that led to your escape set the building ablaze and we were fortunate to retrieve your goodself just before the cellar roof collapsed. You were lucky to live, sir.

As you will recall, you were immediately flown back to the UK by your company to be with your family. We did not need you to return to Nigeria for the trial because your evidence was not necessary. You had not been able to see any of the fellows and we caught them red-handed.

As my men pulled you out of the cellar, I saw your notebook and snatched it from the flames. I kept it at my police quarters in case it proved useful for the trial but it was not needed. You never contacted us about it – perhaps you assumed it had been destroyed in the fire or perhaps you wanted to forget about everything to do with what must have been a traumatic experience for you, sir.

I am taking early retirement from the force at Christmas and I have been sorting out my desk. I found your notebook which I confess I had forgotten all about and have not looked at for these 16 years. If you would like me to return it to you, please be so kind as to send me a forwarding address.

It was very interesting for me to read the 'About' section of your web site. I read that you retrained as a science teacher and perhaps you yourself are now coming up to retirement. I saw that your son has just qualified as a doctor and I am sure that you are very proud of him.

Most fascinating for me was to learn that you have become a part-time writer. I was especially interested in your published collection of short stories and wondered if any of them arose from your time in that cellar. I tried to find the book on Amazon but it must be out of print. However, I found a second-hand copy on a site called AbeBooks and I have ordered a copy. I look forward very much to reading “The Rooms In My Mind”.


ROGER DARLINGTON

Published on 14 August 2009

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