It happened in Africa, of course. Where else? A few weeks after the Chevrolet pick-up truck, the ‘Yellow Peril’ as we called her, was scrapped, I was told a brand new Landrover was available. To collect it I had to travel to the Education Department’s headquarters in Lusaka. I drove it back to Livingstone the next day, stopping off at one or two Mission schools on the way back.
It was at one of these that I discovered the morning class had been dismissed at 10.30 instead of noon. The African headteacher explained the early closure by pointing to his alarm clock – a standard issue to all schools. It was not working.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘Sir, it dropped itself off the table.’ A charming misuse of the English language. I made a note to remind his manager of schools to issue him with another.
Eventually, I got back on the main dirt road to Livingstone. It was a long hot drive, and at some point I decided to stop and stretch my legs. There was a convenient place on the opposite side and I pulled over and stopped. After walking up and down for a few minutes I returned to the Landrover. It was dusk by this time and the light was beginning to fade.
Before I got in, something compelled me to look across the road. To my amazement I saw a huge, black shape on the opposite verge. The size of a grizzly bear, it turned sideways on, swaying alarmingly to and fro. At first I was puzzled, unable to make it out. It wasn’t an animal, and it wasn’t human. It made no sound. Then it turned to face me. I was unable to distinguish its features, apart from its glittering eyes, but suddenly I felt terrified. I had no idea what it was, but felt sure it was evil. It filled me with dread. All I could think of at that moment was that I had to get away from there. I leapt into the cab of the Landrover and drove off as fast as I could, without once looking back.
I never told anyone about this experience, not even my wife, nor have I ever put anything on paper, until now. I am not sure why, but I suspect it was because I thought it unlikely I would be believed. If someone else had told me the same story I would have said he was imagining things. I hardly believed it myself. There was something otherworldly about the whole episode, though I knew I wasn’t dreaming. Besides, the experience was personal to myself. There are some things you don’t talk about.
So why am I describing it now? I recently read a scholarly book entitled ‘Daemonic Reality’ by Patrick Harpur. In a chapter on ‘Beasts’ he gives details of hundreds of sightings similar to mine. In many cases the people involved had kept their stories to themselves for much the same reasons I did. Some had actually put the event to the back of their minds, had forgotten it almost, as if subconsciously suppressing an unwanted memory, but when reminded were able to recall what happened in vivid detail. What makes their accounts authentic is that frequently sightings were shared by other people. A common factor is that although they felt threatened, none were actually harmed.
I find these accounts extremely comforting. After more than fifty years of wondering, I realise my experience was not unique. The same sort of thing has happened to other people, and they too were reluctant to share the event with others.
Since then I have read the memoirs of a Game Warden in Africa named Bruce Kinloch. On the very first page of his book he mentions ‘Ngoloko, the legendary, manlike beast of the dense forests and swamps of the East African coast.’ Just as America has its Bigfoot, Canada its Sasquatch (hairy man) Tibet and Asia their Yeti, so, one finds, do most continents have their own version of what scientists refer to as ‘Gigantopithecus Blacki’. So I am satisfied that what I experienced was a meeting with the African version of Bigfoot.