Let me take you back, back to one of my earliest childhood memories; I’m in the compound picking ripe mangoes from the tree by the fence. I’m on my tiptoes reaching up when I hear the gunfire, it’s rapid and loud and I drop back onto my heels to listen some more. Short bursts then a pause, a large explosion followed by my mother’s panicked voice. She’s on the veranda shouting, waving me in but I can’t move, I’m glued to the red dirt beneath by feet. In the end she has to run out to get me; when I get into the house I see that she has already filled half a suitcase with an assortment of clothes, passports and papers. A minute later she throws both the case and me into the back seat of the Mercedes and we are gone. The front door is still wide open and I watch it swinging gently through the rear window as we speed off towards the highway.
That is my first memory of panic. It’s the first time I can recall that breath-sucking monster, it’s the first time I felt alone and helpless and blinded with fear. They say that smell is the sense most closely linked with memory and I have no doubt that it’s true because whenever I pick up a mango from a market stall or supermarket shelf I can’t help but lift it to my nose and take in it’s cloying odour and suddenly I’m back there in that compound and my head is full of fear.