The full story of what happened to 82-year-old Mary* may never be known.
She’s confused and her recollection of the recent past is fuzzy. She’s not sure how long she was locked in a room barely big enough to move around in.
The windows of the backyard room in blue-collar Brooklyn, Cape Town, had been nailed shut and covered with wood and the door was locked.
Mary spent her days on the single bed craving her next meal, which could arrive that day or in a few days’ time.
Once healthily plump, she shrank to 35 kg.
There was no running water or toilet in the room. Her jailer was her 57-year-old son, who apparently claimed her meagre pension every month.
Mary took to writing in a notebook her son had allowed her to have: lists of what she’d like to plant in spring, which of her pieces of furniture – now in her son’s house – required fixing, what she wanted from the shops.
When Mary was finally freed recently someone asked her what she needed – and she handed over the notebook.
She would probably have died in that room had her other son’s ex-wife – they divorced years ago – not kept in touch with her from Australia.
When the friend became concerned, then suspicious, she asked another friend in Cape Town to investigate and Mary was finally freed.
The doctor who examined Mary found she was emaciated, confused and traumatised. She’s recovering at a home for the aged in Cape Town where she’s gradually gaining weight but doesn’t trust people.
She isolates herself and spends most of her time lying on her bed, relishing the fresh air and sunlight that comes through the open windows. She refuses to shut the door of her room and has declined to lay a charge against her son. * Not her real name.
Read the full story in YOU, 27 January 2011.