I first met Milan as a shy thirteen year old. Milan was a lecturer in history at the University of Auckland. He was one of my father's drinking mates at the Senior Common Room Club, the drinking hole at the Old Government House that was set aside for academic staff.
My father had introduced Milan to me as someone with a shared interest in chess. My acquaintance grew from chess companion to friendship as I discovered that Milan had a genuine interest in my dreams and aspirations, and the typical adolescent struggles I was living through.
When I was seventeen, Milan had secluded himself up north at a village not far from Kaitaia, so he could write a book. He wrote me letters exhorting me to come and see him, and then mentioned a Māori cave.
Apparently the site of the cave had a violent history, and there was a tapu over it. Local Māori boys Milan had befriended shrunk away from all mention of it, and refused any requests to show him the cave, even when he offered to pay them.
As a historian Milan had an interest in artefacts, and even confessed a wish to own one himself. In those days before the Treaty settlement process had established strict protocol for ownership, these would have belonged to the Crown. Or maybe to the local iwi. Certainly not to him. When I told him this would be stealing, he laughed.
"They're safe. I would be too scared of the tapu to take anything."
I thought this was likely to be superstitious nonsense, but as Milan had said to me on one occasion, paraphrasing Hamlet "There are forces in this world about which we know nothing." Maybe. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.
But even Milan's fear of the tapu was not strong enough to damp his enthusiasm to at least visit the cave. And mine certainly wasn't. So it was that Milan and I, and a devout Christian friend of Milan, set off from the village hotel on foot to the place that the locals had pointed out as the likely location for the cave.
It was winter, the ground was boggy, and we tramped for a few hours among the manuka scrub until we had had enough, and no cave had been found.
We drove back to Auckland and I returned to my parents' house.
That night I had a bad dream. The details are fuzzy after all this time, but I do remember there was something chasing me, and I had to get out. So I leapt out of bed, and rushed out of my bedroom, but not to the front or back doors. Instead I was rattling the handle of a door leading to the roof of an outbuilding. The roof had no guard rails, just a steep drop to the concrete below.
The door was locked. After a few desperate attempts to open it, I woke up, lying shivering at the base of the door. I picked myself up and went back to bed. Too ashamed to tell anyone; after all, only nutcases or those with a guilty conscience walk in their sleep. It was only later on that it even occurred to me how lucky I was that the door had been locked. My parents didn't usually lock that door. It would be hard to climb the roof to that door, so a lock had no use in keeping people out. Keeping people in, on the other hand...
So what is the explanation for my narrow escape? A sceptic would say that my sleepwalking episode was a result of a heightened emotional response at the thought of the tapu. But I hadn't felt frightened; or anything else. While I did not dismiss tapu and other curses out of hand, they were not something that had seriously crossed my mind. Especially as we hadn't even found the cave.
Something else I should mention. I had never walked in my sleep before; and nor have I done so since. There had been times, especially as a child in boarding school, and later as an adolescent in love, where my emotions had been shredded. Times when I went to bed in tears or trembling in fear. Times where I lay awake with feelings of dread or rejection. But on all those occasions, when I finally went to sleep, I slept soundly.
So make of this what you will. I don't expect you to agree with me. It's probably right that you don't. After all, you don't know me. But from my point of view, which is the only one I have, I am convinced that what I experienced was a supernatural event.