culture & community sisterhood

The Stranger Behind Me (or; Walking Home at Night While Female)

by Amber — November 13, 2017

stranger, behind, shadow, man, lurking

On the alert for strange men behind you, trying to make it home quickly–and with determination, are the fundamentals of walking home at night while female.

This piece is inspired by the good and maybe even the lost victims of the #metoo campaign.
FYI: trigger warnings

Only moments before, I was sexy. Dancing, free, drink in one hand and yes, even a cigarette in the other. I’d have kissed the sky if I was any taller. We laugh, shake our heads, smiles stretched largely across our faces. So free.

But here, in the quiet of night, walking alone I have become a magnet. The energy I had on the dance floor is tucked close to my heart. I cannot be that big, I cannot be noticed. I dare not lower my head, keeping my eyes ahead, but still aware, so aware of each movement and sound that is attracted to me. I manage my steps, with calculation. Not too fast, not too slow. Planning my strategy should a hint of the worst come my way. A fake phone call and a chat about leaving the light on for me. Keys in my pocket at the ready, should they be needed. A review of brute force I’ve been taught, but never released. Can I run in these shoes?

The relaxed feeling I had earlier in the evening is long gone, the tension I had as the night grew still around me doubles as I hear a whistling behind me. It is a pleasant tune. I don’t recognize it, but it is happy. Despite this the hairs on the back of my neck stand. I am at attention, trying to remain even. Trying to seem as if I am unaware or perhaps unaffected by the presence of testosterone behind me.

The electricity of the night sharpens and I race through my options, for the twenty-ninth time since I left the club, this time with purpose. Phone, keys, or defense? I cannot see who is back there, but I know he’ll be taller and stronger. He has noticed my form fitting jeans, my spaghetti straps that lead to a bosom hugging sequenced tank top, which is all supported on top of dainty, strappy shoes, which, if I could kick them off in time could cause life threatening damage, or do I leave them on and aim for his feet?

His distance, I guess, is far from arms reach, but I feel his shadow hovering over me, watching each move, waiting. I manage to peer around it and take in my surroundings. I know where I am, I know there are no buildings I can safely enter. I know there is an alley coming up, I know that I’m not close enough to home, I know he’s still back there.

I see the headlines: ‘BODY FOUND IN ALLEY’,  ‘WOMAN RAPED AND BEATEN’, ‘SHE WAS ASKING FOR IT.’ I do not want to be a headline. It is July and still 25 degrees celsius, despite the dark, and I am wishing I had worn a sweater.

The whistling stops and our footsteps echo alongside each other. The empty streets are alive with possibilities, none of which have a happy ending.

I turn the corner and the man behind me turns the corner. I reach into my pocket and flip open my phone, chatting loudly to no one about my evening and reminding the void that I’m almost home. I have run out of things to say. Worrying that I will seem crazy, I flip my phone closed and put it back in my pocket. I wish I had brought a purse–useful as a long distance weapon–instead of tucking everything into my pockets. There is one key in my jeans and I find it placing it between my fingers should I need it just as his foot steps seem to quicken. I quietly bring my hands to my side, casually, pretending I’m not prepared to poke out his eyes, if need be.

Aware–on guard–I slowly turn my head to see he has quickened his foot steps, but they are not behind me, he is crossing the road. I am momentarily relieved. The space between us is a little quieter, less dense. My shoulders relax, but I am not stupid. He’s still following me, he’s just on the other side of the street.

There is half a block, six houses left to pass before I come to my front steps. The light is on, just as I had left it hours before. I can see it from here. But he is still there, on the other side of the street.

I clunk noisily up the stairs to my home, key in hand, debating if I remove it from its defensive position to the more useful one used to open my door. I do a quiet check over my shoulder to see if he has changed course, but he hasn’t. He’s still there on the other side of the street, walking.

I put the key in the lock, noting to myself this man now knows where I live. Closing the door behind me I bolt it and test it to be sure, then wander through the house checking windows and doors before heading to bed.

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