The other night, I was walking home from the station. It’s so dark in the evenings now, and cold, and I was looking forward to getting in, pulling off my ridiculously beautiful but incredibly restricting ankle boots, crawling into my jammies and familiarising myself with a delicious bar of Hotel Chocolat 70% orange flavoured dark chocolate. Mmmm.
I was minding my own business, listening to some Clean Bandit and generally having a great (cold) time thinking about how cold penguins’ feet must get and shouldn’t we send them socks when it gets really cold?, when I pass the lamp-post and I notice an extra shadow. This shadow doesn’t bob in time to me, and as my shadow spreads ahead with the outline of my bag, this new shadow it somewhat streamlined and clearly does not belong to me. I casually glance into the window of the car next to me, using the reflection to subtly take a peek at the owner of the streamlined shadow, and there’s a gentleman with a scarf around his face walking uncomfortably hot on my heels.
To be fair, it was freezing cold and no doubt he was just eager to get home and willing to ignore the British social convention of ‘keep back at least 5 paces’. Just to be sure nothing was going on here, I act as if I hadn’t just sneaked a peak at him and mildly panicked – and I cross the road. My headphones are hidden underneath my scarf/hat, and better than a female James Bond I pretend to caress my ear and as my hand travels back down I tug the headphones out from my phone.
Suddenly it becomes deadly silent. It’s weird how music can give you this false sense of security; like you’re in a musical and any minute some dancing kangaroos are going to conga out from behind a tree singing something about how much better summer is. Instead, I hear my heart thumping and the quick steps of someone behind me.
Shit, I think. He’s crossed the road. There are cars lined up along the road and I use the glass to check. Yep – still hot on my heels. Dammit.
Now I’m not sure whether it’s coincidence or not. Maybe he lives on this side of the road, and it JUST so happened we crossed at the same time? My brain is running through all the excuses, trying to find one that convinces me to stop worrying about it.
No chance. I’ve quickened my pace; his has quickened too. No doubt left. He’s following me.
I gulp back the metallic taste of adrenalin in my mouth and force myself to stop panicking. It dawns on me that there are three options. 1) He’s genuinely on his way home. 2) He’s going to try to mug me. 3) He’s going to chop me up into tiny bits and feed me to his rabbit.
So far, it seems like option 1 is increasingly unlikely, and option 3 is a little far-fetched. The road is well-lit until right at the end, when you’re suddenly plunged into darkness. This was the bit I was concerned about, really. This was, as I had always thought when walking home, a prime spot to jump someone – out of the way of CCTV and after dark it was pitch black so even if you were filming it, you wouldn’t see anything.
I walk past the penultimate lamp-post and glance down at our competing shadows. The distance between us has narrowed. He’s definitely catching up, but I doubt he’ll do anything until I hit the corner. I look ahead – about twenty yards. Right. I’m walking briskly, but not quite power walking; I don’t think he’s twigged that I might have caught on to him and I don’t want to make it too obvious.
Ten yards. I walk past the last lamp-post – he’s even closer. My heart is in my mouth. Questions run through my head; what if he takes my Foyles loyalty card? What if he uses up all the points I’ve collected? What if he takes my Westfield VIP card and uses my 20% discount whilst I’m left crying at the counter begging for the salad man at Tossed to not charge me the full amount? What if he runs off with my whole bag, keys included, and I freeze to death and in the morning a dog discovers me when he starts licking the huge icicle that’s suddenly materialised at the side of the road?
Five yards. And suddenly –
My Foyles loyalty card is on the line here, and I take that really fucking seriously. My bag is banging against my spine as I run, and it really hurts, but i’m trying to ignore it. I can hear that he’s started running too – there are four slapping shoe-meets-pavement sounds. I am properly panicking – but there’s a road just 30 yards away, and I’m running for it like my life depends on it. Like my VIP discount card depends on it. I’ve probably got less than a second on him, and that’s not a lot of time considering I’m weighed down with my bag. I only have to get past the pitch black 15 metres and then I’m exposed to the bright lights of a main street again.
I don’t think he counted on me begin able to sprint, because luck has it that I make it to the road, and I hear him slow down and stop suddenly behind me, when the slapping sounds of shoes on the pavement halves from four to two. SLAP, SLAP, SLAP, SLAP. I don’t stop running. I wave breathlessly at the car who had to screech to a halt at the zebra crossing and the driver who (probably quite rightly) waves back with his middle finger. I don’t care – I am back in the light and I am ALIVE.
Not rabbit food tonight, Mister Mugger.
I run all the way to the door. Tears are streaming down my face, but that’s mostly because it’s fucking cold and the frozen air is blowing straight into my eyes. I can’t really see, but I can make out the pavement through my blurry vision.
I get to the door, and brave a look back.
Nothing. Nobody. Just one mad woman, me, breathlessly panicking at the front door, and cars gliding along the road as though nothing happened. And, to be fair to them, nothing actually did happen.
I let myself in, I sit on the stairs, and I sadly retrieve a popped bag of popcorn from my bag. There is crushed popcorn absolutely everywhere, and I spend days afterwards trying to get bits of it out of the lining of my handbag.
A true story. Originally written in February 2017 on a really fucking cold night.
Also published on Medium.