Predator and Prey

David Attenborough’s voice

On the vast plains of the Penneys homeware savanna, a small Grant’s Gazelle picks her way past the rows of bed clothes. Distracted by the sight of a particularly fluffy cushion, she pauses in her pursuit of wildly unnecessary purchases.

A small movement in her peripheral vision attracts her attention. Suspicion causes her eyes to widen and she freezes, staring blindly across the shelf of vanilla bean tea lights. She can feel something watch her through the tangle of children’s clothes. A moment of utter stillness passes, and reassured by the lack of movement, she continues on, trotting past the scented candles.

Out of the corner of her eye she spots another movement. She stops next to the tea towels. Something is following her. Now truly alarmed, she picks up the pace and makes a break for the relative safety of the ground floor. The predator behind her veers off only to come at her from the side and corner her at the foot of the stairs. Her heart flutters with panic.

“Heyyyy….” says the jackal. “How are you doiiiing?”

“Fine thank you” says the gazelle, because maybe she is overreacting? He hasn’t really done anything yet after all. Maybe he’s just an overly friendly jackal. She tries to step around him but he places a paw on her. She doesn’t like it.

“Excuse me,” she says, and sprints up the stairs before he has a chance to react. A swift run gets her to the till, where I hand a t-shirt to the woman behind the register, because I am the gazelle and this metaphor has gone on for long enough.

As the cashier slowly scanned the barcode, my mind ran down dead-ends and alleyways in a frantic effort to keep ahead of my anxiety. I thought about asking the cashier if there was, per chance, a jackal of a man lying in wait for me, but on one hand I thought that if he hadn’t followed me from downstairs then I might seem a bit hysterical, and if he had, then I might freak out the poor woman. And what if security asked him to leave? Then what? Would he wait outside for me? And he was foreign and hadn’t exactly done anything other than make me feel very uncomfortable. Would they think I was a racist?

I kept my mouth shut and paid by card. She handed me my bag and I took it as slowly as possible, stalling for time. When she started to eye me suspiciously, I realised I could put it off no longer. I turned around inch by inch and…

… And he was there. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I shook my head at him as if he were offering me something, and bolted for the door. Afraid to look back in case he took any eye contact as a sign of encouragement, I headed up the street and across the road. I pushed into a throng of people in an effort to disappear. I am no stranger to people following me, and I’ve learned that my gut feeling is usually correct. This time my gut feeling was that I was being hunted. I made a sharp right into a women’s clothes shop and made directly for the stairs at the back. I tripped down them two at a time before heading for the farthest corner. When I had nowhere left to go, I turned around.

Only to find him there. Behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

He moved to corner me again. A frightened “No, leave me alone” hissed through my teeth and I dodged him. Back through the store. Back up the stairs. Out a different door to the one I’d used coming in.

At this point, I was texting Scrubs. Partly because I didn’t know what else to do, partly in an attempt to normalise the whole situation.

“Some dude is following me” I wrote. “Wtaf”

A quick lap of the ground floor told me he wasn’t giving up.

I tried hiding in a food hall. Every time I turned in an aisle he was behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I was lagging and my panic levels were through the roof, so I did the only thing I could think of and ran upstairs, straight into the women’s public toilets. I sank down on the red PVC seating provided with a sigh of immense relief.

I honestly could have stayed there all day if necessary. I sat there for twenty minutes. A peek around the doorway revealed he was leaning against the wall, scrolling through his phone, presumably waiting for me.

I considered calling the police. I dismissed it as hysterical.

I waited another twenty minutes.

Finally, he left. I emerged from the toilets and glued myself to the wall as I scooted around the perimeter of the shopping centre and made my way to the exit. Once out on the street I felt exposed, like he might appear out of nowhere at any moment. I hid in the Asian supermarket until my tram arrived, and made sure he wasn’t getting on before I hopped on myself.

Honestly, the stress. I know people say that all the time, but seriously THE STRESS. I got a migraine and had to spend several hours in a darkened room almost crying with frustration.

Every so often I tell myself I should get out more, go into town more often, but then something like this happens and it makes me want to become a cloistered nun. Except, you know, without the nun part. I am a perfectly average person in every way so if this is happening to me, it must be happening regularly to an awful lot of people out there. Either that or I have the invisible tag of “ABSOLUTE SUCKER” attached to me somewhere and I have yet to shake it off.

I used to enjoy bumping into strangers and striking up a conversation, but more and more I find myself immediately wary of anyone who so much as catches my eye, much less tries to talk to me. I am becoming a social hermit crab, and my earphones are my shell.

I don’t want to feel like prey. I want to feel like a (tiny) lioness, well able to stand my ground against any jackal.

Maybe it’s time to take up martial arts.

37 comments
  1. It’s definitely a creepy thing to be stalked. I don’t understand why people who do it don’t understand the anxiety that they put on people.

    1. Me neither but I really think people think it’s…. charming? Determined? Whatever positive spin they’re putting on it it’s not that!

  2. Self defense knowledge is never a bad thing. Mace, holding car keys a certain way in hand, etc can come in handy, unfortunately. I made my wife take a class years ago. She worked third shift as a nurse and parked in a parking garage. Just didn’t seem safe.

    1. Mace is illegal here but I do the key thing frequently… Hospitals are full of sketchy people! One of the nurses in a nearby hospital here had a man BITE HER FACE while she was traveling between buildings. What on earth.

      1. Don’t I know it. I’ve worked on my share of hospitals myself, and there’s some bizarre folks milling about at all hours of the day. My wife was a nurse years ago, and working third shift, she always had some…unusual stories for me. πŸ˜ƒ

  3. WTF: but seriously if you were that alarmed I really don’t understand you not reporting him to security. If there was an innocent explanation – doesn’t sound likely from your descriptions, except why was he so relaxed and casual if he was a true predator? – let him give it to them … otherwise. I know this is a very male thing to do, to profer solutions, but a strange tale indeed!

    1. I know it sounds ridiculous to say I was afraid to report him to security, but my brain short circuited and instead of thinking ‘I’ll tell the security guard and then he’ll handle it,’ it instead thought ‘I’ll tell the security guard and he’ll think I’m being hysterical and he’ll tell the man to leave but then the man will just wait outside for me and then I’ll have made him angry and embarrassed him and then he might hurt me.’

      Yes, this is my brain on panic. It goes way too far and I haven’t yet found a speedy and surefire way to reel it back in…

      1. Gosh … how awful. I recently followed a post from a FB friend and the theme was how these feisty women all described freezing when actually put in such a horrible position. All had thought they would make a hullabaloo when confronted by these horrible characters, but not so. Eye-opening. Hope you’re okay. Any follow up, ie sightings or belated reportings to the cops?

        1. Yes I am definitely someone who would give great advice to others in the same situation but when it’s me I just… shut down. My brain is my own worst enemy in these moments… Have been avoiding the area since and am just hoping there isn’t a next time! 🀞🀞

  4. I’m glad you’re safe. Humans can be such scum!

    1. I don’t help myself with my extremely poor methods of dealing with this sort of stuff but I haven’t found a way to deal with it yet! Ugh.

  5. My first thought is I’m glad you got home safely. My second is please let someone know you feel unsafe whenever and wherever you are. I tell my daughter it’s better to make yourself look paranoid than to make yourself sick with fear. A can of pepper spray, a loud whistle, and a self defense class wouldn’t hurt either. And the class might be a great way to rekindle your love for bumping into strangers. I’m sure they’ll all have like experiences that brought them there. Above all stay safe. Now for my third and final thought, may the jackal himself someday be stalked, caught, and gutted. Metaphorically or not, it doesn’t matter to me. As long as he suffers.

    1. “I tell my daughter it’s better to make yourself look paranoid than to make yourself sick with fear.”

      This is what I need to remember. Even the thought of saying something to someone immediately made me feel a car crash of fear, guilt, shame, panic and doubt and instead I just acted like a headless chicken. Pepper spray isn’t legal here but I do think a self defence class wouldn’t go amiss!

  6. No excuse for stalking. Virtually or Real Life.

    1. I wish it didn’t frighten me so much. If I could get over my initial panic maybe I could have an actual conversation with these people to figure out why they think it’s…. acceptable? welcome?

      Instead I just think ‘if they’re capable of following me through town despite multiple signs that I am deeply uncomfortable… who knows what else they’re capable of”

  7. No, Quinn, no. I hate these stories, I get second-hand anxiety from them and want to do some ass-kicking on your behalf…

    I’ve recently beefed up my personal security by putting a tiny can of mace on a retractable keychain device thingy that I keep latched to the top of my purse. It feels nice to know that I’d never have to go digging around in my giant Mary Poppins bag for my pepper spray should the need arise. Just a suggestion.

    1. Goddamn how is mace legal in all of your places? If I want to get mace I need to drive all the way through France to Andorra and smuggle it through the borders!

  8. I am glad you are safe. These days, I tend to believe in people’s reactions. If you felt uncomfortable or worse, there was a reason to feel so.
    Again, I am glad you are safe.

    1. Thanks Anthony. Unfortunately my own pathetic responses to these situations don’t help me extricate myself but I just haven’t found a way to fend off the panic long enough to deal with it…

      1. You will. You will grow and become stronger. I know this deep within myself. It may take time, and there might be some minor backslides, but you will.

  9. Goodness. I am glad you are okay, but you should not have to deal with this.

    I honestly think you should call the police next time. If there is an innocent explanation, then he can explain it to them. That way, maybe he’ll experience 1/10th of the stress he just put you through. Or at least tell the lady in the shop, they normally have security guards that can help/check that you are okay.

    1. That thought did flicker across my brain before a much louder inner voice told me to stop being so hysterical. I like the way you phrased it though, I need to be able to remember this sort of common sense in the moment instead of freezing like a deer in headlights!

      1. Yeah, I can’t really say much. I’ve only reported someone to the police once. I’ve had the deer in the headlights reaction waaaaay more times. It is really hard to think straight in these moments of stress. πŸ™

  10. OMG! This is just awful. When I first started reading this, I thought maybe you had dropped something and he was waiting to return it to you, but I guess not. For goodness sake, next time SCREAM for help. March up to him and kick him where it hurts. Ask for security. Tell the staff to call the cops. That’ll get everyone’s attention, including his. And do some of that self defence stuff.

    1. Hahaha I am taking on board ALL of these suggestions! Although hopefully there won’t be a next time!

      1. πŸ™‚

  11. Just managed a pirouette fall worthy of a cartoon tangled up in a dog lead.

  12. I’m so sorry, Quinn. This is truly upsetting. I don’t understand why some people think it is acceptable to terrorize others! I am beside myself. It is at times like this when I am half ashamed of being a white male. It’s a good thing I live on another continent and I, generally, don’t condone violence… but, medical castration for sexual predators… I can get behind that.

    1. Oh Lane definitely never feel even half ashamed to be yourself! One strange person’s actions are in no way linked to yours, especially not by virtue of sharing a gender. There’s nothing to be done about the odd ducks!

      Hopefully it won’t happen again, and if it does I’ve received lots of helpful suggestions here to remember for next time!

      1. Glad you’re ok,… sorry you had to go thru that.

  13. Once he followed you out of the store a possibly innocent infatuation reared its true face of exerting power and intimidation over another. Call the cops. These are dangerous situations.

    1. Yes… that was actually the moment when I momentarily considered calling the police. I had my phone out and about to dial but then shouted myself down with loud inner thoughts of “Don’t be so dramatic!” and “You’re being hysterical” and so I just texted my friend instead.

      Argh. Pathetic!

  14. Oh my that is awful and sounds so frickin scary! Agree with what others have said, speak to security or the police or someone if this ever happens again (and I so hope it never does).

    1. Yes me too! Let’s hope it just never happens again and I perfect the most majestic resting bitch face to deter any and all odd ducks from ever following me around again!

      1. Get practicing that bitch face woman!

  15. Great article, love your sharing so much, thank you!

  16. Dear Quinn! I am so glad that you listened to your gut, this sounds terrifying πŸ™ hugs I am so glad that you are okay <3 perhaps martial arts is not a bad idea? You could be a fierce little lioness! Throwing paws and making the prey feel scared for once -.-. Much love!

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