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.

Boiling Point

 

They say that if you drop a frog in boiling water it will jump right back out, whereas if you put it in cold water and turn the heat up slowly, the frog will boil to death without ever realising it’s in danger.

It’s complete rubbish, of course.

Let’s be honest, if you drop a frog in boiling water it will die. If you put it in cold water and turn the heat up slowly, the frog will escape the minute it starts to feel uncomfortable. Still, it’s a handy made-up metaphor for allowing creeping change to cheerfully lead you down a path you never meant to take. Before you know it you’re lost, your phone is out of battery, you have no light to guide the way, none of the trees look familiar, and… are those… eyes shining in the darkness?

I’m assuming that you did not spend your weekend in a remote cabin somewhere, studiously avoiding all media and interaction with the modern world. If this assumption is correct then you probably already know where I’m going with this.

America, when did you get so metaphorically amphibian?

Over the past few months I’ve spoken with some people who live in America, and they’ve nodded and agreed that what’s going on – be it the travel ban, or the rise of the alt-right, or Trump in general – is scary, but then, inevitably, they’ve followed it up with some sort of phrase to minimise the situation.

“…But I mean, it doesn’t make a difference really in the day-to-day…”

“…But of course it’s also sensationalised in the media…”

“…But it’s really just a few bad apples…”

Do you know what the rest of that phrase is?

“A few bad apples spoil the bunch.”

Here’s the thing, from the outside looking in America looks like it’s in a very bad place right now. The ruling party seem uninterested in excommunicating the most poisonous parts of their base, corruption seems to have infested the White House from top to bottom and the Help-me-Obi-Wan-Kenobi-you’re-our-only-hope of this Empire seems to be Mueller. For a country that used to be held up as an example of liberty and justice for all, a beacon of modern ideals, it now seems to be imploding. Internal conflict has it straining at the seams, and the rest of the world is giving it a wary side-eye.

The US is an enormous country. I understand that it can seem impossible to band together for a cause when there are 323 million people to consider and the longest drive end to end – if you didn’t stop to eat, drink or pee – takes over 50 hours. It’s difficult to gain any kind of traction or momentum as a nation when people are spread out over so wide a swathe of land. It’s hard to put pressure on the government when all they have to do is field your calls; they know they don’t have to worry about an unruly mob of tens of millions laying siege to the Capitol Building anytime soon.

But guys.

GUYS.

That philosophical water is getting hotter. Sure, it doesn’t seem to impact BBQ plans or trips to Target or stressful work weeks, and for the most part that’s true. Sure, it may seem like nothing more than a relentless pocket of ignorant assholes, and for the most part that, too, is true.

But if the events of Charlotteville teach us anything, it’s that the water is almost at boiling point, and it doesn’t show any signs of cooling.

What’s the solution? Is there one? Is it a case of needing to hit rock bottom? If things haven’t hit rock bottom yet, what might that look like? Is there another way of turning off the heat?

*Unlike the frog metaphor, this adage is actually true. Apples emit hormones as they ripen, and if one overripe apple finds its way into a barrel, the hormones it gives off will eventually cause all the other apples to rot. The more you know!