One day, a few years ago, I hopped on a bus that would take me back to the apartment I was living in at the time. I had just come from the shop, and I was listening to music, shouldering a backpack and carrying a fairly heavy bag full of groceries in each hand. I sat myself down on the bus with a sigh of relief, and gazed out the window at the pretty town I then called home.
A man sat down beside me at the next stop. Out of my peripheral vision I noticed his black tracksuit bottoms with the trademark three white stripes. I saw the tattoo that ran along his forearm and wound around his wrist to his index finger. I looked straight ahead, lost in thought, and absent-mindedly watched as an elderly man sitting three rows away sniffled and dragged a dirty tissue from his sleeve. I was distantly aware of two middle-aged women chattering beside him. Every so often they would lean in towards each other, wide-eyed, as if a juicy secret had just been shared.
I idly tapped my fingers on my knee and lost myself in my own thoughts as the bus rattled along the cobblestones.
Twenty minutes later, as the bus reached my stop, I swung my backpack up over my arm. I scooped up my bags of groceries and stepped off the bus, my shoulders aching. I hummed along to the music coming through my earphones as I walked towards my street. I lived on the ground floor of an old house that sat, rather unassumingly, on a tiny cobbled alleyway. A single streetlight shone from the main road.
I was almost at the streetlight when the hair on the back of my neck prickled, and I paused. I looked over my left shoulder. The street behind me was deserted. I shrugged to myself and continued on. When I reached my alleyway, I felt it again; a gentle, nagging feeling that somebody was right behind me. I looked over my right shoulder into the twilight.
There was nobody there.
Feeling like an idiot, I finally reached the stoop of my front door. I put down my groceries, and swung the bag off my back to look for my keys. After a few minutes of fumbling – because apparently I can never keep my keys in one place – I finally found them in an inside pocket. Pulling them out with a triumphant flourish, I hung my bags off my left arm and slid my key into the lock. I turned the key, pushed the door open, turned to yank the key out of the door…
…And came face to face with an entirely unfamiliar man.
In what was literally a split second, these are the thoughts that my brain, now jostled awake by this unexpected stranger, compiled and indexed for me:
- Strange man in my face.
- Strange man in my face has his foot on my doorstep.
- Strange man in my face is about a foot taller than me.
- Strange man in my face could reach out and shove us both inside.
- My housemate is not home.
- Nobody is home.
- Strange man in my face is wearing black Adidas tracksuit bottoms.
- Strange man in my face has unusual forearm tattoo.
- STRANGE MAN IN MY FACE WAS ON THE BUS WITH ME!
- BUS MAN IN MY FACE!
- BUS MAN FOLLOWED ME FROM THE BUS TO MY FRONT DOOR!
At that point, just as our eyes met, Bus Man looked entirely unprepared. His face registered shock, and frankly, I found that incredibly rude. After all, I wasn’t the one who had stealthily followed someone to their front door.* If anybody had the right to look shocked, it was me.
If you were to have this moment on tape, and you chose to freeze-frame this particular second, we would probably look like mirror-images of each other. Me, one foot inside the house, staring blankly at this random human who was so close I could reach out and touch him with my tiny arms. Him, staring blankly at me with his foot on my front step and his tattooed hand on his thigh. Both of us momentarily frozen in motion.
And then the split second passed.
In one smooth motion fuelled by 90% absolute panic and 10% adrenaline, I pulled the key out of the lock and swivelled into the hallway, slamming the door shut with a ninja kick that ricocheted through the house.
Then I dropped my bags to the floor, retreated all the way down the hallway to the far wall, and slumped against it. I stared at the front door for about half an hour.**
Then I got up and dragged my plastic bags full of food to the kitchen.
*To be clear, the only way I could have not seen him, having looked over both shoulders, is if he was moving purposely out of my field of vision each time. That street was very narrow.
**He disappeared and never came back, but I hated that he knew where I lived and always wondered what was going through his head that day. Maybe his motives were friendly, but if so, let this be a lesson to anybody who thinks it’s sweet to follow a girl home: NO. NO. DON’T DO IT. WE DON’T LIKE IT. IT’S TERRIFYING. He could have struck up a conversation on the bus, or on the street, or even while I was mindlessly searching for my keys, and he did none of those things. Instead he appeared inches from my face when my front door was already open. I am just over five feet tall. Anyone looming over me unexpectedly is unwelcome. This is particularly true of strange men that I don’t know.
Also, please believe me when I say that any situation that might make a girl feel like a cornered animal – unless it’s some form of kinky roleplay by mutual consent with safewords – is never romantic. It’s unlikely to be a story you will one day tell your grandkids as you hold hands and gaze fondly at each other across the table. It’s much more likely to be a story that ends up on a blog.
Like this one.