I try to make a conscious effort to not feel unsafe. Like I’ve written about elsewhere, I like walking alone at night. Of course, being a woman walking alone at night, sometimes I attract unwanted attention, but I have contingencies for that. I am good at the polite brush-off (and the loud “fuck off”, when it’s going to be effective); I have an eye on escape routes. I’ve pretended I’ve left something in a cafe. I’ve said I was on my way to meet my partner. Once in Sydney when a strange man decided the thing to do on a Saturday night was to beg me for sex, I bowled on up to a random couple and said, plenty loud enough for the man to hear, “Hi, this man is harrassing me. Do you mind if I walk with you guys for a while?” It was enough for the man to turn and run off shame-faced, and the couple walked with me back to my hotel. I know this isn’t foolproof and I don’t delude myself that “it won’t happen to me!” But I refuse to feel unsafe and I refuse to stop doing something that I love.
But sometimes feeling unsafe is unavoidable. Even doing something perfectly normal. Even walking home in the afternoon in a “nice” neighbourhood.
I just went for a big long walk. I didn’t walk quite as far as I wanted to because my new boots started hurting my feet, but it was a long walk, listening to good music, the sun shining, birds everywhere. I was feeling pretty cheerful, but my feet were blistering and I was keen to get home and kick off my boots. And I was almost there when I nearly collided with a bloke walking in the other direction as I turned the corner. He was in a hi-viz top and carrying a clipboard and wearing a homemade-looking name tag. He apologised, I apologised and we both kept walking. Halfway up the road, I paused to pat a friendly cat, because that’s what I do when I’m out walking. And that’s when I noticed that the man had turned back and followed me.
He approached me and smiled at me in a friendly way, and I smiled at him in a “I’m not interested in engaging” way and kept walking, but he said something, I’m not sure what, and attempting to dismiss him, I found myself saying, “Oh, I’m just on my way home.” And then I quietly kicked myself.
I really wanted to be home. My socks were starting to feel like sandpaper where my boots were rubbing, and I wanted to take them off and sit down. If my boots weren’t so new, I would have kept walking over the hill to the cafe on the other side, because I did not want this man to know where I lived. Even beyond the fact that he’d turned around and followed me, something about him set my alarm bells off. But it was too late, I’d said it – that I was on my way home. I turned on to my street and he turned too and then I really did start to worry because my street’s a cul-de-sac and there was now nowhere for me to go but home and why did he want to go up my street anyway?
He’d walked past about 12 houses without entering them as he approached me and walked with me, but then he abruptly said goodbye and walked down the driveway of an apparently random house on my street. I picked up my pace, trying to reach my house before he left that one, but I could hear a woman saying she wasn’t interested, and I glanced over my shoulder and, yep, he was walking up my street again – and walking past the other houses. Damn. My only hope was that he wouldn’t know which house up my shared driveway was mine.
I got inside and locked the front door, and then shut all the curtains in the lounge so he couldn’t see that I was home if he came around the back.
And then the doorbell rang. And again. And then there was knocking. And then, yep, a minute later a knocking at the sliding glass door in the lounge, not three metres from where I was sitting. And he stood out there a long time – I could hear him shifting, and my cat stood poised between me and the door on high alert. And my blood ran cold and I sat so perfectly still, hoping to convince him that there was nobody home.
And maybe he was doing something perfectly legit. Maybe I’m overreacting. But 20 years of walking alone at night, plus four years as a sex worker doing solo outcalls, I like to trust my instincts.
So there I was, sitting in my own home in a “nice” neighbourhood feeling unsafe at 5pm on a Thursday.(When I thought I’d heard his footsteps receding, and when my cat stretched and sauntered over to her food bowl, I carefully, quietly peeped out the net-curtained bedroom window to make sure he’d gone. He had.)