Every week for my MA in Creative Writing, I have to produce a piece of writing, roughly 500 words, with a set brief. This week, we were asked to write about ‘a journey’. This week I have been particularly ragin’. It’s been a difficult week for women. What started with International Women’s Day, quickly descended in to ‘omg as if Meghan Markle was actually suicidal, what a manipulative attention seeker’ (at least we got rid of Piers after that one), and then the whole feeling unsafe to walk home/#notallmen argument.
This piece of writing documents a pretty standard walk home from number 20 where I worked to number 10 where I lived, when I was running a city centre bar. This feeling of fear is so ingrained in us as women that we often don’t even question it any more, it just is, and we do anything we can to make ourselves feel safer.
No, it’s #notallmen, but it’s certainly enough men. One of my friends put it best – not all snakes are poisonous, but you’d still be pretty terrified if you were put in a pit of snakes and told that only some of them were. #notallsnakes
I could rant and rage, and rant some more. I am so fucking angry, and it’s not doing me any favours. So, here is what my commute used to feel like…
I’ve done everything I can for her, and she’s gone. I watch the uber pull away, as she waves through the window. Should be about 20 minutes before she texts to say she got home. I’ll be home long before then, I hope.
The world goes a little quieter as I stuff headphones in to my ears. They’re the ones with the wires. The international sign for ‘do not talk to me’ is the only armour I have on this nightly battleground. Silence plays through them, plugged in to nothing, for fear of being pulled. And I need to hear it all.
GO! Stay alert!
My feet move me away from the street corner. To my left, the bar I have just locked up is dark and silent.
Ten steps down, fifty to go.
The man on the other side of the road has his sleeping bag hauled over his shoulder, and his Staffy limping faithfully at his side. He won’t cause me no bother. He’s the least of my worries.
Brisk beats and booming bass blare out of the bar over the street, beckoning my pace to quicken. Lights flash through the doorway, illuminating the zombies that stagger through the street. The adrenaline in my veins gives speed to my breath. Everything is sharp and bright, like HD.
Quick! Hurry! Quick!
My doorstep is clear. At least I can be thankful for that much. It was just a few nights ago some of them were sitting there shoving chips in their faces, and I had to quickly decide – safer for me to aimlessly roam the streets, or to risk stepping over them and in to my building? I roamed.
Twenty steps down, fourty to go.
Keys are my double salvation. Not only will they get me to safety, but their prongs decorate my hidden fist.
Thirty steps down, thirty to go.
On the steps of the cinema, a couple of them sit exasperated. She is crying. They’re always crying. I know that in the morning they’ll probably be lying in bed together laughing about it, but I still always hope that they’re OK. I often want to ask, but I know how dangerous that could be. And for now, I am invisible. At least I want to be. I try to be. I need to stay that way to survive my nightly commute.
The muddle of music and the stench of ketchup-soaked chips assaulting my senses, my feet move speedily and rhythmically under me.
Fourty steps down, twenty to go.
In the daylight, the needle exchange is busy enough, but at this time it is just another doorstep. Somewhere for them to eat, smoke, snort, fight, piss, and fuck. They think no one can see them. They think they are invisible. Or maybe they cannot see me. Maybe I am invisible…
‘You alright love?’, I hear, and my stomach drops through my feet. I grit my teeth in indignation. My fist grips my keys a little harder, until I feel them dig in to that soft place between my bony fingers.
EYES DOWN! I’m invisible. I’m invisible. I’m invisible. If I don’t look at them, they can’t see me.
They give up, and lurch on to the next pair of tits. They’re not picky at this hour.
Fifty steps down, ten to go.
The quick look up around and over my shoulders.
Has anyone followed me? Is anyone looking at me?
I swiftly whip my keys out of my fist and in to the lock. As I press the door behind me, I exhale.