The door to my building takes five seconds to lock behind me. Five seconds to hurry down the close, up the stairs, look once – twice – over my shoulder until the door is out of sight, and glance at my reflection in the window before I turn the corner. I wait for the tell-tale noise of the automatic lock before I relax – if only a little.
Each time I find myself half-expecting someone to slink in behind me; I resist the urge to hold the door closed until it’s safe to continue – like a crap doorman that nobody asked for. But the question remains: what would I do? Would I run up the stairs? Would I make it to my flat? Would I make it inside? Would I lock the door in time?
I live my life in near constant anticipation of any number of horror movie cliches: the face at your window, the figure that follows you home, the shadow in the dark room. I’ll be the first to admit I worry too much. The catch is, I’m usually worrying about all the wrong things. Opening an email. The micro expressions of strangers. Or, most of the time, nothing I can even put into words. Despite all this, I’ve never even made it to a self-defence class, though it’s really one of those things I should do. As someone who barely makes it to lectures, however, it’s just not realistic. It’s no more likely to see me in any kind of chase scene – if you’ve ever seen me run for a bus, it was almost certainly a case of mistaken identity. Sometimes I think if I were ever actually in trouble I’d be too shy to scream for help. If push came to shove, I’ve little more to equip myself than a no doubt excellent put-down. I may have spent more hours than I can count poring over horror movie heroines, but in reality, I’m nothing like my Halloween namesake. All the same, you pick up tricks of your own.
I walk home with my keys in my hand, stuck between my fingers like a shit Wolverine. I’m generously assuming that should the moment strike I’ll be able to gouge an eye or two.
I glance over my shoulder to the point of a permanent twitch. When I clock a man behind me I run a quick mental check: keep your head down, don’t make eye contact, but don’t let him think you haven’t seen him. Men after dark are like spiders: scariest when you take your eyes off them.
If there’s a man in front of me and a man behind, I hastily reassess. Is it a relief to see another person, or just another, more immediate threat? It’s like a sinister math problem: if I walk home at a speed of three miles per hour, and Man A overtakes at four miles per hour, and Man B is two metres away moving at a speed of three-and-a-half miles per hour, am I more or less likely to be attacked?
I regularly leave my friend’s flat after dark: she tells me to take a taxi and I roll my eyes. “I’ll be fine.” The truth is strange men in cars make me nervous – more nervous. Still, I share my location with her on Facebook until I’m home behind locked doors. I’m careful to take note of every person I pass; I’m careful not to make eye contact. I avoid parked cars; I avoid dark doorways. I never talk to strangers; I never walk through the park at night. I’m careful – practically paranoid. Sometimes she phones a taxi anyway.
I hope men know they make me nervous. It’s almost a challenge: you scare me, and it’s your job to know this – it’s your job not to scare me.
Each move is second nature, an instinct to the point it feels ridiculous to try and put into words. Like describing breathing. I’m scared to hear I’m overreacting. I half-expect someone to say: “who’d want to kidnap you?”
All the same, I lock my door and check it three times.