‘I’m early,’ I said.
‘You’re cold,’ he said.
‘I am?’ I said.
‘Your cheeks are frozen,’ he said, concern scratched on his face.
‘I suppose it’s a cold night. I only walked from Hackney Central. It took no time at all. Far less than I thought.’
I love walking in London at night. The darkness of a city has a totally different feel to that of the countryside. Black on black against a backdrop (blackdrop) of tobacco yellow. The occasional scream of neon, of electric blue sirens, of staggering headlights.
Passing strangers and the surprise as I meet their eyes. Unexpected. Unguarded. Unprepared. And in that second, in that moment before they shut down and flick their eyes away, the glimpse of a life, a soul. A sliding connection. I imagine and I wonder.
My friend finds it horrifying, I think (I know), the way I wander. The careless disregard, as she sees it, for safety.
‘Get a cab,’ she says. I smile and shake my head.
‘Don’t get your phone out!’ she hisses.
'Don't get the night bus,' she says. 'Call me.' But I like night buses.
Do this. Don’t do that. Do this. Don’t do that. It’s said with concern, with love, I know but still…
I can’t live like that. I can’t live in fear. I can’t always think the worst of people. I never have. I hope I never will. Is it foolish? Should one always look over one’s shoulder? I don’t know. I have prowled so many cities; marched carelessly through supposedly no-go areas. I have never felt unsafe. Maybe that’s the clue. I have always suspected that fear gives off a scent. If you feel (and so look) like a victim you become attractive to predators. Something in your body language, something in the way you move is alluring, like the bound of the gazelle, the zigzag of the zebra. It shouts of the hunt.
But I stalk. When I was young I taught myself to throw a ring of protection around me, a personal moving sanctuary of safety. It always served me well. Now I no longer go through the ritual in my mind’s eye; it’s become a part of me, an automatic cape that swirls around me when I step out into the wider world.
I'm not entirely stupid. If I do feel unsafe, if the skin on the back of my neck, my vestigial hackles, prickle and rise, I pay attention. There have been some places in the world in which I have let caution guide me. I have taken the cab. I have slid the bolt. I have touched my cape and noticed the small tears, the threadbare patches - and not pushed my luck.
But not often.