Walking while Female at One A.M.
by Maya White-Lurie
I walk down Harrison Street, heading home from Brandon’s house. He told me to be careful because I’m alone. I shove my hands in my pockets as I cross over Grove, right by that small triangle park. I step up on to the curb and let my footfalls hit their rhythm. It’s not as if I expect Brandon to walk me home or anything. I always make it there, but some small Southern part of me wishes he would at least offer. To be polite and all.
I remove my hands from my pockets. My boot heels click against the concrete, echoing slightly on the loose sections of the sidewalk. I don’t pay much attention to the uneven patches any more. They’ve been like this for years. The city is slow to fix parts of town unfrequented by working professionals or tourists.
Mom and Dad always say that walking alone at night is like painting a big red target on the back of my dress. I’ll never tell them that I drag out the paint all the time. I’m surprised I haven’t stained all my clothes. But it’s just a few blocks, nothing really, ten minutes, fifteen at most. If I told them, they’d worry constantly about the men lurking in bushes to ambush me. They think all the shady guys are stalking pretty young girls like me.
I glance behind me. It’s empty except for a crumpled Natural Light can and some cigarette butts. I don’t expect anyone to follow me, but I always check. I keep my head up and listen. I always scan streets and alleys before crossing them. Not intensively– just a flick of my eyes to see what little I can of what lies in the darkness. I keep my pace brisk, but not frantic, to make it clear I have somewhere to be just as I was taught.
A man comes down the sidewalk heading my direction. I record his features: round face, small eyes, pointed nose. His shoulders are thin in his grey hoodie. He’s a bit taller than me but small for a man. I can take him if I have to. I totally could. I square my chin, prepared to look him in the eye, let him know I’m not scared of him, but he passes without glancing my way. I exhale and turn left on Franklin, just three blocks to go.
Two people stand in my path about a block down, leaning close in discussion. A short, dark-haired girl, no more than twenty years old, is talking and waving her hands. They flutter like birds around the boy’s face. He looks about the same age but is a head taller than her. His hands at his sides, his shoulders set in tight right angles. They’re arguing.
I could cross the street to avoid them, but I live on this side. If I cross it now, it would only draw their attention to me. People are always like this in the city, doing private stuff in public. And I can pass them without alerting their attention. It’s too late to move to the other side anyway. The girl raises her voice and pushes on the boy’s shoulder with the flat of her hand, causing him to bob slightly. His curly hair bounces with the impacts.
“Fuck. You.” She beats his chest with the side of her fist, punctuating each word with a hollow thud. “Fuck. You. Fuck. You fuck you. Fuck youfuckyoufuckyou!”
He absorbs the blows in silence, his body flinching at her touch. Then he grabs her thin wrists but does not push her away. He holds her there, his arms still bent. She struggles half-heartedly but not painfully.
“Stop. You’re always like this when you drink,” he says, “I didn’t do anything.”
“Yes you did. Yes you did!”
They sense my presence when I am a few yards away. The girl glances at me briefly, but does not stop wriggling or cursing the boy. The scent of beer wafts from their mouths but their speech is not slurred.
The girl’s voice grows louder. “You worthless motherfucker, you can’t do anything right.”
He releases a wavering sigh. “Please.”
“Cocksucker. Deadbeat motherfucker. You can’t do anything right!” Her laughter sounds like balloons popping. “Nothing!”
His resigned face says he’s heard these words before. He stares at his shoes and loosens his grip. The boy turns as the girl wrenches her wrists free.
“I’m sorry,” he says to me. “I’m so sorry.”
I want to tell him that I’m sorry too. I’m sorry for both of them. I’m sorry I saw anything. I don’t know what I can do. She won’t hurt him, she won’t, not really. She isn’t strong. The cops won’t care. They’ll just say it’s a private matter.
I’ve only got a second as I pass, and I don’t know what to say. He’s looking at me. He’s waiting for a response.
I shrug, palms facing up as if the right words could just fall into them, and pick up my pace until I get home.