I don’t like walking alone in the dark. Murky shapes shift and move: human, animal, ghost – I don’t know. Noises from shadowy corners: shattering glass, a scream, a groan, a whisper – “Psst, over here” – mix with the sound of passing cars, their tyres rolling over the streets with a hiss. The law says the bar must provide transport for employees at this time of night. But I’m working ‘under the table’ for cash stuffed in a pocket, a pat on the butt.
You’re such a screw up, Justine.
Footsteps approach. My shoulders tighten, weight shifts to my toes. Look ’em in the eye, make then know – I see you. I thrust my chin up. Two heads nod in reply. Step, step, step – the two men pass. Blue jeans. Sketchers. Fitted button downs.
Get it together, Justine.
I turn the corner, into the alley, suppressing a shiver. Creepy. I’m caught between high brick walls and locked metal doors guarded by bars. But if I don’t go through here, cutting via the parking lot, then it is an extra ten minutes in the dark to home, and the lighting isn’t much better that way.
Not that I have a home, exactly. Romario’s got himself a new girl now, and his sister wants me off her crappy futon mattress. Like, yesterday, if not sooner.
Almost there, keep going.
Footsteps arrive in staccato – tat-tat-tat.
“Wha–!” Air leaves my lungs as a heavy weight slams against my back, arm tightens around my neck, yanking me backwards. Another guy comes forward at me, and I’m kicking, pushing hard. He goes flying that way; we’re falling this way.
“Shi–” whoofs the body underneath me, while the other slams into the wall. My body is still moving, legs curling over my head, elbow jamming into the gravel, flipping those feet over, and then I’m rising, standing, fists raised.
This isn’t going to be any girly hair-pulling fight.
And in the dim light are two sets of eyes, aglow, looking at me in rage. Like I’m misbehaving, like I am the one doing wrong. Both creep closer, crowding in, as my eyes dart between them. The right one lunges – my leg lashes out. He dodges, as his buddy on the left moves in, catching my shirt and I twist and scream and yell, “Oh Lord, help me now!”
But deep down I know not a damn soul is listening, even in heaven. It’s all you, or they win. I throw that punch and hit target.
He smashes against the wall. As if somebody threw him. But I didn’t touch him.
I glance to my right, and my other attacker is gone too, running fast, as if a rabid dog is after him. Somebody is after him, running hard, and fast, and yelling, “Hey, get back here. I’ll fight you. Come on, I’ll give you a fight!”
A voice to my left: “She alright?”
I snap my head around, and there is a huge man in the shadows, looking alert and ferocious.
“I think so,” says a voice. Softer.
My eyes whip over to a woman, same height as me, approaching me slowly. She looks strong and fierce in her weird white pyjama-suit, yet kind. Softly-softly, she keeps saying, “It’s OK. You’re OK. Safe now. You’re OK.”
And that’s when I notice the object at my feet. A knife. A sharp, jagged, evil looking thing. And before I can stop myself, I’m quoting Shakespeare like an idiot, “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle of my hand?”
Proving you can leave home, but its claws are embedded into your soul.