She thought that the city streets at night looked rather warmer than they did in the day. It was the lights she knew, the orange lights that created glowing patches on the path and building walls. But the night was still cold and with a nervous habit she pulled her jacket closer to her body. It wasn't even that late, she was pretty sure she had the 9 o'clock bell chime just a few minutes ago. But she felt like it was midnight and she was walking around with bare skin flashing. She was though covered in jeans and her jacket. The jeans weren't even her tight ones, but the ones that were a bit old and had stretched so that they hung lose around her knees.
She passes under and overhand and gets emerged in shadows. Her steps quicken and then flow a few seconds later as her boots touch the tips of light. She's tired of being nervous.
It won't be long before she reaches the bus stop, maybe five minutes if she walks steadily. The streets are fairly empty, it's a Tuesday and no one goes out to the city on a Tuesday. If it were Friday the streets would be streaming and she wishes it were. Up ahead there's a man, still off in the distance but still up ahead. He looks older and she doesn't know if that's good or bad. Her hands pull her jacket deeper around and her arms cross. Then she decides to slip the hood over her head and quickly she does. The man isn't too far now. She doesn't like the hood up, her vision is slightly blocked and so she flicks it back.
The man is right there. Her eyes stare ahead but her heart is beating cautiously. They pass and she fights the temptation to run. She's more afraid with him behind her where she can't see him. Not able to resist the temptation she puts her back to the wall of the building and looks back pretending to look in her bag at the same time. He's far gone now. Inwardly sighing she continues, quicker than before.
She wished she didn't have a reason to be afraid, but the fear rose in her. There were too many warnings all the time of young girls being attacked by preying men. She grew up, like every girl did, learning to not trust the smiling faces and to always look for that glint in their eyes.
The convenience store is still open and as she passes she sees a man lounging across the counter on his phone. She's meant to trust those types less. Of course she wasn't taught that, not by the same people who taught her not to talk to strangers, but it what's people said; don't trust the ones with eyes the same colour as their skin. It was told to her as if insider knowledge, by people of their type.
She's not worried about him as she passes, he's occupied, he's got a store to look after. He won't run out run behind that counter and grab her viciously She hopes.
By now the bus stop isn't too far away. On the other side of the road a young couple want casually and she thinks how nice it would be if they were walking in front. Then, if anyone did do anything, they'd be someone there to help.
Her body is telling her to run, her heart is beating and she wants her feet to be moving as quick as it. She does a like quick hop, to try and calm herself down, but it does nothing. Her body is begging to be moving quicker. All she can do is walk and hope.
The bus stop is just around the corner. Up ahead there's the part where she needs to turn and then with a few more paces she'll be at the stop waiting calmly for the bus. But it didn't cross her mind what she'd do when she got there.
Gratefully she reaches it and she looks at her watch. There's still ten minutes to her bus. She had made it to the bus stop in record time, but it was too quick. Far down the other end of the road she could see a couple of people in the shadows. Across the road was a set of apartment blocks, something she always thought was odd for this part of the city, but she was quite sure it didn't a code to get in. If she needed to run she wasn't sure where she was going to go.
It wasn't late, she was dressed all over and she was afraid. She had always thought it unfair to think that something might happen to her; her that didn't ask for it. Some girls paraded themselves around, practically asking for it. But she wasn't one of them. Let it happen to one that deserves it. But it doesn't work like that.
When she was a teenager she had been waiting for a bus on a busy road. A car had pulled up to stop at the lights and with his window down he shouted out the window where he was heading and asked if anyone needed a lift. There was a young man next to her and in an instant he had replied that they were right. He hadn't even looked at her, just said it. She smiled at him afterwards. Never would she have gotten into his car, but it was nice to know that someone was watching out.
A few months ago she had been waiting late one Friday night for her dad. The place had passers-by every now and then and up the road at the train station there would be many people. But it was empty enough for something to happen.
She had been eating a sandwich, her leftover dinner that she hadn't felt like before work and two men, two of those men with the same coloured eyes and skin, came up to her. They asked her how she was and she replied she was good, though even a child could see the cautiousness in her voice. Her sandwich had been put back in her bag and her hand had been placed on it. If she had to she was ready to run. Perhaps she could hit them with her bag, it was fairly heavy, but she decided that it would be better to push and run. They asked her if she was waiting for someone and she wasn't sure why but she lied and said her friend. She begged to see her dad's car rounding the corner. Maybe they decided she wasn't worth it, wasn't pretty enough, or maybe they didn't want to do anything to her at all because they nodded at her and walked off.
She wondered how people could do, how they could get such things in their minds. It wasn't something she could believe. But when she saw it, that was why she was afraid.
A man walked by, she only realised when she heard his shoes on the ground. Her mind had been elsewhere. With the corner of her eye she watched as he took a seat not far away. He was young, older than her but not old yet. He was one of those people with the backward caps and saunters that made them look more stupid than cool. It wasn't too much longer she had to wait for the bus.
She forced her eyes ahead, then glanced at her bag, then looked ahead and fought to not look at him.
Her heart beat and she started, turning quickly to him as if it would make him turn away.
"This bus is an all stops right?"
"Yes." You will him to stop looking at you, to stop talking to you.
"Oh great, I got on it once and only wanted to go a few stops but it just kept going. The faggot driver wouldn't let me off."
"How annoying." She turns away slightly in the hope it will give him the hint.
"You got a lighter by the way?"
"No sorry." The bus should be here soon and she eyes the road where it will come. There'll be a relief in her heart when she sees it.
"You're probably one of those folk that don't like smoking, think it's gonna kill us all."
She smiles, though isn't sure if it's meant to be taken so lightly. "Well just some of us."
Her heart is down on its hand and knees begging for the bus.
"Live while you got life I think, screw what happens after."
"That's one way to think of it." She drags her jacket ever tighter around her and puts her bag on her lap. Her laptops in it, and a full bottle of water and a couple of books; it should be heavy enough to knock him good if she can get the right angle.
"It's easier though you know, not being one of you folk."
Suddenly she's interested, though the fear doesn't quell at all.
"Yeah, you who are probably in uni, probably have some house in the fancy suburbs with a fluffy dog and don't eat breakfast because you need your beauty sleep."
"Oh, my folk." That's not her at all but she thinks if she agrees he'll stop talking.
"And of course you just think I'm some piss-drunk dick whose gonna be taking up your taxes on the dole."
"I don't think that."
"Just wait, you will."
She didn't want to believe him, she wasn't like that, not one of those people.
"So why is it easier then?"
He smiles. "Because I don't need to worry about a thing. If I go home and someone's sold my bed then so be it, I'll eat breakfast in the morning. If I die young from the smoking then so be it, I won't be around to regret it."
She knows, she can see, there's so much about this man that she doesn't and never can understand. He's different to her.
"The only thing I need to worry about is going home and finding some dick in bed over my sister." For the first time since they started talking he stops looking at her. But she still looks at him.
She rustles around in her bag and pulls out a lighter.
"Here." She chucks it over to him and he catches it with a small lunge.
She continued to watch him slightly as he lights a cigarette.
"You know what he did to my sister?"
"He made her forget me. I'm not going to let anyone do that to her again."
The bus pulls up.
She hadn't even heard it coming and for a moment she sits there, then remembers suddenly that she needs to get on it. Putting her bag on her shoulder she rises and heads towards the door. The young man is already standing there and there's the pre-known agreement between them that when you step on the bus you part.
"Here." He hands her back the lighter.
"Keep it, I'm trying to quit."
He nods, gives her a smile and motions for her to go first.
She boards the bus and dips her ticket, taking a seat in the middle. He says a quick hello to the driver and then walks up, not even glancing at her, before taking a seat at the back.
Sometime ago, though she isn't sure when, her heart stopped racing. She had forgotten all thoughts that he might hurt her, that people like that existed.
The bus travels on through the early night, taking the girl away from the shadows and soon to the light safety of her home. It was a safety she yearned for, craved when she was alone and begged for when there was a stranger. But she didn't feel unsafe here. She didn't need to, not when she wasn't alone, nor with a stranger.