If I would not have an affinity for detective novels, walk dark alleys, and wear a jean back pack, my evening might have been quite uneventful.
But I do, and therefore I am thankful that my heart still beats and my eyes remain firmly in my skull.
But let me explain…..
I left school just as the sun was getting to that low place in the sky when it’s not quite setting but almost. The bus was late. It came eventually and I got on with the rest of the college students heading downtown. I have about an hour and a half on public transit. Two buses and one subway. I pulled out my collection of short detective stories and spent the entirety of my journey reading about unlikely murderers, thieves, and bandits hiding in strange places and jumping out at unexpected times on unsuspecting citizens.
By the time I got on my last bus, it was dark. The bus stop is quite a distance from my house, so when I get home late I am apt call one of my brothers to meet me at the closest intersection and have them walk me home. Tonight I mocked my wimpy little self and determined to walk home alone. Time to grow up, Esta.
I felt a slight ripple of apprehension lap at my hyped courage when I saw that a sketchy looking gentleman, wearing a scruffy jacket and a scruffier beard, was also getting off at my stop.
“Goodness, Esta, don’t be a chicken liver”, I argued and got off the bus behind him.
For the first five minutes I walked fast, trying to get as much distance between myself and Mr Scruffy as possible. My mind, still in the hothouse of detectives and wild-eyed jumpers-out-of-strange-alleys, peered down every driveway with doubts as to its quiet peaceful appearance. In detective stories, quiet peaceful places always mean imminent danger.
Despite my paranoia, after a few minutes I relaxed and began to enjoy the moon and the cold breeze and the two stars that dared glitter. I turned down the final dark street and slowly made my way down the row of darkened houses, enjoying the night and the dreamy darkness.
Half way down this particular street there is a junk yard for old cars. A sagging chain-link fence, complete with the rust that is needed for a fence surrounding a car lot, makes a rather pathetic attempt at keeping people out. Just as I reached its deserted parameters, I slowed down for a long look at the glimmering moon.
Then, very distinctly, I felt my backpack jerked backwards in one firm, determined tug.
I felt, through my shoulder straps, the vibrations of the zipper being ripped opened and heard the zinging as the little tag followed the trail of teeth from on side all the way to the other.
I screamed—a strangled yell of absolute terror.
I spun around and the contents of my backpack flew like shrapnel in a wide circle around me.
But instead of standing face to face with a large man in a ski mask, I found myself staring at an empty sidewalk.
After standing and blinking stupidly for 30 seconds I finally felt my heart start beating again.
So there I stood, on a deserted sidewalk with no felon in sight. Well, not quite deserted.
Books, pens, coins, papers, and one red stapler decorated two lawns, 10 feet of sidewalk, and an old car lot. Some had even ventured so far as to fly out into the street and settle under the wheels of several parked cars.
I turned to start collecting the delicate confetti when I saw him, standing in the old lot. He must have been locking up for the night, but there he stood, staring at me with a frozen expression of worry.
“Hey, you okay?” he yelled across the fence.
Sidewalk cracks should be made to disappear through.
“Um, uh, I’m fine” I stammer out and hurry to gather up my deviant articles.
I know he is standing there watching as I crawl around on hands and knees, trying to stuff everything back in my backpack as fast as possible. I crawl around, snatching pens from under car fenders and bus tokens from trimmed gardens, all the time trying to understand how I got to be in this position.
Finally everything is back in and zipped up tightly and I scurry down the street. A few yards down the sidewalk I see a portly old man standing in his lawn and I know he must have also seen my exhibition of madness. Sure enough he stares as I approach and continues to stare as I walk past. I know I’m going to start laughing. I can feel it coming.
“Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh. Don’t even smile. He already thinks you’re a loony”
I turn to hide a wide smile that finally bursts.
Silent laughter begins to shake my shoulders and by the time I’m a half a block away I am laughing like one who finally rolled off the pickle barrel.
Dad looks up from working on the deck to find his daughter cackling to herself as she trundles up the street in the light of the sliver moon.
And so ends a more bizarre evening stroll.
As a follow up, so you’re not worried about my sanity as well, what happened was this: On the last bus I had noticed that my backpack was slightly opened. Not thinking to close it I had walked the seven minutes home, and since my pack is made of soft jean-like material, every footstep pushed my heavy textbooks harder and harder against the already opened zipper. Finally the whole thing just split open.
And a poor car dealer will always worry about the crazy lady who walks his street.
Oh, Esta. You make me laugh.