I walk along the street after dark has fallen, feeling its emptiness around me. The pavement glistens from just-stopped rain, and is peppered with leaves. My step is brisk and echoes off the flats to my left, disappears into the wood on my right. Sometimes the emptiness of this street feels comforting, secure; at other times it is a bunched fist.
Footsteps behind me – so I’m not alone. I am made aware of my back and my hunched shoulders, in a too-big coat, braced against the cold and the reputation of this part of London. The footsteps pick up, gaining on me, and I speed up too. I tense, aware of my hands stuffed deep in my pockets, sweeping my eyes around for anyone nearby.
The shout makes me jump and I twist around to see a man behind me, his hand to his mouth, his head angled up towards the block of flats. A second too late, the information reaches my brain that his voice had been directed away from me. I realise I have taken my hands out of my pockets in fight or flight.
The man notices my reaction and apologises. I tell him Don’t worry, you just made me jump.
“It’s fine now,” he says as he catches me up, brisk. He puts his hand to his chest. “It’s fine now. You were feeling threatened but you’ve had your scare. The fear’s gone; it’s out of your body now.” He motions with his hand, moving his palm away from him. As he does this I feel a lifting in my chest, as if this tangible thing – fear – were indeed passing through my skin and dancing away into the air. You’re right, I say, and I walk away, no longer aware of my back or my hands deep in my pockets.