All these remnants of joy and disaster,
What am I supposed to do,
Just a day that brings it all about,
Just another day,
Nothing’s any good.
– ‘King of sorrow’ Sade Adu
The slow nights are the worst, a bittersweet confection of need, reluctance and necessity. Slow nights are common for those of us who choose to walk. You get so tempted to linger, put your back to a fence and catcall like the pros do. But you don’t, for a myriad of reasons; like not having a pimp to bail you out of jail, or being underage, or even because once you pick ‘territory’ you’ve settled into the life and given up on ever getting out. So I walk, till my legs get sore and I wear holes into my pantyhose. I walk because if I do, one day I might just find myself a way out of this mire.
There’s something spectacular about the human body, It’s ability to learn simply by routine. If you do something long enough, your body takes over for you and learns how to do it without your input or permission. Especially the simple things, like walking a route. I remember looking up at sign posts at street corners, trying to memorise them so I didn’t get lost. Over and over I looked up, the days turning to weeks and weeks to months until one day, I didn’t need to. I’d blank out, my mind wandering to thoughts about everything but how each foot placed itself in front of the other and where the both of them were taking me to. I’d look up and find myself at the intersection that led to the Gas station and my favourite diner, Oil and Pudding, where a mug of coffee and an omelette was sometimes waiting and sometimes wasn’t.
It had worked for so long, I began to trust my feet, and my eyes no longer darted up to catch the reflections of headlights in the silver words stencilled on green signs. I no longer listened for anything else but the honk of a car. I was lulled into a sense of security, my feet had learned their job and they did it well, and every day, I took a different route, and closed myself to everything and everyone, assured that the glow of the phosphorescent tubing that circled the metal pie sculpture atop Oil and Pudding would eventually bathe me in light and bring me back to myself. I forgot that one needs to keep learning or risk failing, adapt or die. I failed myself last night.
I took a different route, through the city park and passed right by the orphanage, the one I grew up in. I wondered if they remembered me and how I ran away. What they’d think if they saw me now. I don’t linger too long there, after all I was already having a slow night and few patrons would even pass by 31st street at night. I think I must have first noticed him then, sitting beside the children’s swings in the park, the tell tale lighter flame and the gurgle of a crack pipe. It struck me as weird but young people do a lot of stupid things so I turn away and keep walking.
I turn back and see him off the swing in which he sat, walking towards me. I pretend not to have heard and hasten my steps, the cold shiver that stiffens your spine when you sense the safety you’d previously taken for granted was pouring through your fingers like quick sand. I instinctively pat my side for a purse. My panic intensifies when I remember I’d stopped carrying one. Too many patrons got mugged by mace bandits who got into their cars after bluffing as prostitutes and sprayed them before making off with their wallets and whatever else could be dragged. Word had gone round, prostitutes with bags were ignored.
“Hey! I said wait up.”
His voice frightens me, slurring as though his tongue had gone slack from all the drugs in his system. The unbridled lust is unmistakable in the timbre of his voice, deepened, longing. I kick off my pumps and bundle them up and start to run. He gives chase, his skinny jeans and sneakers giving him the much need traction to pursue. I sprint, extending my legs further and further as he gains on me. My mini skirt suddenly tightens around my hips, resisting the sudden stress and causes me to stumble and fall. He halts beside me, panting heavily. A swift kick to the abdomen, and again to hear me scream. I do, the pain is excruciating.
“Get up you whore!”
The cold metal of a knife nicks me on the abdomen in the little bay of skin between my skirt and my cropped t-shirt as he grabs a clump of my hair, picks me up and presses himself against me. He mutters loudly and plants his panting lips on my neck. The couple passing by us, a middle aged man and woman dressed in expensive coats giggle in envy and the words ‘young love’ floats back to my ears. As soon as we’re out of their peripheral vision, he twists my hair and pulls me into the adjacent alley. I follow reluctantly, biting my lip to stop the scream that is gurgling in my gut. A little voice in my head, cold and derisive, points out how I have no reason to act so terrified, sex isn’t anything novel or sacred, it says, at least not to someone like you.
It is hard to follow, hunched over, pain radiating from my diaphragm but I manage as best I can. He leads me in and pushes me into the slick spirogyra covered wall, knocking the wind out of me. The knife finds its way back to my skin and I whimper.
“Shhh! Shhh! Shhh!” He chastises, “If you scream, I’ll cut you up so bad, no one will touch you with a ten foot pole.”
I bite harder on my lip and calm myself till occasional sniffs are the only sounds that escape my larynx. I feel a callused thumb tease the top of my skirt, trying to pull it away from my skin. I want to tell him there’s an elastic band but I am frozen with shock at his brazenness. He grunts and reaches down under the hem and gathers it up as his fingers run up the inside of my thigh towards my underwear. Instinctively, I try to cross my legs and he notices and roughly nudges them apart with his knee, leaving his leg in the space between them to discourage me from closing up again. I whimper again as his hands touch my panties and drag them aside like the curtains in a store dressing room. A finger slips inside me, then two. He giggles when he realises I am slick with what he doesn’t realise is lubricant.
“You want it don’t you, whore!” He taunts.
He moves his fingers in and out of me in mock intercourse and laughs as each fluid mini thrust sends a shudder through me. I hazard a look at him and he elbows me in the gut with his knife hand.
“Keep your fucking eyes closed!”
He extricates his fingers from inside me and cleans the moisture on the inside of my thighs. He opens his fly, the grating sound awakening some feral instinct in me. I thrash again and he throttles me with his free hand, surprisingly strong for someone so wiry. He drags me face down to the cobbled walkway, and clambers on top of me. I scream, for the first time since the first kick ten minutes ago. He pins my head down to the cold concrete and gags my mouth with his wrist, the tip of his knife an inch from my eye. I squirm under him as he forces my legs open and pulls my skirt up over my buttocks, groping underneath for my panties. Bunching the spun cotton in his fist, he tears it away from my skin and guides himself into me in a violent thrust that slams his bony groin and bruises me against the worn cobblestones.
I grow still under him, my will to escape this ordeal completely slaughtered. The shock numbs me and my primitive grunts punctuate his thrusting, as each one knocks the air out of me. My knees begin to smart. He stops mid thrust and forces me to turn my head towards him. He holds my head there, telling me about how he stalked me for weeks, following me around, waiting for the perfect opportunity. He drinks in my terror as he tells me how he’ll ‘gut’ open my pregnant friend like a fish if I told anyone. His climax comes swiftly, he huffs a few times and his limbs stiffen as he expels himself inside. He scrambles off me and shouts at me to stay on the floor. A few back steps and out of my peripheral vision I see him reach the end of the side alley.
“Consider this pro-bono, eh.” He cackles as a final jab before taking off towards the industrial district, his footfalls echoing in the empty street.
I lie there, spent as though I’d spent an entire night on the streets. It is a task picking myself up but I do it. There are bruises on my buttocks and my upper thighs, my knees and my groin. The left side of my face is red and covered in dust from being pinned to the floor. I search from my torn underwear, patting around for the fabric through eyes swollen shut and wrap them into a ball in my palm, my shoes held by fingertips on the other. I hobble out of the alley as fast as I can. Junkies come out there to shoot up and a hooker in a torn dress is a perk they’d hardly ignore. I don’t cry, I want to but it’s pointless now. Screaming didn’t help when it should have, crying won’t help now.
Walking is death but I manage, one foot in front of the other, the pain ignored. My eyes are glued to the ground, my body is tense, waiting for someone to see me and stop to ask or stare. But they all walk past with barely a glance in my direction, minds elsewhere. The few that do see my clothes and turn away too quickly, following some mental five second rule, if you only glance, you aren’t obligated to help. My legs do their job, carrying me on to the relative safety of Oil and Pudding, oblivious to the mental anguish that consumes the body they carry and the weight that bears down on them. They forgive and forget and continue; after all, sex given or forcefully taken should be nothing novel or sacred to someone like me.