❗️ Content warning: Sexual harassment, phallic imagery
Late last night I was walking from University to The Gate to deliver a Christmas card to my friend. Originally I’d planned to run it over first thing, but my day had been hijacked by missed lectures and a foodshop so by the time I left the house it was already 10:55pm. A weird time, but I was determined to get it to him before he left for his family home the next morning.
I parked at Uni and started walking, a bit sulky; I’d forgotten my headphones, which I can’t bear even for the shortest walk. Not having music or a podcast made the air feel colder and I moved briskly. Apple Maps told me it would be twelve minutes.
As I passed the Tesco Metro on Newgate street I reflected on the sobering sight of Central Newcastle, empty. This time last year we were running in heels for the last bus into town, where we’d see everyone, where we’d start the night at D&P.
I moved out of the light of Tesco’s doorway. There was a man leaning further along the wall in shadow. I didn’t give him any thought until he made a sound - something like “Hey.” As I walked I turned to greet him back.
He was jiggling his penis at me, the bouncing skin striking against the grey clothing, grey wall. I stared stupidly for a second. What’s- oh. But somehow more incandescent and more deeply engraved into my memory is his expectant grin. Gotcha, it said.
I made a face, averted my eyes as soon as I realised, and increased my pace. I took the card out of my bag to ground myself and checked the map on my phone although I knew that the route led me straight ahead. What a freak.
I heard shuffling behind me. He was moving towards me, reaching into the space I’d stepped out of. I jerked away from him and began to walk faster. He walked faster. I glanced back frantically; he showed no sign of stopping. I scolded myself: don’t look back like that, you look scared. Do not look scared.
“Stop following me.” I tried to sound as authoritative as I could whilst hurrying.
He pretended not to hear. He shouted “Give us a shag!” and it rang out along the empty street. “Come on, give us a fuck!” He started groaning and then continued: “Just give us a shag.”
“Give us a shag.” He was laughing and pleading at the same time.
He was about ten feet away now and gaining ground and it occurred to me that if he had a knife and got within a few metres of me then my options might narrow down to two. I started to dial 999 and then thought: but he probably doesn’t have a knife, and it’s an emergency number. If he’s just a creep I’ll be wasting police time. Thankfully, the green man glowed and I ran across the road. I looked back again and he met my eyes cooly as he started to cross too. Fingers shaking, I started to film him.
He saw and continued to look arrogantly nonplussed, like I had only confirmed that he was winning. He looked straight into the camera. The crossing was a more open space and so he stopped shouting.
I’m glad I didn’t notice this at the time but I watched the video back this morning and he was masturbating openly as he tried to catch up. He probably had been the whole time.
He was five metres from me now - I sprinted away. I turned back, panting, to see his back to me. He was retreating into the shadows.
Despite the panic I’d felt seconds ago I wanted, weirdly, to laugh. He hadn’t come within a metre of me. Ultimately he’d just exposed himself and walked along a public road behind me; what an odd thing to happen.
I carried on for a little while but then gave in to how much I suddenly wanted to get home. I watched out for him on the way back and then decided I should call a non-emergency police line, notify them he was around in case he ambushed someone else. While on hold I texted my sister. “A man just flashed me and followed me. Crazy.”
I dutily relayed it to the call handler without any particular emotion. I now believe I was so overridden with relief and a desire for stability that some subconscious part of my brain decided to totally underreact to being the victim of a crime and fearing for my life. Once home, I watched Youtube videos until 7am - something I never do - and slept until the afternoon.
On my way to the post office today, I had a tic - I couldn’t walk two metres without looking over my shoulder. It was completely involuntary, reacting as if jumped on from behind every few steps and then turning around expectantly to a deserted pavement. I was certain I was being watched from every angle; it felt like a really bad trip.
When you get halfway up the curved stairs to my room, the stairwell is so steep that you lose sight of the top step. I haven’t been able to go up those stairs today without sensing so tangibly that he is standing on the top one, lying in wait for me like he was last night.
A podcast blared into my skull as I made myself dinner. I watched my own hands move like someone else’s.
It’s now midnight. This evening I had an assignment to complete and what seemed like a million household jobs as well as my own job-hunting to start - but I didn’t feel like that person. I still don’t. Those things feel distant and trivial, like everything else until I figure out which narrative fits, whether I’m a bystander or a victim or whether nothing happened at all, and until images of what could have happened stop projecting themselves unexpectedly at the forefront of my mind. Time heals, but right now I can’t escape the sense of fracture, the confusion, that comes with any reflection. All I can do is seek out distraction and be consumed by it, for a few moments at once.