Say you see me, getting off the train. Say it’s past midnight, and the taxi rank stands empty. The chip shop closed hours ago, but the sharp scent of vinegar and grease lingers. The concrete bus shelter opens wide, like a mouth.
Say you see me cross the car park, stepping carefully through broken glass. Ascending the stairs to the bridge over the tracks.
Say you watch me stop at the top, look back, move forward.
Say you follow me then, through the nice part of town. Darkened windows, blinds down. Gated gardens, railings black, where the air smells of sweet honeysuckle and hot tarmac.
Say you watch my pace quicken at the crossing, not waiting for the lights to change. Still slightly out of range. Strides widening briskly, in sensible shoes. The ones I always choose: double-laced, thick soles, comfortable control. Running shoes.
Say you speed up too.
Say I’ve mapped every shadow between street lights. Where, even on warm nights, no one lingers. I count the paths on my fingers, choose the one closest to the road, know through luck and repetition the right way to go. I hear you breathing behind me, but tell myself it’s nothing, rushing past the edge of the skate park, roundabout, car park, housing estate.
Say it’s too late to be out alone, that I should have got a taxi home, but I’m skint and I’m definitely not complaining. I mean, at least it’s not raining.
Say I cross another road, cut through the precinct, and I think you’re still there. No, I know you’re still there. You’ve been behind me since the station. And it’s not just my imagination. So, I stop to tie my shoe outside the late-night KFC. Watch you hesitate, glance down, then walk right by me.
Say I wait for three beats: one… two… three –
Say, I only follow when it feels safe, inwardly scolding myself for staying out this late.
Say I walk behind you through the rough estate. Now, say you’ve slowed your pace. So, I slow down too.
Say I’m scared of you.
Say you look back at me, expectantly. Only three streets from home, on a narrow road. I’ve got nowhere else to go, and you step off the path, behind a tree. To wait for me. Waiting for me.
Say I veer left, push through bushes that scratch my arms, running from harm across an unlit dual carriage way. Desperate to get away. Run as fast as I can go, don’t stop till I get home.
Say you never think about me again, but I think of you every night for months. Say the one person I tell says there must be a rational explanation. That men don’t just follow young women home from the station. That it must be my imagination.
But it wasn’t, and they do, and it happens every day. Say these stories get dismissed, again and again and again. What else is there to say?
Meet the Author!
Leanne Moden is a Nottingham-based poet and writer. She’s performed at events across the UK and Europe, including WOMAD Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Sofar Sounds, and Bestival. Leanne’s latest collection, ‘Get Over Yourself’ was published in 2020 by Burning Eye Books, and she’s currently working on her second theatre show. You can find out more about her work on her website: www.leannemoden.com