I see him down the alley, walking toward us. Me and my three youngest children. A heavy bag on my back, my shoulders slumped by books and shame. I am an easy target.
“Hello, maam?” He questions to me. He begins to speak and I know what is coming. His lips quivering in fear, his eyes welling with tears. The look of shame and embarrassment in his eyes and voice recognizable and relatable. A request for money, or something. Maybe a confession. “Could you….?” He trails off.
“No, not today sir,” I reply. I quicken my pace. Maybe, if I didn’t have my littles with me, I would engage further.
I hear him speaking more as we begin to walk further away, toward our destination only a few blocks away.
Someone across the street beckons, “Ma’am, are you okay?” I turn toward him; from afar I see his put-together red athletic sweater. He has stopped upon his bicycle. He looks legit. How did he know? “Yes I’m okay,” I reply.
In my peripheral, I see another vagrant-y person walking toward me and my children.
Suddenly the man behind me shifts his attention to the man on the bicycle. I move even faster and guard my children from the situation, sharing words of instruction and protection over them. Trying to drown out the expletives the men are yelling at each other. “Let’s walk this way, let’s turn here. You are safe. You are okay.” My heart pounds and I’m sure we have escaped a dangerous situation.
The streets are a scary place. It’s okay to walk through my neighborhood at home but another thing entirely to walk, with my children, in the city. Even a small city. Not everyone is like me, not everyone gives the benefit of the doubt. I am sure the man who tried to engage with me was either mentally ill or on a drug which changed his demeanor.
Women living on the street have to engage with this type of behavior all the time.
This man diverted the attention to himself instead of me, but do women without three kids in tow, but still just as vulnerable, receive the same attention and protection? Do women walking in darkness receive the protection that I received? I’m not sure. I’m eternally grateful for the man on the bicycle. I’m not sure what happened after I got my children to safety. I hope I am the norm, not the exception.
It's a scary place. And if I’d been by myself, I would have probably done anything to keep my people safe. What if I had no options?
I'm glad we are safe. But it was a reminder that not everyone shares my privilege.
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