Walking down the cobble stone streets, coming from another club in the Strand, I’m trying to remember why I thought it was a good idea to pack heels. I can usually walk in them just fine (dance too), but the stones’ nooks and crannies trick my feet and make me stumble like a newly born baby giraffe. The streets are too narrow to hail a cab, so I’m stuck fumbling towards a wider road. There are pockets of bass bouncing against the walls. The couple that is walking in front of me dips into the sound and disappears.
11:42 PM—it’ll be an early night tonight, but I can’t say I’m complaining. Two months since I got here and I’m not in love with the city yet; I’m constantly checking-in back home. I’m Connecticut’s crazy ex-girlfriend. Its confused crazy ex-girlfriend. I don’t want to get back together and move back to the states, but I’m not fully committed to London. I have another four months here before I have to decide to stay permanently. I plan to drag out that time for as long as possible.
The street feels like it’s smoothing itself out. My heels make a ‘clock’ sound that echoes off the brick. It’s comforting. It tells me that I’m alone.
The building in front of me has a splash of white paint on its side. I’m nearly home. My flat is a few blocks over—I’m glad that even as a kitschy Amerrican, I can still manuever my way around the city. The crunch and rustle of trash echoes behind me. Quick look over my shoulder– nobody. I find my keys inside my pocket and slip them between my fingers. It’s probably nothing. Quick footsteps. What the hell?
Someone is pressed up against me. Something is under my chin. The other arm is locked around my waist. I tussle for a second and just feel him grip tighter. Holy shit, get this fucker off of me. Where is everybody? Is it worth it to scream or will I just lie in the street until someone comes drunkenly stumbling out a club? I just move: elbow to the stomach. I don’t feel an immediate release; heel on his foot (finally, a good purpose for them). A grunt pushes up against my ear drum. The entirety of my chest cavity hurts from my heart beating so hard. He doesn’t talk, he just pants in my ear. I don’t smell any alcohol on him. Sober people tend to be better fighters. Damn it. He’s still holding pretty tight. I hit him again the stomach. I smash my elbow into his ribs again. There we go– I can breathe again. Just keep moving, keep hitting. Left hook to really get him off me.
He stumbles back from another blow I’ve given him. Black pants, average height, blonde hair. I need a face if I ever want to identify him, but I just want to get away. The road feels like it’s smoothed out, but I know I’ve just started trusting my feet. Clockclockclock. Public. I need people. No restaurants open, dark, seedy club would be a terrible idea. Can’t risk knocking down someone’s door and wasting time. Pub—that one at the end of the street.
Once I get in, I double check outside. No shadows stalking, waiting. The glass door adds an additional shock to my system when I lean on it. I’m safe, I’m around people. I’m going to be okay. I readjust my coat. Deep breath. My hands are shaking; I ball them up. I could’ve gotten killed. That was probably a knife. He could’ve done some serious damage. No blood, that’s always a good sign. I need a drink. This is adrenaline right now. The bar is slightly separated from the booths. I’m stuffing oxygen into my lungs and trying to avoid crying.
The booths against the wall are stuffed with young twenty-somethings toasting pints to new jobs, new boyfriends. There are only a few people perched on the leather stools. I want to be around people but not talk to any of them. I put myself in direct eye sight of the bartender. I don’t bother to take my coat off.
He walks over, “What’ll you have?”
“The strongest shit you’ve got,” I say.
I know he’s watching me as he fills it up. I can’t tell if it’s coming out of a place of interest or concern. My hands are only tremoring now.“What is it that you’re running away from?”
“I thought Brits had better grammar lessons than Americans. Don’t you know you’re not supposed to end your sentences with a preposition?” I wince and smile at the same time. Dammit, I shouldn’t be surprised. I get… sarcastically testy when I freak out. Freud would have a ball with me.
He places the beer in front of me. “Well, you’re incredibly well spoken tonight, so I’m going to assume you’re not pissed. And that’s an incredibly nice defense mechanism you got there.” He smiles too. “You alright?”
“I am now. Thank you.”
“Jesus, what happened to your hand?” The skin on the knuckle on my left hand is cracked. There’s going to be a huge bruise there tomorrow.
“I…uhm, I had to get some mugger off me.”
“Want to call the cops? I won’t call unless you say it’s okay.”
I don’t say anything. I don’t have any information to give them.
“What’s it like working in a bar?”
“It’s fine.” He doesn’t elaborate. He wants me to answer his question. Maybe later.
“I can’t imagine the stories you hear,” I say. “All the broken love stories and the drunken broken spirits…” I take a sip and try and ignore the irony.
He just looks at me for a moment. “It’s not so bad. I like people and the bar’s usually not too rowdy. I always manage to find interesting people to talk to.” He doesn’t look away when he says this. I really look at his face: not drop dead sexy, but dark hair, symmetrical face, and straight teeth.
In the warm bar, my heartbeat has calmed down. I smile back and take another sip. It’s nice to feel not-so-alone. And for right now, protected in the bar, London is alright.