Tonight, I decided to walk home from my parents’ house, where I had dinner: it’s over four miles, but I hadn’t been to the gym today.
There was this route and that route I could have taken, but I opted for the way that took me past the 24-hour supermarket where I could buy a pint of milk for my coffee tomorrow. From the supermarket, I cross a main road, take a sharp left through a warehouse car park to a path through trees by a housing estate that briefly crosses a park and then to another main road: from that second road, I’m 15 minutes from home. It’s a darkish and lonely route, but it’s quick (less than ten minutes, from one main road to the other), familiar to me, and any other route would have taken twice as long.
I had my earphones in and was listening to Jethro Tull sing “Then I’m down straining at the lead — Holding on a windward course” as the path turned a corner and a tree blocked off the nearest source of light and I was just aware that there was someone on the path close behind me when he tapped on my shoulder.
I turned: the man was dark and faceless in the shadows.
He was gesturing at his ears. After a moment, I figured out what he meant, and took my earphones out. You can believe I was nervous, but also in that state between nervousness and outrage and worry that if I yelled it would turn out the stranger had had a perfectly reasonable reason for attracting my attention – I’d dropped something and hadn’t noticed it, or he had been stabbed and was bleeding to death.
“I whistled at you,” he said, in a tone of familiarity, as if he expected me to know him.
“Yes?” I didn’t.
“I whistled at you,” he said again. “On the main road.”
“You didn’t hear me because you had your headphones in,” he said, in a tone of one giving a comforting explanation, “but I whistled at you on the main road, I tried to get your attention then, but you didn’t hear me because you had your earphones in.”
“Yes? And?” It was beginning to settle in that the idiot hadn’t actually had any good reason to attract my attention and was telling me that he’d sighted me earlier and followed me down a dark and lonely path for no other purpose but to tap on my shoulder at the darkest part of the path and…
…yes, at this point the words “coming out of a pub, wanted to ask you in for a drink” did come out of his mouth, and I said “You WHAT?”
Actually, I probably barked it. Or squawked. I must have sounded pretty damned outraged. I was. I was also nervous, yes, but had been sizing up the man and the situation and reckoning that if he made a move, unless he had martial arts training or was armed or something awkward like that, I knew the path damned well and I could give him a hard shove – he didn’t look like he outweighed or outreached me by much, if anything – and run, and probably I could outdistance him as far as the other main road, where I could then call the police on my mobile and tell them that I was being harassed by Scary Stalker Guy –
Not that all of that went through my head in that much detail at the time. All that I remember thinking was the twin plans of shove, then run, and that the other main road was the right direction to run in – the path is better in that direction.
Moot point, anyway, because he said “I tried to get your attention earlier, I just wanted to ask you for a drink…” in the not-quite-apologetic-but-clearly-dumbfoundedly-rejected tones of Clueless Het Guy.
Clueless Het Guy can look fairly similar to Scary Stalker Guy and other malevolent types, but by me the key difference between Clueless Het Guy and the malevolent guys is this: Clueless Het Guy takes no for an answer.
It may not occur to him until he hears a clear verbal “no” that the woman he is after will genuinely have no interest in him. He may do a lot of scary stuff right up until the point that he hears “no” because it doesn’t occur to him that the woman he is pursuing is not equally interested in him. He is, yes, a really bloody annoying example of male/heterosexual privilege. But once he hears it, he does take that no for an answer.
This Clueless Het Guy finished sort of mumbling out his explanation of how he’d decided to follow me, and I swear to you, I started angrily trying to explain that if you’re a man who wants to attract a woman’s attention the time to do it is not when you’re both at the very darkest part of a solitary path, and then I gave up and just told him to buzz off, and waved my hands to indicate the direction he should buzz off in, and I went in the direction of the other main road as fast as I could walk. I did not run.
Yes, I did look behind me once I’d got to and crossed the other main road, and no, that Clueless Het Guy was nowhere in sight.
Yes, I still like Jethro Tull.