I would like to share a nonfiction piece that was never intended to go on my blog.. but I wrote it for a class of mine and is worth sharing. It is a true story… only a small slice of a memoir. It was just One of the many evenings I spent in Central Harlem.
A Night off the C
I was slumped to the side with my head resting on the back of the pale orange seat of the C train. A very dark skinned man with a green knitted cap and grey beard was wheezing as he slept in the seat directly across from me. Every time the subway would come to a halt I noticed the man would shake a bit and slightly adjust his body to keep from falling over on his side completely. There were only four of us on the train that night. I slowly pulled my phone out of my bag and it read 12:05; my body was drained and I let out a sigh of exhaustion.
I was on my way home from a day filled with walking around on the hot pavement of the city. I had been working a promotional event for Nokia with three other female models. My huge black Balenciaga bag was lying on my lap and I was wearing fishnet stockings and a black button down trench coat. My feet ached from the knee-high boots I had been wearing since morning.
The train stopped at 145thand I sluggishly pulled myself up out of my seat and tried to gather enough energy for my walk home. When I stood up, I stomped my feet around a bit to try and shake the drowsiness I felt in my limbs. I ran my fingers through my straight blonde hair and swept it around the side of my neck and into the collar of my trench. The other two passengers were already on their way out and I took notice of the other straggler behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed him, a short man about 5’6 and light brown skin; I could not tell his descent from the small glance I got of him. He was walking behind me as I swiftly exited up the stairs and made my way out of the train station. I did not hesitate when I walked. I was very aware that I was probably not in appropriate attire to be walking around Harlem at this time of night. I wanted to get home as soon as possible.
I had been staying in Harlem as a live-in nanny for about two months. This was now my fifth home in the city. I was working as a part-time model and actress or otherwise known as a “starving artist”. I had walked home many times at late hours of the night. Each time I did so I walked quickly without hesitation. Fear was never an issue. I was very sure of myself, I felt strong and brave. It would make me uncomfortable at times getting called things like “snowflake” or “snow-bunny” but never to the extent of feeling threatened.
When I got outside and exited on 145th street and Adam Clayton Powell, I noticed the emptiness of the city compared to what it had been when I left earlier that afternoon. There on the corner was the blue and white bodega open 24 hours and a few people stood outside of it puffing on cigarettes and laughing with one another. The KFC lights were shining brightly on the corner and the Pathmark Grocery store was at the bottom of the hill. The lights and stores provided a little comfort but I still felt like I was on my own. As I walked I could hear footsteps behind me and the slight presence of a person still lingering closely. I felt the breeze of the cool air on my legs and face, and I looked up at the full white moon. It was beaming and lucid up in the sky. As I walked, I knew that person slowly approaching me was the man that had been on the train with me. He was walking the same direction as I but I didn’t look back in fear we’d lock glances. My boots clicked on the hard cement sidewalk and I could hear his jeans swishing between the movements of his legs.
I turned the corner heading towards the bottom of the hill. He turned to follow. He was behind me but still not up to my reach yet. I thought it was a little strange that this man was going the same direction home as I was. The air was cool but a flash of heat flickered through my body and my hand began to tremble as I clenched the strap on my bag. I felt my heart in my chest pick up speed and begin to pound at a faster rate. I tried hard to forbid the fear that was on the brink of my mind and to keep that fear from corrupting my entire body. The last thing I wanted was to submit to the terror I felt because then it was real, then this situation would become a threat.
Without warning, he was now walking at my side. I had about a second to decide what to do and in a flash of a moment and instinct I began to slowly jog down the hill in my knee high boots; I never looked over at him once. Then, seconds later he went from his short swift strides to a full on jog. With panic now all over my body I turned my head to look at him and jokingly said, “Oh! You want to run along with me huh?!” I was hoping that this attempt at laughter would somehow stop my emotions from turning into full on fear. This was my way of trying to cope with reality. It was then that he locked eyes with me in a way that delivered chills down my neck and spine. He said nothing. His rough face and toothy grin just stared back at me. His eyes were black and icy with a devilish look like a wolf before he leaps upon his prey. Fear was now upon me.
My mind raced in those few moments as I slowed to a walk and made my way into the Pathmark Grocery store still six blocks from home. This gave me an assurance that at least I was not alone at this moment. I thought that I would be safe for a few minutes; I thought this would lose him and take me out of this terrible dream-like sequence I was in. I was wrong.
He stopped outside the sliding front door. I didn’t go all the way inside the grocery store; I lingered in the entry way looking at everyone around me in a panic trying to figure out what I was going to do. I couldn’t even think straight, my mind was racing and my heart was now coming out of my chest. My throat felt heavy and thick and my legs felt numb. I knew I needed to do something fast; but my body felt frozen; I was in a state of panic. In that moment I thought of the small can of mace in the bottom of my purse, I thought of the possible struggle I may have with the man if he came upon me, and I thought of my mother. I needed to get a ride home, it was only six blocks but I knew I was in trouble. It’s harder to find a cab this late at night, especially in Harlem, but I knew that if I did not find one I might not make it home.
I got up enough courage to make a quick move. I hurried out the door not looking at the man I knew was waiting right at the corner and I held my hand up in a fast hurried motion waving it around crazily as I ran towards the street curb. Cars were approaching and I noticed a black cab making its way towards me; miraculously. It was as though I was sent a chariot with an angel that pulled right up to my side. I stretched out my arm and grabbed the handle furiously with the car still slowly moving. The man who had been following me was now running towards me only a few yards away. I opened the door, slammed it shut and I shouted loudly, “go, go, just go now. I am being followed.” Not even a second later the man chasing me pounded the cab side door as I heard the automatic lock click into place. When the lock clicked, it felt dream like. I couldn’t comprehend that I was in my body and that this was really happening.
As I heard the tires quietly screeching on the rocky pavement I shivered uncomfortably in the back seat of the cab. The driver turned his head slightly to the side and softly said, “Honey, you were bein’ followed, you’re ok, let’s just get you home…where’m I goin’?!” I gave him the address to my home.
I took a long deep breath; the first one I remember breathing since I exited the train. I didn’t open my mouth to speak again that night after the cab ride. I didn’t say anything at all. When I got inside I went straight to my small bedroom and shut the door still trembling from the shock of the events that had just occurred.
Looking back I wonder why I stuck around another two months in that home; surely this night had been a warning of what was yet to come that summer in Manhattan.