I Walk The Line

Photo by Paul Cocks

 

The Action: It is the second day of the New Year, I am house-sitting and I walk to the Spar. I buy a homeless man a panini and some dog food. I walk back home.

 

I walk through Observatory, in all its dingy delights. It is the day after New Year’s. 2 January, that bloated, hollow day where the champagne-kissed resolutions of the night before seem pithy and untenable. The streets are empty. I imagine the people inside these houses hungover and hazy. I imagine the people after I imagine whether each of the brightly coloured bungalows has been burgled in their lives. My goal is the Lower Main Road Spar. There are a few homeless wanderers and an overload of vintage clothing rails outside storefronts trying to be quaint with cacti in tins, faded florals and sequined shirts. The echoing streets make me nervous. Although I was nervous since I left the house, aware of my flat, flailing sandals. How will I run fast enough in these? My bank card is tucked in my bra, my fists are clenched tight and empty next to me. I am wary of the absence of something to hold. Not even a book. During the brief period I did Aikido to combat my anxiety, Sensei taught me to always carry a novel. A masterful and stealthy weapon. He taught me how to bring down the wrathful spine of the most innocent seeming paperback upon an assailant. Forearm. Nose. Throat. For a reader this particular weapon was both practical and poetic.

Sometimes when I feel scared I walk down the middle of the road, pretending to be lost. I pretend to be unsure of which pavement to follow so that I can quickly cross to the other side of the street without feeling panicked. I don’t want to offend passersby who might think that I am afraid of them. Especially if they are men. Especially if they are of colour, even though I am of colour. This is my ugliest, slimiest shade of shame. Well, this and the fact that I can’t drive. I have always been too anxious and now at 25, perhaps too embarrassed to learn. And so I enter the world every day as a passenger and most of the time, too scared to walk. I walk down the middle of the road because I would rather be hit by a car than risk being torn by the knife of a dark leering stranger. Being stabbed, this is what I fear these strangers will do to me on the pavement.  The other thing is too frightening to write.

We are in the middle of a heat wave. A dry, brown season. I approach the main road and breathe less carefully. This at least is familiar. I am privileged. I am brown with privilege, “with great power comes great responsibility” right? I remind myself of this every day. There are many beggars outside the front of the crowded shops. I don’t know what to do. I am a giver, but I no longer want to be charitable, it’s too easy and it makes us feel far too OK. Tip the car guard for instant karma. Hand your domestic worker a Christmas bonus and a black bag full of under-worn summer castaways and you’re good for the year. I know many kind people who think like this. I think like this and have to hit backspace.

There’s a man who has two dogs, we talk a bit. He asks for dog pellets and something to eat. This is his human right. These are animal rights. In my bra I have the potential to fulfil both of these rights. With my golden plastic idol sticking to my chest I go in and get some things. Tabloid magazines, cigarettes (for the love of my life who is in hospital), wine and dark chocolate (to replace what we drank and ate in a house that wasn’t ours), a vienna panini plastered with thick yellow cheese and a bag of house brand dog pellets. I pay. I leave. I hand over my good intentions. Careful to make eye contact, careful of virtue, careful of guilt. The man with the dogs who has now been upgraded to the man with the panini (because of course I don’t remember his name) sits outside a “Chinese” shop. Although the owners could come from any range of Asian nationalities. I always wonder how the Chinese choose to stock a shop. Fake flowers, shitty stationery, Playboy bunny ears, knock-off Tupperware, grainy chocolate, an eclectic pastiche of aluminium, plastic and sugar. A bright cab drives by slowly, emblazoned with a name I know and trust. I am tempted to lift my hand and allow it to carry me home. Instead I walk. I feel more prepared because I am carrying a plastic bag containing bananas and a bottle of wine. This could protect me. I will walk the whole 1.5 km stretch. Even if I do it straight down the white dotted line.

 

By Kelly-Eve Koopman

Featured image by Paul Cocks

 

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