He pulls up beside me in his white utility van, slowing enough so that the pace of his lumbering vehicle nearly matches my own, its physical presence cutting me off from the rest of the world. It's eerie, being stalked by this great white whale. If his intention is to thoroughly creep me out, he's doing a good job. He rolls down the window to ask directions, and once dispensed, he does depart. But I can't shake my apprehension, nor can I believe that it never crosses his mind that this scenario is inappropriate. He could have stopped at any number of gas stations, but instead he turns down an isolated little side street and pursues a woman walking alone in the dark in an area not particularly well-lit. Yet he never considers that this is exactly the thing her mother has warned her about; exactly the thing that half of all email urban myths are about; the very essence of Stranger Danger personified.
He has to know that a man driving a large van is most often described as a suspect, or else an “alleged perpetrator” in the crime blotter section of any major newspaper. Those vans are the kidnapper's vehicle of choice. Even the car salesman at the lot sheepishly hands over a glossy brochure that says
“Perfect for abducting to your heart's content! Park it in a secluded spot and you can dismember in the privacy of your own fully-automatic vehicle without ever worrying that someone will overhear. Driver-controlled power locks ensure that no victim will ever escape. Now available in child-molester white!”
So yes, I'm wary of men in vans who drive up beside me in the middle of the night when I'm all alone. The question is: how is it that it never occurs to these men that they're giving me the bad kind of goosebumps? Because a week later, it happened again.
Another man pulls up beside me in another van, same quiet street, same time of night. He asks for directions, and I give them, generally, even though my beating heart tells me to run in the opposite direction as fast as my little legs will carry me. Placated, he drives away, once again leaving me wondering how these men can be so thoughtless, and whether scaring solitary women half to death is a common hobby among van owners, or if the neighbourhood predators really are just doing their recon work on me.
I don't get very far on my path or in my thoughts though, because van guy is back. He wants me to get in the van.
Suddenly, I'm feeling worse. He doesn't take no for an answer. He persists, trailing me at an ominous 5km\hr. If I guide him to where he wants to be, he says, he'll drop me off at the train station. He seems genuinely mystified that I'm not hopping right into a strange man's car. I walk briskly and ignore his yells and whistles. I don't know how far he might have followed me had I not turned up a pedestrian-only path.
And this is how I have come to dread my nightly commute to work. Common sense has refused to teach these men that some behaviours are just not acceptable and I'm paying a price. I've been made to feel unsafe in my own neighbourhood, which is not actually a dangerous place. But when I'm alone at night, I'm not reciting soothing crime statistics in my head. I'm fighting tears and quickening my pace. I'm not rational when it comes to protecting myself from harm.
Luckily, my momma didn't raise no fool. I won't be willingly climbing into the back of one of those vans unless the driver is really, really cute, or he's offering me an awful lot of money.