When he catches my eye on the bus I know to look away immediately, focusing instead on my hands which are clenching in my lap.
He's talking to me now, shouting questions, grabbing for the attention I'm steadfastly refusing to give. He's increasing in volume, loud and confident, while I'm decreasing in stature, quiet and uncomfortable, rapidly sobering up.
My stop is approaching and with it, a dilemma and woozy calculation of risk: to stay onboard and miss my stop and walk back, or to get off as planned, and hope he doesn't follow too.
In the end I opt for the latter, rationalising that if I run, it'll be just a couple of minutes from the bus stop to my front door. But even this requires a careful plan: I wait until the last possible moment, then leap up from my seat as the doors on the bottom deck start beeping to close, squeezing through the gap. He's left on the bus with the answer to an earlier question: where are you getting off?
The bus begins to move and so do I, but then it stops, abruptly, doors opening to let him off. He's shouting, heading my way. Another recalculation: this time I turn around, make my way back to stand beneath the glow of the bus shelter.
I stand there, quietly, pretending to make a call on my phone and somehow, it's enough: he turns, glancing back as he walks away, gives up, leaves me standing under the light.
On the way to a friend’s house for weekend brunch, one Saturday morning: a man is attempting to speak to me while I wait for the bus.
When it arrives, so does the knowledge that I've annoyed him by saying I don't want to talk, and he'll get on too: so I act like I'm not, then fling myself through the doors at the back.
But he’s quick to react too, and motions for the driver to let him on at the front. I move away up the stairs, out of sight. There are other people up there, but the space next to me is free. I wait, checking behind me every so often, and sure enough he walks up and leans across the empty seat, shouts into my face, hands reaching out. I speak up loudly, I shout. Another man gets up to clear him off, someone else asks if I’m alright.
He goes back downstairs and leaves the bus after a couple of stops. When I get off I'm shaking, still checking behind me, all the way to my friend’s house.
We've all been out-out and said our goodbyes. They're all getting the tube, but I split off to get the bus, crossing Tooley Street and heading up towards the bridge.
When he passes me, my body reacts to the part squeeze, part touch it knows from the many fleeting hands and fingers that have touched it without warning on other streets at other times, in clubs and trains and crowded pubs. My head jerks around; an accusatory response. Here on the quieter side of the street at closing time there's less ambiguity: there is only him, there is only me; one of us is getting ready to shout, the other is calmly walking away.
At the sound of my "what the f*** do you think you're doing?" he looks over his shoulder, picks up the pace.
It's happened so quickly that my friends aren't even inside the tube station yet, my response loud enough that they yell, "what happened?" across the road.
"He touched me," I shout back, pointing, and those three words ring like an alarm: the girls scramble after him, all of us shouting as he begins to run, chased by our heels and bags.
My bottom is squeezed on Upper Street in Angel on a Saturday night, just as a big group of boys walk past.
Three of us are walking down Stoke Newington Church Street. I don't register the man who passes us until 30 seconds later, when my friend says, quietly, that man just touched my arse
We chase after him. The party we just left was fancy dress; as we shout, one of us waves a big plastic knife towards his face.
Half way home in the mini cab, I notice a plastic Sainsbury's bag on the back seat.
"Been shopping?" I say, fumbling for a lazy conversation starter the way you do when you're tipsy drunk.
"I put it on the back seat," he replies, "because I hoped you might sit in the front."
His own conversation starters are more direct, they veer away from innocuous chat: I'm single, and talk moves from my ex-boyfriend to more intimate questions. We pull into my road after what feels like too long in the car and I say, "just here, this is fine"
even though we're still a couple of doors down from mine.
When the car stops he turns and says, "Can I just try something?" and puts his fingers together and places them onto my knee, slowly spreads them towards the edges of my knee cap.
I freeze. He asks if it felt nice. I move my legs and I pay, get out of the taxi and walk in the direction of a front door, standing there fiddling in my bags for door keys until he drives away.
And these are just the times I remember, the ones that came to mind as I read the news today
. These are the go-tos, the ones that stand out, and they span every decade of my life. They're the stories that I think about whenever a friend leaves to go home and I say, like we all do: message me when you're home, let me know you're back safe
And today I'm baffled, at a loss. Because we say it all the time but now I've written it all down, no route home seems the best answer. Do we only walk on lit roads? Get the bus? Walk with friends? Call a cab? Tell the police? Because last week another woman didn't make it back after an evening at her friend's house. So how are we actually meant to get home safe?