I was stupidly brave in Perth. I was the girl who made my friends mad because I always insisted on being ‘independant’. I’d walk through Northbridge late at night by myself (or early in the morning as the case may be), I’d leave bars without telling any of my friends and find my own way home, I’d take risks without flinching. I was always like that – I remember the horror on my mums face when I was 16 and she realised I’d walked home from the Northbridge train station to Mt Lawley at 12am on a Friday night. I’m not proud of this stuff, but it’s who I was.

Being in London by myself has made me less secure, less of a risk taker. I guess it has something to do with not having close family or friends here, so if I go missing I’m not sure who would raise the alarm. I know my work colleagues would notice and do something, but they don’t know how to get in touch with my family back home. And my friends used to me disappearing for a few days, so it might take them a while to work out I’m missing. I’ve got to take a little bit more care of myself because I don’t have the trampoline of intimate friends and family to depend on.

But the other, almost undeniable factor, is that this city breeds fear. The posters, the advertising, the constant voice overs in public spaces – always warning you to be on your guard. To dob in any ‘suspicious’ behaviour. Back in Perth I would laugh at this sort of hysterical scare-mongering. I did some work with pvi collective when they toured TTS:Australia, through which I had to do some research on the how the media and politicians can disturb, alarm and create anxiety (pvi produced a really interesting manual if anyone is interested…). I’m not some naive person who truly believes that ridding the tube of bins will conquer the problem of bombs going off (ummm – I’m guessing they’re not called ‘suicide bombers’ because they dump a bomb in a bin and then run for it…). But here I am, so much more sensitive to situations where there’s an increased chance of risk.

Last week, after working till late, I had to walk down a long street to get to my bus stop. It was well lit and there were plenty of cars on the road, but a group of teenage boys walking only a metre behind me started to freak me out. I walked faster, they seemed to be the same distance behind me as before. So I slowed down to almost a crawl, and still they didn’t seem to pass me. They weren’t doing anything in particular – a few comments were thrown out at me (just the bland ‘what are you doing tonight love? wanna come home with me love?’ type comments – nothing original) but really they weren’t doing much. But I was shaken. Really shaken. By the time I got to the bus stop I was so hyper-sensitive to everything going on around me, it was ridiculous. What did I think would happen? I don’t know. Realistically nothing could happen – it was a crowded bus stop, lots of people coming and going, but still I couldn’t shake it.

When the bus came I chose a seat downstairs for once, right next to the window at the back. And stared out the window for the next few stops trying to calm down. I must have been daydreaming because suddenly I felt someone sit next to me. And I could feel that it was a big guy, his huge leather jacket almost blanketed over me when he opened it up. And without looking at him I did the most stupid thing – I leant down, picked up my hand bag and clutched it to me. Then I turned and looked at the guy – a really attractive, obviously professional, African American guy. And he looked at me, and he looked at my handbag clutched to my chest and he looked back at my face, and he looked so disappointed. Like he thought that just because he was black , I assumed he was a thief. And he just looked and looked and looked at me. Then he got up and sat next to the women on the other side of the bus.

Possibly one of my most horrible experiences. I so badly wanted to tell him that it wasn’t because of his skin colour, but because he’s male, that I grabbed my bag. It wasn’t him, it was me. But I kind of knew that would sound even more insane, so I shut up, and hid my red face until I finally got to my stop. That was a really long ride home.

And it’s not just at night – a few weeks ago I almost considered getting off my bus because I was sure something weird was going on, and I absolutely believed I was in danger – it was 9am in the morning. I was sitting on the upper deck when this women sitting in front of me stands up – she doesn’t move from her seat, she just stands up, and stays that way. Then after a minute we stop next to a bus, and she starts sticking her fingers up – first three fingers, then five, then two. But no one in the other bus seems to be looking at her or responding. Then she does it to the next bus we pass, again there seems to be nothing. So very very strange. I completely freaked out and rang the bell to get off at the next stop, even though I was still twenty minutes from work. But instead she got off, so I stayed on. I’m being paranoid, aren’t I?

Anyway, today I was standing on the escalator going down to the tube behind a man who had little wings tattooed on his wrists – a wing on each wrist, so that when you put the wrists together it looks like a pair. And I randomly, out of nowhere, thought to myself “I wonder if it’s a bad omen”.

After I got over how insanely irrational that thought was, I realised that I have to learn to stop being so afraid. Maybe not be so stupid as I used to be, but definitely have to stop being afraid!

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