I’d just left the coffee shop and was walking up the empty street, the comfort of a latte warming my hand, the aroma waking my senses on this, my fortieth birthday. It had rained in the night, and the sycamore trees had dropped their thousands of leaves that scuttled and crackled around my faux-fur lined boots. That’s why I didn’t hear the other footsteps at first, but soon I was aware of someone behind me.
It’s a safe neighborhood, so I thought nothing of it and sipped hot froth, burned my tongue. Gulping cold air, I glanced back. An older woman followed me. Directly behind me. A little too close. I determined to keep my easy, Saturday morning stroll through the leaves. Let her pass by if she wanted. A block, another block. I heard her closer. Heard her breathing, panting really, as she came along, a stride or so nearer. I told myself to settle down, but my heart had started thunking a little, though I hadn’t changed my pace.
Women aren’t thugs. Usually. Older women? Get real, I told myself. But she came on, always just behind me. Always too close. I took another sip. The cup was flawed, or my grip too intense. The plastic top came off and coffee sloshed over my cashmere scarf. I missed a stride and feared the woman would flat tire me as I flicked latte drops. How do old people get to be so socially clueless? I was walking faster. I hadn’t realized how or when that had happened. And still she came on, half a stride closer. I couldn’t hear her breathing anymore because I was huffing.
An interior design shop announced its grand opening, though it was still closed for the day. Feigning sudden interest, I veered toward its window without realizing that the old woman was overtaking me. We nearly collided, but somehow danced past each other. She said nothing. I should have apologized, perhaps, but instead leaned my forehead on the cold display window as I caught my breath. She was walking on, hadn’t broken stride.