I climb aboard the night bus from Port Authority headed back to my apartment in New Jersey. The bus hits no traffic, and I reach my bus stop at 10:00pm. I gather my belongings and climb off the bus, large satchel in hand. It’s freezing cold, crystal-clear skies, empty, snow rimming the road and the sidewalks.
I begin the half-mile walk to my apartment, far enough to feel the cold seep into my bones. I walk quickly — the sooner I get home, the sooner I get warm. No traffic at this hour, deep quiet, houses in the neighborhood all buttoned up against the cold. Sade sings in my Walkman headphones as I walk down the road. The streetlights shorten and lengthen my silhouette as I go from one light pole to the next.
A pitch-black shadow suddenly appears on my left, small at first and instantly growing larger. The shadow grabs the handles of my satchel. Reflexively, I tighten my grip. I swing around and see a man, slightly taller than I am, a watch cap pulled over his dark face and forehead, positioned so I see him mostly in silhouette. He yanks the satchel, I pull back, and we start a tug of war on the cold sidewalk. He breaks my grip, grabs the satchel and runs down a cross-street. Angry and terrified, I give chase, following his soles through the dark as they flip up and down and yelling “Stop! Robber! Stop!” The robber takes a sharp turn into a nearby yard, leaps over a fence and disappears, crashing noisily through several dark yards.
I jog the streets trying to find him, but I see nothing. I howl, “Help! I’ve been robbed. I need help.” I spin around in the middle of the street, trying to get my bearings. A couple houses away a storm door slams open and a man in his sixties rushes into the street in his bathrobe. “Ma’am, are you hurt?” The adrenaline coursing through my body begins to drain. “I was robbed,” I shiver, starting to sniffle with tears. “A man came from behind me on the main road. He stole my bag. I chased after him, but he jumped a fence and I lost him.”
“Come inside” he says as he turns me toward his house. “We’ll call the police.” His wife, also in her bathrobe, sits me down and gives me a cup of tea. She explains, “My husband aways sleeps with his window open, even in the coldest weather. He heard your screams and knew someone needed help.”
The neighbor dials the town police. When he hands the receiver to me, the story spills out. Five minutes later a detective arrives at the house. I thank the neighbors, and the detective and I walk quickly through the neighborhood, looking for my bag, for footprints, for clues to the robber. A police car with a searchlight prowls the streets trying to penetrate the darkness and the back yards. At the police station I file a report and the detective drives me to my apartment. I have no keys or wallet. They were in the stolen satchel. The detective climbs the fire escape; jimmies open my apartment window and lets me into the building. He warns me to lock my door and windows, then says good-night.
I do not feel safe. Every sound on the street or in the lobby is the robber returning to find me. He has my wallet, my credit cards, my driver’s license. He knows where I live. I close the curtains. Double-lock the doors and the windows. Turn on all the lights. Tuck into my couch. It’s late, but I call my mother to tell her what happened. Terrified, she asks the questions I did not consider, “Diane, what would you have done if you caught him? What if he had a gun?”
I make new keys for the lobby, the apartment door, the car. I replace my credit cards and my driver’s license. Three months later the detective calls. A neighbor doing yard work finds my leather satchel drowning in mud in his back yard, dirty and mucky. Everything is still there, including wallet and key ring. The robber must have ditched the satchel in the dark woods as I chased him and yelled for help.
I never again use that bus stop. Instead I drive across town and take a bus on a busy street. I never again walk at night on the sidewalk. I still do not feel safe. When I drive through town I keep my eyes peeled for a man who looks like my robber. One day I think I see him. My heart races, my mouth goes dry. For a moment I want to steer the car directly into him and kill him, but I don’t.
– Diane Tunick Morello, Riverside, CT