Stranger Danger

Texting

I violated the very precepts of stranger danger the other week. I’d had my eye on a Playstation Vita, a portable gaming console, but the price of a new one was out of my budget. So I did what everyone does in such a situation–I turned to the vast and wonderful world of online sellers.

Gumtree is my general go-to site for cheaply priced, unwanted items, and it didn’t fail me. It didn’t take long to find a Vita at an affordable price, and coupled with my Asian Negotiation Skills© I managed to come to an agreement with the invisible, nameless seller on the other end. I arranged to pick it up from them the next evening after work, and the deal was done.

It was only after all this that the doubts started to creep in. How did I know the person could be trusted? They’d agreed to my price very quickly–was it simply someone desperate to sell? Was it a trap? A fiendishly ingenious method of luring a wide-eyed, unsuspecting girl to her doom? As a young female, I wouldn’t have felt safe enough to stop for a stranger with a broken-down car if I was on my own. In this case, I could be walking straight into the lion’s den.

Never one to be outdone in paranoia, I texted the meeting address to my sister the morning of the trade. I specifically instructed her to come after me if I didn’t return home that night. It would probably be too late for me, but at least the police would have a solid lead. If the criminals were dumb enough to leave a trail, anyway.

I joked about it at work, explaining in (mostly) mock-seriousness that if I didn’t come to work tomorrow, they would know why. And as I picked up my handbag to leave for the evening, I wondered if I should have picked up a can of pepper-spray in my lunch break.

During the long drive to the specified address, I played out possible scenarios in my head. If my attacker was a man, I’d go right for the nuts. Elbow him right in the nose if I could. Flee for the car, lock the doors, run him over if he tried to stop me. If it was a woman, well, I was pretty much screwed. And I didn’t see any way things could end well if it was an entire gang. Perhaps if I made it up a wall, I could fend them off and scream for help.

I regretted that I hadn’t brought a knife.

Arriving at the address, it seemed to be the residence of someone rather well-off. A good sign, but for all I knew, the shadowy attackers in my head could have given me a false address to lull me into a sense of security. I parked my car, clutched my handbag tightly, and stepped out of my car into the rapidly dimming twilight.

No one brandished any weapons at me, or paid me any attention. I rang the bell at the gate, and waited nervously. If the seller invited me in to take a look at the Vita, what was the best way to politely refuse? After all, they might launch their offensive after I was secreted away behind their walls.

Then the gate opened, and I was greeted by my would-be attacker. A middle-school boy, still in his uniform.

I was grateful that I hadn’t brought a knife.

He sized me up, then ran inside to get the Vita while I shifted uncomfortably at the gate. When he returned, box in hand, he pulled out the components to show me everything was as agreed in our email exchange, and that the handheld was still in good working condition. So much for all my mental scenarios of nefarious criminal activity. In this situation, a full-grown woman standing at the gate in an extended conversation with a young boy looked far more like criminal activity. Especially when I pulled out my purse and thrust the bills at him.

I quickly retreated to the safety of my car, letting out a sigh of relief as the gate closed behind the boy and I was left alone to enjoy my hard-bought prize. Every interaction with other humans, I realised, required a great deal of trust on both sides. Every interaction required some kind of exposure, some kind of risk. If you were lucky, neither side would draw any weapons, and you’d get a great bargain out of it to boot.

But even so, I thought as I drove away, next time I did anything like this, I’d come in a skull-and-crossbones hoodie. And, I added as I passed some poor sod broken down on the side of the road, I’d also wear some fake tattoos and piercings. Just in case.


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