Call and Response

It was quarter to ten. I was walking home from the bus stop. The block wasn’t well-lit. There was a white car on the corner. A man sat inside it with the light on.

From behind me, I heard someone yell, “Mike!”

The man in the car got out of it, slammed the door, and approached me.

“Mike,” he said, “I’ve got your phone.”

“Sorry man,” I replied, confused, “I’m not Mike.”

“No, dude. Don’t worry. I’ll pay you. I’ll pay you for it.”

We stared at each other for a moment. He was trying to get the measure of me, and I of him. It occurred to me that whatever this was, it wasn’t mistaken identity. Something told me to run. So, I ran.

He gave chase.

I was only a block away from a well-lit, patronized convenience store. He slowed his chase as I got close to the store’s entrance. Another guy was already outside the store, on his phone, smoking a cigarette. He looked at me, looked at the guy chasing me, and tucked himself back into the wall. He didn’t want any part of what was going on.

I yelled at the guy to stop chasing me, but I didn’t want to run further, away from the safety of the store. He kept getting closer, insisting I was “Mike.” He kept screaming how he would pay me, that the phone had GPS and he could track me. It didn’t make any sense.

I dialed 911.

“Hi, yes. I’m being chased and harassed by a guy…I’m on 5th avenue between Wall and Vine, heading toward Vine. He’s shouting at me; I ran away and he chased me, but I’m in front of a convenience store now.”

“Is he still chasing you?”

“He’s still only 10 or 15 feet from me. But I’m in front of this store, so — ”

“So you’re not in any danger any longer?”

“What? I don’t know. There’s a man who just chased me a block yelling at me and not going away. Can you please send someone? I don’t feel safe.”

“But the man isn’t chasing you any more?”

“I don’t know. He might, if I try to leave where I am? Can you please send someone? I’m on 5th between Vine and Wall, in front of the convenience store. The guy is in a red jacket with a white baseball cap. He’s backing off now.”

And he was. He apologized, held his hands up in surrender to me, and turned to walk away.

“So, he’s backing off? Should I send an officer so you can describe why you felt you were being threatened?”

“What? I told you why I was threatened. This guy chased me for a block.”

“But he stopped. I can send someone if you want to describe to an officer why you felt threatened, or I can send someone to just check out the scene.”

“Yes, please, do that.I’m calling so you can send someone after this guy before he does this to someone else. I managed to run away. Someone else might not…”

Then the man called, “Mike!” again. And someone else responded, “Mike!”

Another man, wearing all black, with a beard, came around the corner. The two of them got into the white car and drove off.

“What does he look like?”

“He’s…,” I sighed, wishing it wasn’t true, “Darker skinned. And there’s a white guy with him now, wearing all black. He’s got a gray beard. They got into a car. It’s a…white Ford. The license plate is A…something…5–2–1–4.”

“Oh, they’re gone now?”

“They’re driving away.”

“Then I’m not going to send anyone if they’re driving away.”

“But what if someone else…”

“If you’re safe now, I’m not going to send anyone.”

“You’re not going to let someone know that these guys are out there?”

“They didn’t hurt you, and they left. There’s no reason to send anyone.”

The smoking man never said one word, never offered one bit of help, never dialed 9–1–1. He simply tried to remain invisible. I was confused and shaken, trying to make sense what just happened. And then it hit me what was going on, and how lucky I was.

“Mike,” the guy in black called. “Mike!” The guy in the car responded. This was a signal. Someone we can take down. And why not? I’m a 5'2" skinny white guy with a giant backpack — there’s probably something worth stealing in it. Car Guy talked loudly and crazily. It was meant to confuse, to stall me, to root me to the spot. He was talking loudly so his partner could approach from behind and I wouldn’t hear his footsteps.

But I decided to run. Car Guy didn’t dare keep chasing me once I was in light and view of a witness. And then once he realized I wasn’t bluffing with calling the cops, he called, “Mike.” His friend responded, “Mike.” Let’s go.

If I had hesitated, would the man in black have been close enough? If I hadn’t run right then, would things have turned out very differently? If I hadn’t been within a block of a convenience store, would running have even mattered?

I got home. I locked the door. I pulled the curtains. I poured myself a drink. I sat in silence for a bit.

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