His footsteps echoed like ominous ringing bells, sounding hollow in the vacant crooked alleyways. Electricity zipped through my stomach and, were there anything in it, threatened to overturn itself and its contents rise like bile.
The perspiration coating my brow was not necessarily caused by the heat. Hanoi’s square-faced two-story houses stood erect—yet pressed inward over the dirt streets that narrowed between them, looming high overhead, leering at me down below.
And one cursory glance over the shoulder proved my greatest fear: the man whom I had passed—who, a moment ago, was shrouded in darkness outside one of the residences—was no longer seated at his post. His footsteps veered closer from behind me instead.
At first, my heart paced steadily in my ribcage, in denial of the horror I knew could—would—come. Breathe. Square your shoulders. Assert yourself. Stop quickening your pace in fear!
But my steps sped up and betrayed me; my calm gave way to a visceral terror that could only invite his lust further. And as my steps quickened…so did his.
Every gnarled turn into another alley became another hard knot twisting in my gut, another unlit corridor, another affirmation of the impending and inevitable doom I had set for myself. Where was Juliet? Why hadn’t the cab driver dropped me at the right house? Treading cautious foreign footsteps in a callous foreign land – with the very manifestation of fear itself trailing mere feet behind me.
Another crooked turn—but again only into darkness. My woes and self-pity were swallowed by it and I gave way to despair. Brace yourself. This is it.
Hands in pockets, I fingered for any sharp hard object that could prove my ally in combat for when this lustful-eyed menace would finally grab at me with groping fingers outstretched…
Sudden scuffles sounded just ahead to my left. A door opened. A wide stretching beam of light – the only light of the dark alley – shined, piercing the dark with a jewel-encrusted hope.
It was a young couple leaving a house, hopping onto their motorbike—no doubt heading out to a romantic dinner or a late night café visit. Their simple presence was my one source of exiting my terror. Like a wave, relief crashed over, against, through my chest. Perhaps now that someone – anyone – else was in the alley, the stalking threat behind me would be abated.
A final glance behind me to see if my tormenter still lingered – and he was gone.