Why you should care

Because crime is not just statistics.

It was September.

We were all starving artists, so we got ourselves a great loft in a very shady neighborhood. It was big, bright, close to downtown Szczecin and worth it. I was going through a bout of insomnia, which meant that I was walking around alone at night for hours, listening to music and rethinking and analyzing stuff.

I worked a lot and slept very little. When you can’t sleep, you have almost too much time on your hands, but you’re also constantly in a weird state of being somewhere between dreams and reality. Add to it hunger and fatigue-born hallucinations and you have a young surrealist starter kit.

One night I went to my cousin’s. He’s a movie and music geek and I love movies and music too, so we’d been spending Fridays listening to music or watching movies all night. It was Querelle first and then Eraserhead.

Around 3:30 in the morning I decided that I had to leave. Hang out with my cats and very probably also other not sleeping friends.

When you’re a woman, you’ve got to always be careful, always alert. It doesn’t matter if it’s daytime or the middle of the night or nearly dusk.

It was a 35-minute walk. When people are walking at night, they usually stick to well-lit places, but for me it always seemed like a treat for thieves and rapists. But when you’re walking in the dark, nobody can see you and nobody tries to bother you, because there’s usually nobody there to bother. Besides, I had my safe paths and shortcuts, I knew all the alley cats around and all the neighborhood weirdos, so it all felt like my territory. Mostly safe.

But when you’re a woman, you’ve got to always be careful, always alert. It doesn’t matter if it’s daytime or the middle of the night or nearly dusk.

So I was walking, headphones in my ears, music on, but not too loud. My bag was a little heavy since I grabbed some books from my cousin and we also split the unopened wines that were left.

I felt pretty happy and the moon was full, which made me even more excited about my walk. The air still smelled like summer, and everything felt OK.

I turned left into a very dark alley, but the moon was crazy huge and the usually super dark alley wasn’t that dark anymore. There were two guys standing right in front of me, staring at me. They appeared out of nowhere like ghosts, or like they grew from underground. The tall one started talking to me. He had a weird lisp, and he was like, “Oh, hello. I can see you’ve got some goodies for us.”

The smaller one just made a series of laughlike sounds, which I guess meant approval of what the tall one had just said.

“You gonna give us that bag or we’re gonna take it away from you,” he announced.

The smaller one nodded rapidly. He had no front teeth.

pradziwa krolowa 1

On the streets of Szczecin.

Source Photo courtesy of Katarzyna Tanalska

I just stared at them. I was shocked that I hadn’t seen them coming. And damn, I had nothing to give. Some old iPhone, a bottle of wine, books, my cosmetic bag, extra clothes. It was heavy but not very valuable, and not much in my wallet either.

“And maybe if you’re good we’re not going to hurt you that much …”

The small one went nuts. I could feel the spit on my neck coming out of his toothless mouth while he giggled. The whole situation made me very angry. I wasn’t afraid. I was getting more and more angry.

“Move. I got nothing for you,” I said.

And they both seemed surprised by my lack of visible fear, which irritated them. “You’re gonna do what we told you to do, bitch,” said the tall one, egged on by the smaller one.

“Let me pass or I’m going to hurt you” came out of my mouth. Surprising us all.

The tall one’s face went blank and the small one screamed and grabbed me like he wanted to knock me down. But he touched me and it made me very angry. I grabbed my bag, turned around and hit the small one right in the face with that heavy bag. He spun like a ballerina and fell flat on his face on the sidewalk. He looked like a Rorschach test on that sidewalk, and he didn’t move at all. Like: dead. I didn’t expect that to be that easy. It had to be that bottle inside my bag. But the shit had now hit the fan.

The tall one grabbed me by my shoulders and lifted me up like he meant to destroy me.

And this made me even more angry. I almost blacked out from anger, which I guess Vikings used to call berserk. I didn’t scream or kick; I went totally calm and lifted my hands and jammed my fingers straight into his eyes. I felt warmth and unpleasant stickiness. He dropped me and at the same point dropped to his knees and grabbed his face, screaming.

No words, just howls and shrieks. I grabbed my heavy bag, which suddenly wasn’t heavy at all, and ran and didn’t stop until I was at my gate. I went upstairs, my heart jumping out of my chest.

My friend who never sleeps asked, “Are you OK? You look like you saw a ghost!” And I said, “Yeah … I think I just killed someone,” and I disappeared into my room. I climbed under my sheets and fell asleep.

The next day I woke up and remembered what happened the night before and wondered if it had happened. I felt nauseous and dizzy and scared. I grabbed my bag and there was that heavy wine bottle and the books. Everything seemed to be so calm and normal. I started checking the news to see if someone was killed or severely injured the past night. Nothing.

I went to the kitchen to get some coffee. It tasted better than ever. I accepted the fact that it was only a dream. I have very vivid dreams if I sleep.

Everything felt good again.

When I left the house, though, I walked fast to that place, because I had to know what happened, like I was expecting to see them still there, lifeless. They weren’t there. But there was blood on the sidewalk — not a puddle, but just enough for people to have to walk around it.

I was sure now that I blinded that fucker and it felt bad for a little moment, and then it felt good again. I walked down the street humming.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.