Did I Have a Lucky Escape?
I’ll never know for sure if I really was in danger, but I’m sure glad I didn’t wait to find out
I was at home one grey and rainy afternoon, minding my own business. I don’t really remember what I was doing, but I was probably pottering about the way I always did when I had a day off.
There was a knock on the front door and, in a move uncharacteristically like me, I answered it. (I was practicing social-distancing long before 2019, and would often run and hide when anyone I didn’t recognise came a-knocking.)
The man at the door announced that he was from one of those companies that assess how much you spend on your gas and electricity bills, and work out whether you could be saving money if you switched to another provider. I glanced at his ID, which he waved nonchalantly in my general direction as he went through his spiel, but I confess I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention.
It could have said anything, and I’d have been none the wiser.
I don’t know why I didn’t just say “thanks but I’m not interested”, “I’m in the middle of making dinner”, or one of the countless other excuses I would usually make in order to make cold-callers, door-to-door evangelists, or any of those other strangers who take it upon themselves to turn up on your doorstep or your telephone line in order to sell their wares or preach their gospel. Perhaps I was just in a good mood that day. But for whatever reason, I got drawn in by his pitch.
He asked me a whole load of questions about how much my quarterly power bills were, and when I gave the figure, he displayed shock.
“Do you live with anyone else, or is it just you?” he asked, apparently incredulous. I was kind of surprised; though by no means cheap, my combined gas and electric bill seemed in keeping with the general average.
“No, no. Just me,” I replied. Like an idiot.
Okay, it was the truth, but everyone knows you don’t just blurt stuff like that to every Tom, Dick or Harry. Especially if you’re a woman living on her own.
He then asked me if I had “a hot tub or jacuzzi or something”.
Okay, weird question, but I said no, we continued chatting, and then he asked if he could see my electricity/gas meter.
Now, at the time, I was living in a house where the meter was outside, locked inside a metal box attached to the brick wall just below the kitchen window. However, in the flat I live in now and in many other homes, too, the meters are inside.
Was this guy at the door hoping that this would be the case and that I would invite him into my home, lured by the promise of cheaper bills?
Stupidly, I didn’t just pull the plug on the conversation there and then, and instead I showed him the meters. He cast his eye over them, but that was all. I wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking for or why he needed to see them in the first place. Again, idiot.
He then took out a piece of paper and started scrawling some numbers and calculations on it whilst talking me through a load of confusing arithmetic. I’ve never been good at math, and I was baffled by the numbers and figures he was spouting.
“I don’t suppose I could come in and sit at your table while I calculate all of this?”
Thank Goddess, that was when my spidey-senses started tingling and alarm bells started ringing.
I recall having three thoughts in rapid succession:
1. This guy has a funny smell
And I don’t mean in the “this smells fishy” kind of way, either. There was genuinely a strange smell emanating from him, but I don’t really know how to describe it. (A mix of stale sweat, pot, and poor hygiene maybe?)
I have never forgotten the 1989 interview with Debbie Harry where she recounted a chilling encounter that took place in the early 1970s:
I was trying to get across town to an after-hours club. A little white car pulls up, and the guy offers me a ride. So I just continued to try and flag a cab down. But he was very persistent, and he asked me where I was going. It was only a couple of blocks away, and he said, ‘well I’ll give you a ride’.
She eventually did get in the car, where she found it was uncomfortably warm and tried to crack a window. When she looked down, she saw that there were no door handles. Immediately, she says, “the hairs on the back of my neck just stood up.”
Somehow, Debbie managed to get out of the car and make an escape. Later, she saw the driver’s face in the news.
It was serial killer Ted Bundy.
It’s a terrifying tale of “what-if”, and one thing that Debbie said about the incident has always stuck with me:
I have trusted my nose ever since.
2. I don’t like strangers in my house, especially not strange men
This goes without saying, and for obvious reasons.
Do NOT #notallmen me.
It’s not all men. We know that. But every woman and girl I know has sexual harassment or assault stories, and many of them. It’s not all men, but it is enough for all women to live in constant fear.
Women live with this shit every single day. We’re trying to keep ourselves safe. We don’t have time for the tears and hurt feelings of misogynistic rape-apologists, sorry.
3. I need to get rid of this guy quick smart
I was suddenly replaying the entire encounter back in my mind, berating myself for being such a fool, and trying to come up with a (belated) excuse to make him leave.
I couldn’t believe that I had been so stupid to forget every precaution that’s been ingrained in my mind since I was a little girl:
“Don’t talk to strange men”
I managed to make an excuse of some kind, though I don’t recall what it was. I stepped past the guy, strode to my door and got inside before he had a chance to (potentially) jump me. I pulled the door closed, repeating, “thanks, but I have to go now, bye”, snibbed the lock on the door, put the chain back on, and pretended to make a phone call to a friend until I saw him leave.
My heart was pounding and I felt like throwing up.
For the rest of the day, all that evening, and all through the night, I was wary and anxious. I listened for any noises at the door, watched nervously for any dark shadows outside, and I cursed myself for putting myself in such a potentially dangerous situation.
I’ve never done anything like that since, and I desperately hope that I will never be as foolish as to do so again.
Okay. Perhaps that strange man at my door with the seemingly benign but weirdly intrusive questions, the odd smell, and an apparent desire to get inside my house really was just a kindly agent from a reputable power company trying to save me some pennies on my bills.
I guess I’ll never know.
But considering what the alternative could have been, I’m totally okay with not knowing.
©️ Jupiter Grant, 2021
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Jupiter Grant is a self-published author, blogger, narrator, and audiobook producer. Buy me a coffee here: https://ko-fi.com/jupitergrant
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