The stranger was just a few steps behind me…
I often walk the streets of Glasgow at night, and never felt any fear. I reasoned that if I worry about being attacked, my fear and timidity would be apparent and then I would attract the very undesirable attention that I am trying to avoid. Besides, I’m a tough lady and handy with the pointed end of my umbrella.
So, head held high, and striding quickly along the Gallowgate, I headed for home, tired and alone. It was dark, raining and late. I was a 20 minute walk away from my warm cozy flat.
I had reached the Barrowland dance hall. In those days, nothing was opened on a Sunday not even a pub, and especially at 10pm. The shutters were down at the dance hall and the Barrowland itself was locked up.
I became aware that I was being followed.
It was that woman’s instinct that we get that can’t be explained. We just KNOW something is not right. I heard footsteps behind me – I knew it was a man.
Quickening my step, I hurried along towards Belgrove, where the lights seemed brighter and there would be people about. I was determined to confront the stranger. Perhaps I was wrong, and he was just walking home. But no, I knew he was following me, I just knew.
With a sigh of relief, I reached the corner at Belgrove Street. There were men about. Now to confront the stranger. I turned round quickly and walked towards him. Within 7 strides I was up close to his face, intending to startle him. He smiled.
“Hello Mary”, he said in a gentle, friendly voice, sending shivers down my spine.
Taken aback slightly by his manner and the fact that he knew my name, I nevertheless summoned up enough anger to give him a piece of my mind.
“What’s the big idea you following me from Glasgow Cross – and don’t deny that you were following me!”, I shouted at him, “and how the hell do you know my name? Are you a loony or something? I’ve a good mind to shout over to those men over there and they will give you a right good hiding!”
I stopped for breath, I was angry, but I was also scared. Then he spoke to me, his voice sending more shivers down my spine.
“Mary my wee angel, I would never hurt you. I often walk behind you at night until you are safely home. I mean no harm.” “Who are you and how do you know my name?”
He moved to the right of me and the light of the street lamp bathed his face. He was a handsome young man, about twenty-five I’d say. Jet black hair, strong jaw. He was about six feet tall, smartly dressed, with a black suit, white shirt and black tie.
“Let’s just say I’m an old friend of the family. Mary, allow me to accompany you to your home. There are two men hanging about the corner of Duke Street who have evil intent. Take my arm.”
To my surprise, I put my arm around his, and we turned up Belgrove Street, towards Duke Street. I felt so safe with him and I did not ask him any more questions, although I wish I had.
We reached the corner of Belgrove Street and Duke Street. Two men were standing at the bank, watching us. As we approached them, my companion stopped and glared at them. Both men looked down at their shoes, looking very uncomfortable. How did he know the two men would be there? He had been walking behind me.
As we walked up the hill towards home, I asked him again, “Who are you?”
“Mary, think of me as your guardian. Whenever you are alone and scared, just imagine that I am behind you. The chances are that you will never see me again, but if you do see me, take my arm and I will lead you to safety.”
He gently put his hands on my cheeks and kissed my forehead. I felt a tingle run down my spine. It was not a sensual kiss, but I could feel his love for me. He truly cared.
I climbed the steps to my flat door and I heard him say again, “Whenever you are alone and scared, just imagine I am behind you, my wee angel.”
I turned round to bid him goodnight, but he had gone.
Months went by and the stranger became a dim memory. I was busy getting our old family house ready for sale, my sons and I had to clear out a lot of very old furniture that had seen better days. We came across a cardboard shoebox stuffed full of old photos, birthday and anniversary cards.
My sons and I had a cup of tea and we started to look through the photos. They had a laugh at my baby photos, and I pointed out their aunt and uncles to them. We looked at photographs of my mother and father and John, my eldest son, asked what had happened to his grandad, because he was in a wheelchair.
“I was just a few months old when he was returning home from a funeral and was knocked down by a drunk driver, his legs were crushed and his face disfigured. He also had brain damage which grew steadily worse. I never heard him speak, he just sat in his wheelchair, looking so sad.”
“Poor grandad”, said John, “must have been tough for him. Not being able to talk to his own daughter.”
“Yes, but I used to talk to him. Sometimes when he was well enough, he’d write me a wee note. It took him ages to…”, I jumped up and screamed. The boys jumped up too, scared out of their wits.
“What’s wrong?”, asked John.
But I was too busy rummaging through the old photographs and birthday cards.
And I found it. A birthday card to me for my sixth birthday. Inside the card my father had spent ages on it, but had finally written a message.
Happy Birthday. My wee angel.
I cried and cried, my boys hugging me, all concerned. I said I was all right and that we should look through all the photos, to see if we could find older ones.
My hands started shaking as I found a photograph of my father in army uniform. His handsome face smiled back, as if he was smiling just at me. It was the face of the stranger I met a few months ago. The last time I had seen that photograph was when I was a wee girl. I cried again. I told my boys what had happened the night I met the stranger and they were silent, listening to my story. My son John summed it up perfectly.
“Grandad could not protect you when he was alive, but he’s probably been there watching over you since he died.”
I know in my heart that this is true. At times when I’m walking alone, I wish I could see him again. But many years have passed, and I have never seen him since.
But I know he’s there.
Just a few steps behind me.
© Wishart Frankfield
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