Written by Liz Bower

Voices

Chancing in the Streets

Liz Bower explains how no amount of zombie films or Choose Your Own Adventure books prepared her for when she was mugged.

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Illustration by Louise Boulter

As my assailant raced toward me down a dark driveway, I was compromised. I didn’t have a crossbow – my weapon of choice come the zombie apocalypse – and scary as he looked, he was not a festering, undead wraith. Also, in real life, you’re not allowed to go around stabbing people in the head (surefire way to kill the undead). Apparently, one way to deter attackers is to act as weirdly as possible, but there was no time to choreograph a tap dance routine.

As a child, I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure stories.
“Turn to page 17 to run away.” I’m not built for speed, evidenced by my attacker already pushing me backwards.
“Turn to page 9 to scream.” Skunk Anansie playing on my headphones was a good pitch to start at, but when I opened my mouth, all I did was gasp, such was my shock at the speed I’d turned from pedestrian to victim.
“Turn to page 42 to kick more ass than in The Raid 1 and 2 combined.” I frequently dream that I have superb ninja combat skills. Dreams are only a few seconds long, but somehow you wake thinking they’ve lasted for hours. Given the volume of thought that went through my head, I think I went into this state during the attack.

My assailant was gripping the handles of my bag, jumping up and down like a posessed kangaroo trying to yank it free. I could have kicked him really hard with my tough winter boots but as a person of stature who’d recently read of Of Mice and Men, I was afraid I might break his legs or (literary spoiler alert) accidentally kill him. He was tall, stong and imposing but, ultimately, I couldn’t hit a kid. Just because he was attacking me, I didn’t automatically want to attack back; I just wanted it to stop.

Yet I couldn’t just let him take my bag. I was so tense, it was physically stuck between my left elbow and my stomach (“Turn to page 72, to freeze completely”). Also, my lovely brother had given it to me for my birthday and it went with EVERYTHING. If it had been a dream, I’d have woken up in a cold sweat by now.

In my other hand was a bottle of Marks and Spencer Chablis. Surely it couldn’t do too much damage wrapped in my pyjamas in a Selfridges carrier bag? (I was on my way to a third date and you can never be too well prepared – or too middle class.) I decided to clout him with it. However, the lack of momentum at such close quarters, combined with my instinctive reluctance to strike a minor, meant that as I swung it up to his head, it gently clunked against his ear and then just dangled in his face.

His face! The advice Liam Neeson gave to his daughter in Taken was to shout out a description of her attacker so, finally finding my voice, I screamed, “New Trainers! Baggy Jeans! Really nice teeth!” I knew this last one because he was laughing. At my voice? At my fear? At the Selfridges bag flaccidly tickling his neck?

In my anger at his amusement, I unfroze and felt a searing pain as the leather handle of my bag-that-went-with-everything burned and cut through my arm as he dragged it away. We both fell backwards and the bag landed in the middle. To my surprise, the possessed kangaroo bounded off.

Along the street behind me, porch lights switched on and curtains were opened in response to the noise. A lady called from her house: “You woke my baby, I thought you were being killed!” “No, just mugged. Sorry I woke your baby!”

The only injuries I had were from hanging onto my own bag. If I’d let go, I’d probably have found it empty and disgarded down the road anyway – but rational thinking isn’t easily done during the panic of an assault.

The victim support officer said that a local gang’s initiation test was for new recruits to steal a woman’s handbag (any woman; not just a big stubborn one like me) and acknowledged that when we feel vulnerable our first instinct is to put our earphones in, our heads down and shut the world out. As I was trying to forgive myself for not being more aware, not hitting back, or giving in, I realised that sometimes the hardest thing to fight is instinct.

Shortly afterwards, I started kickboxing. I’ve made some great friends; I’m fitter, faster and more self confident, but I still don’t want to hit people. Give me a punchbag over a human anyday, undead or alive.

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Written by Liz Bower

Elizabeth is an actress, character comic and narrator. She lives in London with her husband and enjoys kick boxing and painting, though never simultaneously. @ElizabethBower