The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
One Path Forward
By Kieran Rundle
Everyone told us to stick in large groups, don’t talk to strangers, and avoid sketchy places.
It was the first time they I traveling without my parents, and excitement bubbled over the top as I boarded the plane to Europe with my classmates and teachers. My new black suitcase dragged along nicely behind me. The trip would take us all across northern Italy and France, and my excitement was hardly containable.
Italy was gorgeous, completely perfect in every way. The grass seemed greener, the flowers brighter, the air sweeter. Our introduction to France was just as glorious. Late nights with my friends out on the streets of foreign countries were amazing. We took so many selfies and silly tourist pictures. I had imagined Nice would be the same, and well, nice. It was. The city was gorgeous as we drove down a mountain from Monaco and on streets along the sapphire ocean. There is a main road through Nice, an above ground trolley lane for riding across the city. It ended at this huge open courtyard with tall pillars to the clouds with winged people perched upon them. If you kept walking past the courtyard there was a grassy area that sloped onto the beach. In this stretch of grass, though, was a double decker carousel.
My good friend Lisi and I peered out the big charter bus windows and the kids “oohed” as we passed by.
“We’re going there later.” Lisi commented, her eyes brimming with excitement.
“Definitely.” I agreed.
Our bus wound its way through narrow streets and city blocks, dropping us off at the old hotel where we were staying. Its pink neon sign winked at us, and the dark green paint on the outside made way for the antique interior. Trudging up to our tiny rooms, we all unpacked before heading out for free time in the city. Snacking on European candies, Lisi and I grabbed our maps and headed out to take the city and find our way to the trolley lane so we could follow it back to the carousel.
On a drifting sugar high, we made our way through city streets, both admitting neither of us could read a map that well. We stopped to occasionally take pictures of interesting things with our phones and my fancy pants camera. We didn’t have any cell phone service overseas, so uploading them to social networking or sending them to our families wasn’t an option.
Neither of us realized how off-course we had wandered until we realized we were alone. There were stores with dingy windows and grungy indoors that looked like they were falling apart. Neon lights blinked, desperately needing a good dusting. Suddenly, my stomach felt a little weird. Had we gotten lost? Lisi and I stopped to consult our maps but seemed to have gotten them turned around; we could find our hotel and the tracks, but not where we were. We decided to just keep walking. What could go wrong?
That was when we saw the man. His dirty jeans were ripped and his old boots were scuffed. An unclean white t-shirt sagged on his muscled body and he faced away from us, and then we saw where his hand was and what it was doing.
“He’s-!” Lisi muttered in a whispered scream.
“Oh, my God,” I responded.
Immediately, we turned on our heels, and walked back the way we had come from. This was not a part of town for us. Both of us were shaken, a new type of adrenaline pumping through our veins, the kind that came from fear.
“We can just retrace our steps until we figure out where we are, and ask for directions,” I muttered.
“We’ll never see him again.” As Lisi spoke, he came out from an alley way behind us, black sunglasses shading his eyes, but I knew they would wiggle like worms in his head if I saw him, revealing thoughts to which I would rather be ignorant.
He started out fifty yards behind us. In horror at seeing this man, jean zipper thankfully pulled up this time, we quickened our steps. We discussed trivial tourist items, the weather, the city, had we seen that shop before?
Thirty yards behind us.
We turned down a street, quickening our pace. There would be no way he could-
He turned as well.
Another “Oh, my God” was overdue. We kept walking back, finally seeing sights that looked familiar, and thankfully not taking a wrong turn out of our desperate fear of getting kidnapped, molested, or worse. The horror scenes I had read about in the news replayed in my head: girls living in shacks, having the babies of their captors. For the first time, I realized how small I was. My five foot, six-inch height seemed short, my wimpy arms were not toned, and my lungs not able to sustain me running for an extended period of time. I didn’t have cell phone, and I couldn’t call anyone to come and save us.
He turned and we both exhaled a sigh, our fear revealed in tense hands and darting eyes, but less now that the instigator had left us.
We continued the hike back, now starting to watch the shops fade into a more normal-type, better kept up with the occasional living person. Not quite the large group we would have preferred, but something, and maybe someone would come help us if we started screaming.
That’s when we saw him again, crossing the street in front of us, crooked teeth gleaming, his cheap gold necklace squinting with light. Both of us froze. Okay, this was just a coincidence, he’s going his way, we’re going ours, it can’t be that far from the hotel where our teachers were. We kept walking, exchanging glances. Lisi looked even less able to escape a horror situation than I did, but she had cross-country training behind her, at least.
He disappeared, leaving us with an unsettled feeling of dark eye sockets following us, the worms I knew that were on his face, thinking his thoughts.
He crossed our path again, this time behind us, following us for a time. Fifteen yards. Then he turned away. Before we knew it, we saw him crossing in front of us. This happened four times before he fell in line behind us.
Five yards away.
Our hotel was two blocks, one block, we saw it waiting for us, its pink lights a beaming beacon guiding us home. We darted inside, running, slamming the door behind us. The concierge looked up, concerned, but not asking anything: teenage girls would be teenage girls. A few of the boys on our tour group looked up at us.
“Are you two alright?”
We slid behind the wall, watching carefully out of the window as our follower passed by the hotel with a scornful glance, and then disappeared down the street. We didn’t answer the boys, just stood there, trembling in what could have happened to us.
Later we told our teachers the story, and they sighed, “Welcome to Europe.”
I worried about leading him to our hotel. Could he come in looking for us? Was he that dedicated of a stalker?
We never saw him again, but later that night with more of our friends and staying in well-lit and crowded areas, we made our way to the carousel, and rode it with joy after collecting sea glass from the sapphire sea. The fear from earlier stayed with me, and I found myself glancing over my shoulder, expecting to see the man in the sunglasses.
#TheReal #TravelEssay #Abroad #OnePathForward #Europe
Visit our shop and subscribe. Sponsor us. Submit and become a contributor. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.