Sunday, April 24, 2016

Who's Afraid of the Dark?

I stayed too late at the track and the sun turned off like it does here, all at once – at 6:30 it simply topples off the side of the earth. I started to walk home, long strides with my head down as if I could walk through the dark, as if I could outrun it.

I wasn’t afraid of the dark as a child. I never slept with a nightlight. Even now it’s not the twilight that I fear, but what is in it – just as I’m not afraid of high places, but of the thought of tumbling off of them.

That sickening kissing sound men make at me during the day hardly bothers me anymore, but at night it makes my heart pound. The sound of footsteps makes me hold my breath. I look for other people and for light. I don’t stay out late. I sleep behind a locked door until the dawn begins to trickle in.

Tegucigalpa can be a safe enough city if you know it well, if you stay in its bright, public places, and if you have a car to get around. I’ve been here eight months and have never been robbed or threatened. But I am always taking precautions. I hide money in my clothes, come home before dark, walk quickly and don’t meet strangers’ eyes.

Something happens when the sun sets. The streets become quiet. People return to their homes. The military police come out and stand watch under the flickering stoplights, young, bored-looking men with guns slung over their narrow shoulders. That little pinch of fear in your stomach. That tightness.

This was a fear I didn’t understand at first here. Nothing bad had ever happened to me, not really. The dark was just another shade of day.

I had to learn to fear; I had to be taught. Not the silly, fluttery fear of imaginations but the sturdier one of possibilities. Of Where are you going and when will you be home. Of Let’s cross the street here, right now. My adventurousness had to bend to reality.

The dark is something unignorable, more even for my neighbors than myself. They feel it breathing down their necks as they rush home from work. They go to bed early; it hovers over them.

What you can’t see could be anything. That’s who’s afraid of the dark – the people who don’t know what it’s hiding. The people with thinner walls or no walls, who can’t afford cars and alarm systems and private guards. The dark weighs down on them like eiderdown in summer. It feels hot and sour, like fear, like the memory of what happened to their neighbor, their daughter, themselves.

I feel something most acutely in this darkness – that violence is not an equal opportunity offender. It usually strikes the weakest, the closest to tumbling over the edge. It often strikes in the dark. 

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