With another subtle glance over my shoulder, I nudged my sister.

“They’re still there?” she whispered, without moving her lips.

I nodded slightly.

Walking back to our hotel from the café, we had just finished watching Les Bleus win yet another game in the world cup. The metro had closed for the night, and like typical twenty-somethings we had carelessly missed the last bus by about 20 minutes.


“What should we do?” she asked under her breath. She had clearly deferred all judgement to me, the Francophile of the trip. Either that, or she thought my two years on her had prepared me for late-night muggings.

“Just keep walking like nothing’s happening. If we get close to the hotel, we’ll turn a corner and try to lose them,” I murmured, my voice firm.

People warned me that Nice was the most dangerous city in France at the time, prone to pickpockets and petty street crimes. In my typical way, I laughed off naysayers with a flip of my hand, claiming “I’m from L.A. Nothing frightens me.”

Now these two men, who had remained a few meters behind us for the last twenty blocks.

The hotel was 4 or 5 kilometers away from the café, a dive by the airport. During the day, this distance wasn’t bad, but well past midnight it seemed like a bit of a trek, and neither of us had enough for what was sure to be a 20€ cab ride.

“What if they do something before that?” She emphasized “do something” as if describing an act too ugly to name.

“Can you believe they won again?” I said at a normal volume, trying both to steer her away from panic and to not be obvious about conspiring how to junk-punch the two men behind us.

Thankfully, she caught on, stating a little too loudly “No, it was so cool. What a great game.”

I reached into my very un-French canvas purse, digging around until I found the cylinder on my key ring. Unlocking the safety latch, I kept my hand in there.

“Should we go to the police?” she asked, her voice returning to a whisper.

“We don’t even know where the police are,” I pointed out. Still in the land of dial-up internet, the days when Steve Jobs became god of the smart phone remained years ahead of us. All I had on me was a dog-eared copy of Let’s Go France, a folded map, and a rudimentary understanding of the language that allowed me to order croissants and café creme to my heart’s content.

I could hear their feet on the pavement, now. They couldn’t be more than a few steps behind us. In my purse, my thumb tightened on the “die, motherfucker” button.

Suddenly, their voices became echo-like, and vanished. I turned my head and exhaled, my heart suddenly pounding.

“They’re gone. They turned down the alley.”

“Oh, thank God!” my sister said, laughing nervously. “I had no idea what to do!”

Locking the lid with my thumb, I tucked the superfluous pepper spray back into my purse. I may have been fearless, but I always traveled prepared.

– – –


Good in a Crisis — 40 Comments

  1. Somewhat of a similar situation in NY with a co-worker but a woman who looked like she was itching to take my friends purse – I however turned completely around & really studied her face, features & clothing – they don’t like to be identified – she turned around & left going back where she came from

    • That event brought out my inner superhero. I’m brave about things I shouldn’t be brave about, and scared about things that shouldn’t scare me (like spiders, or other people’s approval…).

  2. Whew – scary. Reminds me of my time in New York; especially when I first got there. I didn’t have pepper spray – I had a “ninja device”. No kidding, that’s what it was called. I could poke an assailant’s eyes out or stab ’em in the temple. That is…if I didn’t faint from the idea of poking their eyes out.
    Linda Roy recently posted…Love You MoreMy Profile

  3. I caught a sentence fragment! “Now these two men, who had remained a few meters behind us for the last twenty blocks.” FINALLY! You are human. (Even if I knew what you were trying to say). Good. I’m a teacher and I make mistakes all the time in my blog and in the classroom. I once said, “I have this blogger friend who has perfect grammar.” I’ll still say it.

    As to the story. Good stuff. Reminds me of a scene from an Ian McEwen story (In Between the Sheets?), where a tourist couple are lost in an Italian city. Only the set-up is better like you did with two women, as the vulnerability is more real. Of course I’m referring to your anecdote like it is a fiction story. That in itself is the compliment–you make real life sound like great fiction.
    Chris Plumb recently posted…I’m Not Gay, I Just Like To Write (and Other Stuff): Redefining MasculinityMy Profile

  4. I remember when we were in Nice we were told to not bring our passports (which was our only form of ID) and not much cash since the crime rate is so high, especially among tourists. Glad it turned out OK for you!
    Michelle Longo recently posted…Spreading Bug.My Profile

  5. To have the freedom to enjoy life sometimes mean you must prepare for those who will seek to subvert your fun. Good for you and your sister that no harm was intended by the mysterious ones following.

  6. I had one bad experience too many and wont leave home without a canister of mace on my keyring… I turned the gun in though… nicely written Natalie!

  7. I was just like you — traveling, throwing caution to the wind, putting myself in compromising situations because I was “from New York.”

    I have to say, though, that once while visiting my sister in Florence while she was studying there, a purse-snatcher jumped out and grabbed my bag (which had my passport and everything in it) and I HELD ON TO IT as he tried to flee, out of instinct I suppose. Don’t F with the Moo Cow. 😉
    Deb @ Urban Moo Cow recently posted…The Struggle of Working Mothers Begins With PregnancyMy Profile

  8. I would have totally been a spaz in that situation! And look at you go with the pepper spray!! I always tell myself I should purchase one, and then decide it’s too bulky for my keys. I mean, who needs safety when it’s not convenient? 😉
    Ericamos recently posted…Now Presenting, Mrs. BrownMy Profile

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