The switch knife

Edward Galaster wins a pounds 100 Blackwell's book token with this pers onal account of a violent attack, which was his entry for our competition: what makes you angry?

I was alone as I walked home along the dark, empty streets. Two men approached; young, stocky, cropped hair, indistinguishable from each other or any of the other young, stocky, cropped hairs (is fashion designed to express one's individuality or to blend you in with those around you?) who seem to loiter around the streets with a vocation to intimidate.

"All right, mate. You fucking poof!" - a sharp, stabbing, bitter-sweet, oxymoronic greeting that temporarily knocks me off balance in confusion, then instantly raises a mental defensive guard.

"Sorry?" Self-deprecating apology, a trick learnt through years of attempting to avoid violent confrontation in school changing rooms. Or rather, a nervous reaction - as a trick, it wasn't particularly effective.

"You're a student." This was a cold statement, requiring no answer and deadly in its familiarity. To be honest, I know it didn't matter whether I was or not. Pontius Pilate had just passed the death sentence.

"Hey, look. Uh ... I don't ..."

"SHUT IT." The words were spat out with a viciousness that evaporated any final hope within me. He meant business. They glance around them briefly, faces pale and snarling, eyes darting, serpent-like, around the deserted street. No cars, no people. Just them and me.

I hear a click, and another noise: ffttcht. I see a gleam of blue metal in his hand. They advance quickly, predatory, their faces pale blue and tight as masks. I run.

I have accepted the inevitability of death; reconciled myself with my mortality and through this have achieved a great appreciation for life and a desire to make the most of it. So my overriding emotion from this brief, dreadful experience was not fear (although the taste of it still rises in my throat when I remember) or even anxiety or relief. It was, in fact, burning, uncontrollable anger.

For two complete strangers, to whom I owed nothing, to assume that they had some right to take my life from me (for I am convinced that they had no other intention) arouses nothing in me but intense fury. I am not afraid of death, but I am not anxious to relieve myself of my life. The thought of being sliced and stabbed, and left to drip dead in a cold, damp gutter is beyond contemplation.

Yet they did more than this. In those few, brief seconds, they stripped of me more than they ever could with a switch-knife: my security, my pride, my self-worth as a human within civil society. They exposed my fear and left me naked - a pathetic, vulnerable individual.

All I feel now is anger. Empty, impotent anger.

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