I booked flights to Copenhagen on a Sunday night whilst sitting on the top deck of the bus on my way home from work. Flights plural because it was a return, but flight single because it was just for me. Off the bus, I walked home a bit slower than usual, savouring the moment for me. Empty streets, headphones in, smiling to myself, I said I wanted to do it and now I was about to do it. It being a holiday on my own.
Why did I want to do it? I felt that I had to, or that I should, a rite of passage for a single 20-something womxn, if not now then when? I needed to prove to myself and show everyone else that I could. I was a little bit scared at the thought of exploring and seeing a new city on my own, but at the same time, exhilarated knowing it would be only with myself that I was sharing it with.
Months later, I arrived in Copenhagen just before midnight. Trains had stopped running and the only option was to queue for 20 minutes for the most expensive taxi journey of my life.
The next morning, I met a friend who was leaving that night. They took me for a Danish brunch – one of the best I’ve ever had – and together we walked thousands of steps, slowly taking in the city and relaxing into its cheerful chilled vibe. That evening my friend flew home and I was officially on my own. As the sun began to set, I grabbed my book and took myself out for dinner.
The restaurant I really wanted to eat at was full of big groups and I was not quite there in my solo-eating journey to be comfortable surrounded by them, so I headed to a pizza place in the meatpacking district that my friend had pointed out to me earlier.
Headphones in and listening to my music, relaxed but aware, glancing into closed shop windows and up at balcony flats. Pace never slowing, eyes wide open, checking maps every few minutes to make sure I was going in the right direction. A white van stops and I walk behind it, pausing my music but keeping my headphones in, trying to extend my peripheral vision as far as I can without turning my head or slowing my pace, but temptation or instinct kicks in and I cannot resist. I look, to see the passenger door hanging open and a man following me down the street, engine still running, driver still there, watching. Our eyes meet, he begins to shout at me in Danish as I quickly face my front, forcing my legs further, as he slowly jogs to catch me. I do not run and I can’t hear him shouting because all I can hear is my fear, until I reach the main road. At the rush of cars and sight of people, I have the courage to turn my head one last time, he looks me dead in the eye, says something else and goes back to his white van.
I find the pizza place, a table for one and a glass of white wine. I bring out my book, texting my friend whose flight is delayed at the airport, they give me their partners number, just in case. Still shaky.
The couple next to me, with their long limbs and beautiful blonde hair don’t even glance in my direction, too caught up in each other as I shamelessly eavesdrop on their conversation, anything to not think about what had happened. I do not taste a bite of my pizza but force myself to walk back to my hostel, this time without headphones and wishing I had eyes in the back of my head.
I leave Copenhagen the day after next. The rest of the trip a numbing blur and with no farewell solo dinner.
Copenhagen with pink buildings and cinnamon buns was supposed to be mine. It was supposed to be the first of many solo holidays. I was supposed to come back with fond romantic memories not replaying a moment that I wanted to forget but also wanted to understand why. Was it because my body is tall? Because I’m a womxn? Because I’m Black? Other? Or all or none of the above. Was there really a reason to be scared? But history, the experiences of others and my own tell me that of course I felt fear first. I do not want to hold this newfound fear which arose from actions I had no control over.
I know I have it easier than a lot of people and harder than most. It could have been worse, but it was still bad, it could have not happened at all. But it did. For three months afterwards I walked home from the bus stop quickly, headphones in but music paused, looking over my shoulder and trying not to jump if a car sped past.
I often wonder what it would be like to explore and travel not knowing what it is to wish you had eyes in the back of your head. But eyes in the back of your head don’t make you safe, you can have eyes everywhere and your breath can still be taken away.
I often wonder what it would feel like to breathe in a world where your life matters.
tomiwa foloruso is a writer, presenter and creative based in Edinburgh. She specialises in communications and digital production and is also a project manager with the Empower Project. See her and read her here: instagram, twitter or website