It doesn't come from the drug dealers. You're minding your business; they're minding theirs. It's all good.
It's not the crazy guy talking to himself, or yelling and throwing punches at thin air. He's minding his own business, too. He's just a little loud, that's all.
It's not even the quiet ones who look the other way as they pass by. You think it might be them, but it never is.
It's when you least expect it.
It's the guy on the BMX bike who cuts off two cars as he veers across three lanes of traffic to make a beeline for your corner, where you stand waiting for the light to change.
It seems like he plans to ride up onto the sidewalk. What does he want to do? Does he want to go in front of you? Or behind you? You don't know and can't tell. If you move, it's a 50-50 chance you'll move into his path, so you stand your ground and let him make the decision.
It's not until he's riding up onto the sidewalk and is just a few feet away that you realize he's riding straight at you. You make a split-second decision and take a quick step back. He swerves but not away from you; he swerves toward you and almost hits you.
Was he playing "Chicken" and you both tried to dodge the same way?
Did he think you would jump out of the way a lot sooner than what you did?
Or was he deliberately trying to run into you? As he rode past, he did lean toward you as if trying to shoulder block you.
But he didn't hit you, and you need to get to work, so you don't give it any more thought. But as you start to cross the road, out of the corner of your eye you see him skidding to a stop. Still, you don't think anything about it. Not consciously at least.
But just as the sound of beating wings behind your head many years ago caused you to drop to your knees and avoid the pecking beak of the swooping magpie, the sound of rapid footsteps alerts you so when you're shoved from behind your body is somehow ready.
It's a hard shove - your back is still a little sore, even now - so you have to take a couple of quick steps forward to catch yourself, but you don't trip or stumble.
Fight, flight, or freeze? It's not a conscious decision.
Fight. You spin to face your attacker and of course it's the angry BMX rider. You take a step forward, your hands move up and your feet slide into position. It's been twenty years since you studied karate but the basics are still embedded deep within your muscle memory. You slide into kokutsu dachi (back stance) as easy as you slide into bed at night.
Flight. Not expecting this reaction, this response, BMX guy turns and runs towards the bike he dropped in the middle of the crosswalk.
Big dog chases little dog. Again, not a conscious decision. You run after BMX guy and as he stoops to grab his bike you act without thinking (again) and return his shove. He trips over his bike. He gets back to his feet and turns to glare at you. You slide back into kokutsu dachi. Feet apart, body balanced, hands up, relaxed, ready...waiting.
Freeze. He stops.
You're both about the same age. You've got a couple of inches on him while he outweighs you, but not by much. It would probably be a fair fight if he wasn't carrying a weapon. Is he?
His hands go to his pockets.
You tell yourself that if he had a weapon he wouldn't have just shoved you in the back. And if he does, at this distance, your best course of action right now is still Fight!
You slide forward a step, maintaining kokutsu dachi, and his hands come out, empty.
Flight. He takes a step back. He's intimidated. He doesn't want to fight you now. He's pissed off that you beat him at whatever game he was trying to play, but he doesn't want to fight you. You're not the victim he was expecting. You weren't supposed to react like this.
His hands return to his pockets. Does he have a weapon? Or does he want you to think he has one.
You stood up to him, and then you knocked him down. You humiliated him. He wants you to think he has something. He wants to scare you to restore his ego.
You think all this without thinking it. You also still think your best course of action right now is Fight!
Again you slide forward, and again his hands come out, still empty. No weapon, just like you thought. Like you hoped.
But then...he makes a gun with his left hand. Like a kid on the playground. He points his 'finger gun' at you, cocks his thumb, then shoots you. When a little kid does it, it's funny. From this man in this situation it's a chilling sight. He wants to scare you. He wants you to think he has a gun. But if he did he would have pulled it by now. He would have used it. He hasn't, so he doesn't have a gun. Does he?
Fight. You slide forward.
Flight. He grabs his bike, jumps on and takes off. He didn't have a gun.
But...what if he did?