How I stopped a man from mugging me
I was 15 and a junior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. I took the subway home from school.
One Friday, instead of going straight home, some friends and I went for ice cream. Then I went to a book store near the Empire State Building. By the time I was done browsing the aisles, it was after 8 PM and dark. I went to the nearest subway station to catch a train home.
The platform was deserted except for me and a tall man wearing a sweatshirt and a baseball cap. He approached me. Probably in his 30s, he was at least a foot taller than my 5'2".
“Can you give me directions to the Empire State Building?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. I could help him. “You don’t need to take the subway, you’re just a couple of blocks away.”
I took my time to make sure he wouldn’t get lost. I told him exactly which exit to take and which way to turn at the top of the stairs.
“Just look up, in that direction,” I said, vaguely pointing. “You won’t miss it.”
“Thank you,” he said with a bright smile. I smiled back. He walked away.
A few minutes later, my train arrived and I went home. I forgot about that interaction as I immersed myself in my latest book.
However, on Monday, chatting with friends, it came up in conversation.
“It was sorta weird,” I said. “I mean, maybe he was from out of town, not to realize he was right near the Empire State Building.”
“Shefali,” said one of my friends with a pitying look on her face. “You idiot. He wasn’t looking for directions.”
“He wasn’t?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “He was getting ready to mug you.”
“Are you kidding?” I said. I assumed muggers would stick a gun in your back or something, not approach you face to face and start a conversation.
“That’s how they scope you out,” said another friend. Then she started to laugh. “I can’t believe it! Shefali talked a guy out of mugging her!”
I joined in the laughter, sorta bemused.
Looking back, maybe they were right. Or maybe he was just a lost person asking directions. I prefer to think he was the latter. Maybe someone from out of town. Or maybe someone who did know where the New York icon was, but wanted some human contact or confirmation.
I don’t know, but I’m glad I treated him as a potential friend instead of a hostile stranger.