A couple of nights ago my front door bell rang. I wasn't expecting any callers. I was on my own. It was 8.30pm, and dark outside.
It might have been a neighbour, but without opening the door I couldn't possibly say. Well, should I open it and find out?
I didn't. I decided that 8.30pm was too late in the evening to risk anything. A friend - or my next-door neighbours - would have my mobile number, and text or ring to say they were outside. So it wasn't any of them. Someone like the police or an emergency service would ring my doorbell again and again, and generally make properly persistent efforts to attract my attention.
But the bell wasn't rung again. Odd. No, this was positively creepy!
Who could it have been? Were they still standing there? Anyone could see my car outside, and the lights on inside the house, and therefore know that I must be at home. Were they waiting patiently in the dark for curiosity to get the better of me? So that if I went to the front door, and opened it even just a bit, they'd step forward and force their way in? I decided there was no way I'd open that door. My apologies to any innocuous caller, but I was, after all, a woman living on her own, and such a person is entitled not to open her front door after dark. I stayed away from it, not even peeping out hours later when going to bed. I felt this was the right and sensible thing to do. What the police would have advised.
In the morning, at breakfast-time, I opened the door and looked out. Perhaps it had been someone selling something, or collecting for some charity, or a neighbour with a parcel, but there was no leaflet through the flap, and nothing left outside on the doorstep. That was two mornings ago, and nothing has happened since to explain the ringing of my doorbell.
Was it rung by mistake, someone genuinely visiting a house on my road but getting the address wrong? Could it have been that builder chap from a short while back, who told me about my loose roof tiles, then chatted me up? Was it a deranged killer or rapist, seeking a victim at random? Who knows.
In the Old Life, I might have opened that door. I still remember an incident during the winter of 2001/02, when M--- and I had stayed up very late, her elderly mum (who was by then being looked after by M---) feeling poorly and needing comforting. It was about 1.00pm on a very foggy night. Suddenly M---'s doorbell went. I grabbed a powerful torch, and went out to see who it was.
It was a slightly tipsy man in his twenties. I shone the torch light into his eyes. He said that he was lost. He'd come out of the pub, had turned the wrong way, and had eventually seen our lights. Could he use our phone to call a taxi? It wasn't my house, and it was imperative that M---'s mum wasn't frightened - and so I said no, and asked him to go away. He got rather annoyed by this refusal. So I snapped directions to the main road at him, and told him to push off now - and was very aggressive and unfriendly with my torch light. It clearly dazzled him, but then I intended that. He did go, muttering and swearing, and quickly disappeared into the fog. He didn't come back - but as you might guess, we didn't sleep easily.
In the years since, I've become much less bold. I'm much more nervous now about who it might be, and what might happen, when the doorbell rings unexpectedly. A pervading feeling of vulnerability has grown.
I feel that I shouldn't be like this. It's really most unlikely that anyone with criminal intent is going to burst in halfway through the evening, when the street lights are still on, when nearby neighbours are still up and watching TV, and would see and hear any commotion, and could intervene. But I don't want to take unnecessary risks.
What is it? Modern times? An exaggerated fear of crime? Or just the creeping natural anxiety of old age tightening its grip on me?