Hairs on the back of my neck whisper that I’m being followed but when I turn around nobody is there. The sensation occurs twice more and no matter how swiftly I check my six, somehow they manage to dodge behind a car or tree before I can catch them. I’m not sure where I picked them up, and I don’t know what they want, but they seem intent on following me all the way. Where I’m going feels less certain the more I focus on the person following me and what their reasons might be. I don’t consider myself paranoid; although I work with classified information and am required to swear my dedication to the company and country daily, I don’t think a spy is following me. More likely, it’s someone who wants to know where someone like me would go on a day like today. I understand this because I also like to follow people. In fact, I was following a woman before becoming preoccupied with being followed myself.
My follower seems to be closing the gap. I try a trick; I take out my phone and act like I’m filming myself, when really I’m using the camera to look behind me. All I see on the screen is half of my reversed face, the sidewalk behind me, parked cars staggered along the street, the occasional tree, the less occasional abandoned mattress, shopping cart, and the dumped out contents of a stolen purse. I’m not going to turn around until I feel we’re close enough that I can grab them before they can duck away. Then I notice, someone else is now following my follower! I cut down a different block to try and elude them, but my follower stays hot on my heels. Soonafter, their follower also rounds the bend. They have to know they’re being followed, just as I know I’m being followed. I try to focus on remembering where I’m headed, and that’s when I see the woman I’d been following earlier leaving an apartment building with a small dog on a leash. Is it her dog? Is she walking a friend’s dog? Is she one of those professional dog walkers you see all over town? These are the kinds of questions I ask when I’m following someone. The dog stops to smell a spot, pees on that spot, and then, a few steps later, shits next to a homemade Please Scoop Your Dog’s Poop sign. The woman obliges. I’m nearly alongside her as she resumes her walk with a little baggie of shit in her hand. She glances at me unawares, like she had no idea I’d been following her, but also with that faint recognition you have for someone you noticed following you at a different time, as though she thought she’d ditched me, but now I’d caught up to her and was going to do what I’d followed her to do. I realize that I have followed this woman before and knew she lived here, but I don’t want to return the vague impression of familiarity she’s imparting onto me, so I nod and try to act natural, when suddenly there’s a commotion behind us. A quarter of the way up the block, we see two men fighting. It’s my follower and his follower! I can’t tell who is who, but one has the other in a headlock and the headlocked one is trying to push his headlocker into a wrought iron fence. The woman says, “Jesus Christ,” to herself, to the world, to the dog, to me, to nobody. “I think those guys were following me earlier,” I say to her. She responds knowingly, “Well, that’s what people do around here.” I chuckle, and lower my gaze. The dog stares up at me expectantly. A passing car slows to watch the fight. That’s when I see someone standing further down the sidewalk, past the fight, watching the two fighters, engrossed in the consequences of this business of following. Feeling emboldened by the two former followers, now fighters, as they struggle to the ground, as well as the prospect of another follower beyond them, I say to the woman, “You want to keep walking together, in case someone else starts following us? Strength in numbers?” She looks through me. Hints of a smile tease the corners of her mouth. She has large brown eyes, and I notice they have freckles that form constellations that expand onto her cheeks, freckles that indicate she contains a galaxy within herself, like she knows everything that has happened in the world, if not what is yet to happen. And she drops the leash and raises her fists.