“I help you,” he said.
“Thanks, but I’m fine,” I said. We walked along the ice-covered sidewalk in the dark. I didn’t know him. I stepped on an ice patch and spun. My oversized backpack pulled me down to one knee. He helped me up, picked up my backpack, and slung it over his shoulder.
“I buy you coffee,” he said.
“No,” I said. “It’s late, and my boyfriend is waiting for me to call.” I continued walking and he walked next to me. It was after 10 pm.
“One coffee. Come with me.”
I used a Bulgarian expression that was supposed to end any request. “I want, I want, but I can’t.” I’d been traveling for hours back from Athens were I’d spent the New Year. In my backpack were dirty clothes, souvenirs, and Christmas presents.
He trotted alongside me. “Tea. Come have tea.”
Walking to my apartment building didn’t seem wise, but I didn’t know where else to go, and it wasn’t unusual for Bulgarians to offer help. Bulgarians I didn’t know were often giving me food and carrying my things and giving me rides. But the city had no money to de-ice the roads or sidewalks nor to keep the street lights lit. Twice he had to catch me to keep me from falling, and we were alone on the street. “I’m going home,” I said.
We got to my building, and I decided I wouldn’t unlock the door with him standing there. The lights in the stairwell didn’t work. “Thank you for your help,” I said and held out my hand for my backpack.
“I buy you a coffee,” he said. He was near 40 perhaps, wide shoulders, and large hands.
“No, thanks. Really. My boyfriend is waiting for me to call. I need to go.”
“I help you.”
“Hand me my bag, please.”
Moonlight reflected around us on the ice and snow. “No,” he said.
I didn’t understand. “My bag, please.”
“Give me my bag. Please.”
“Give me my bag!”
He ran. I ran after him, sliding on the ice. At the corner I stopped. Around the corner the street was darker. Trees kept back the moonlight and that next street looked like the entrance to a cave. I wasn’t going that far to save a backpack.
I didn’t start shaking until I got into my apartment and picked up the phone. The next day, a Bulgarian friend took me to the police station… but that is another story.
It is hard to know when to end a chapter. You’re supposed to make the reader want to turn the page–just one more chapter and then I’ll go to bed–but the rhythm has to be there too. I’m looking for that beat in the action. Does that make sense? You don’t want the reader to be confused or unsatisfied–what? That’s is it? Did I miss something?
How do you know when to end a chapter?