When a strange man tells a 52-year-old woman her beauty shines with the warmth of the sun, it’s time to cross the street and head for home.

He might have spotted me when I pulled out the tourist map at the canal bridge, the spot where I completely lost my bearings. Reading a map on the street is about as stupid a thing as a woman walking alone can do, especially when it’s one of those brightly coloured tourist maps. I might as well have fastened a sign to my head with “Good Canadian Passport & Credit Cards Here.”

He came alongside at the red light where Dr. Schneiderstrasse and Aarbergstreasse meet, making his compliment there. The light changed and shoulder-to-shoulder, he stayed with me as he jabbered on, his eyes roving up and down and then to  my knapsack. He swiveled his head around: Checking for traffic? Or for witnesses?

There were people across the street waiting for the light, but I realized that they were it – as soon as they crossed and went past me and this unwelcome shadow, we would be alone.

I’m like an Alzheimer’s patient when I go out for a stroll, wandering until I’m in the wrong neighbourhood, like when two fish-netted hookers in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside had to show me the way out.

As the stranger and I met up with the gaggle, I turned in my tracks and joined them. I glanced back and saw the man, his scalp visible through the stripes of his slicked-back hair, walking quickly up the road, his face turned toward me, his teeth showing in a broad grin.