Walking Backwards by Dino Costi
In Walking Backwards, the reader is literally walked back in time by Costi. The story’s retrograde setting is one in which women are valued most as wives and child-bearers. Marriage is constantly on the minds of Sabrina, Abigail, and Caroline, not as a possibility but as a fate. But as the three girls find an eerie man in an open field, the domestic progression of their lives is powerfully challenged.
“There was a man walking amongst the trees, a black shadow beneath the branches. His movement struck them as peculiar: his legs were taking each step in a slow and awkward manner, the motion of his body verging on non-human. Only upon his emerging from the copse did it become apparent that he was dressed all in black, from his boots to his hat – a fashion that seemed most unusual to them. But that was the least concerning discovery. They realised, with deep discomfort, that he was walking backwards. Worse still, he was heading in their direction.”
The backwards-walking man is a haunting embodiment of the oppressive, regressive patriarchal society the three girls are trapped in. As Sabrina watches on, her fear soon turns into curiosity – it is as if she has glimpsed some alternate version of life that she never knew existed until now.
Costi’s use of the thriller genre is masterful in its small-town suspense. The town’s eventual dismissal of Sabrina’s stories suffocates the reader, the marriages of the three girls becoming more horrific than the man in the field. The marital obedience and domestic lifestyle that becomes Sabrina’s reality reads as the story’s worst possible outcome. Soon, in a clever genre subversion, the reader comes to long for the backwards man to return. And when he does, it is like a bell of freedom.
The symbolism of the backwards man works as a double meaning: Sabrina’s independent nature and zest for exploration is considered “backwards” by her society. At the end, as she herself walks backwards, she is walking against the grain of her society and everything she knows, forging her own feminist path into an emancipated future.
Bruna Gomes, Fiction Editor