I just found this piece I wrote in the early ’90s. It still holds up – unfortunately.
I am waiting at a bus stop when I spot him out of the corner of my eye. He is edging closer to me, hesitating. Finally he asks: “Do you have the time?”
I turn to face him. He has black rivets for eyes, greasy hair and a grim, tight mouth. He is holding a half-wilted blood-red rose wrapped in cellophane.
I check my watch and tell him the time, then turn away. But I can still sense him hovering near me. I peer up the street, my demeanor saying Where’s that darn bus? – while my mind screams Go away! Go away!
Moments pass. My skin prickles. I feel him eyeing me, plotting. Then:
“Does this bus go to the métro?”
I don’t look at him. I feel his fixed stare boring through me. “Yes,” I say, abruptly. That’s where I’m going, I want to add, and don’t you dare follow me.
Finally the bus comes. I get on first. I thread my way down the aisle and sit down beside another woman, feeling safer in company. I carefully focus my gaze out the window, away from the riders. I fear that any eye contact with him could be mistaken for an implicit ‘contract’ that something more is going to happen.
The bus starts rolling. Tiny antennae on the back of my head strain to pick up his location on the bus. My anger begins to swell. How dare he! What gives him the right to stare at me, to invade my privacy, my psyche!
The bus creeps forward through heavy traffic, block by block. Still I avert my gaze from the passengers, and continue to look out the window. I do not want to face the dead-eyed stranger.
The trip is endless. I feel like a hostage, at the mercy of someone’s bizarre whim.
At last we approach my destination: the métro transfer point. My heart begins to pound. Will he follow me? What should I do? Should I get off first? Last? Would it make any difference? Damn it! If only I didn’t feel so vulnerable.
I decide to leave the bus first, and scramble toward the front as soon as it pulls to a stop. The bus doors open. I step down and cross the street, aiming for the métro station. My back feels exposed, tingly, as though a sharpshooter is taking aim at it.
As I near the station, I realize I am more enraged than frightened. I am ready to confront him — even if it means making a ‘scene,’ which is normally not in my repertoire.
Finally I turn around and peek behind me.
He is not there. I scan the pedestrians flowing about me. He is nowhere to be seen.
I sigh as I realize I’ve been ‘had’ – by my own conditioned mind. Reflexive terror and anger arose and grew, based on countless experiences of liberties taken, boundaries disrespected, privacy invaded. Suspicion and cynicism were fuelled by other women’s stories, journalists’ news articles and columns. Women as prey.
We never know, that’s the problem. A stare today, a push tomorrow, a punch, a knife, a bullet… We women understand all too well: the hatred is out there; it is only the manner and degree of its expression that changes.
Oh, I have taken self-defence classes. It’s nice to know techniques for channeling the adrenalin of rage and fear into self-protective action. But – why should we have to defend ourselves in the first place? Are we living in a jungle with wild beasts?
No. Men are human beings like us, aren’t they? If some of them hate us, maybe it’s time to examine why this is so, and change things. And if it is too late for the adult haters among us, perhaps it is not too late for male infants present and future. May our granddaughters be spared the role of victims; may our grandsons be taught to love and respect women.
But for now, I will continue to be on guard. Some people may call it paranoia – but most of them will be men.