Every night I used to walk my way back home from work. And during this me-time, I would think about the day which was about to end in a couple of hours.
‘How I managed to answer that question in class today’
‘How I shouldn’t have said that’
‘How I could have answered him back in various ways, but I chose to be quiet’
And a list of things to ponder over.
And there I was, at the gate of my house!
Engrossed in my own thoughts, I never noticed that I was being noticed. From how long, I had no idea. But yes, I was being continuously noticed and followed. I didn’t know and I would never have known maybe, until the day he stopped my way.
He stopped me just to say that I was beautiful.
I was supposed to feel good about the compliment, but I wasn’t feeling that way and that didn’t feel like a compliment either. On the contrary, it made me feel ugly!
Next some days, I would notice him smiling at me and would ignore it and try to ‘think’ like always (but I failed, as there were many unwanted unpleasant thoughts clouding up my space). I felt lost!
“Why is he smiling?” I wondered.
It continued for a month or so, while my journeys back home were becoming more about nervousness and bewilderment. Gradually, I would now see him near my workplace and then following me home. He knew my workplace, he knew my house and he was for sure indecent, so I had all the reasons to be scared. Still a teenager, I barely knew what was in store for me.
His feet behind mine, were getting closer by each passing day. I could not see him, but I could clearly feel him coming behind and coming close. Sometimes alone and sometimes with a friend now, he would follow me everywhere! I went to teach my students and that would approximately take around 4 hours (considering I had 3 students to take care of and I often used to lose track of time).
I wondered if he was standing there all 4 hours or would come at the approximate time to harass me, because no matter what, he was always there when I left for home.
Work started becoming less attractive to mind and more terrorizing to heart. But it was important, so I continued. And so did he!
A couple of months had passed since he first had come to me and a lot had changed since then. Now he has a motorbike and a lot of courage.
‘You’re beautiful’ has now become ‘Oye Sexy’. His smiles had turned into giggles and laughter sometimes. (I wonder what they used to talk for the kind of wicked smiles that were exchanged amongst them)
I could not sleep well during the nights and would not want to get out of my bed every morning.
“I am becoming lazy” I thought.
But actually, it was reluctance and fear. A 16 year old mind did not want to imagine what was on its way but the heart would still pound every time it was alone.
At school, I started keeping quiet. People thought I was becoming studious, but only I knew what was going inside. I was planning on how I would tackle things this evening and take everything to my stride. I was happy for I could take charge of the situation in the dreams I saw, open eyed. I planned daily, till I thought it was perfect. I articulated every detail in my head based on what has been happening all this while.
After school, on my way to work, I felt powerful, for today I had decided to respond. Today I’m going to be in control and bring him down.
“What does he think of himself?”
“Why should I tolerate this non sense everyday?”
“I am equipped with self defense and I should know how to use it!” I was instilling confidence in myself.
Eyes on watch, I was waiting for it to show me 21:30 and I would today show him a side of me I wasn’t even sure I had. Wearing my shoes and leaving work, I had a last recap of the things I would say. Out from the building I saw him!
Step I completed!
He winked at me and his smile today had some other level of dirt in it. All my plans went to ‘Snooze Mode’ for it was a little evident that he had planned something for today as well. Taking a step back, I thought –
“Okay! let him come, then I’ll show him how it’s done” and I started walking towards home, trying to calm myself down and revising the month-long plan in my head.
It wasn’t even 2 minutes on the road that I realized that they were 4 of them on 2 bikes. Racing sometimes ahead of me and sometimes behind, they would just stop and make the annoying sound of the accelerator every 2 minutes, which absolutely terrified me to no end. They would pass disgusting remarks and make signs I had no clue about.
20 minutes of walk seemed to be longer than 2 hours and by the time I reached home, I could feel the uneasiness sinking deep inside me. That day, I could not cook the dinner well. Salt missing and spices all splurged. I got a scolding, which on a normal day would have brimmed me up in a second. But today was no normal day for me, today I was not bothered by the familiar voices but was haunted by the accelerating bikes instead.
I started keeping unwell with no evident reason of illness. Weakness, uneasiness and restlessness kept on surfacing every now and then and I could not concentrate, neither on my studies nor on my students. But I tried fighting it out. I would sit and plan everything every night and get a little more scared every next evening. I would even document some plans, like it was my master plan this time, which I desperately wanted to execute. But that never happened.
Days were longer and harder to pass now. But I hoped that everything would soon be fine. And that one day I would be laughing on how silly I was to be terrorized by something like this. I tried to convince myself that I was over-reacting and that nothing will happen.
For those who are wondering why I did not talk about it to anyone, family or friend, I would want to remind you that I was a tomboy all my life and resultantly, I never had a girl-friend with whom I could share my confusion or anxiety and with guys, I was all ‘manly’ and sharing these things with them was something I was never comfortable doing. As far as my family was concerned, I was the youngest child who wanted to look all ‘macho’ and ‘in-control’ all the time. Moreover, with the financial crunches that hovered over us and the kind of loving family that I am blessed with, I was scared they would tell me to quit teaching and I wasn’t ready to accept that I would be the only non-earning member of my family. Everyone had asked me to leave it before as well, when they saw me struggling with my own curriculum. So I was convinced that talking it out with my family would eventually worry them and lead me to become ‘just’ a normal student (which I never wanted to be, I always wanted to stand out as one who did more than what was categorized as normal. I always wanted to be the special kid and an extra-ordinary girl and I worked hard to be one)
It was exam time now. Mine and for my students! I used to go and teach them on Sundays as well now. It was fun teaching and I had started liking them, for they would give me something that I wanted so desperately (apart from money) – Peace of mind!
So, Sunday it was! Streets all lonely and shops all closed, I was returning home at around 7 p.m. today. To my surprise, the men were not there and that made me so happy and relieved. Walking and revising for my own exam, I was half way home, when I saw 3 motorbikes rushing towards me. I gave them way and moved to the extreme left side of the road, but that did not save me from their clutches. The first bike outraged my modesty, second, my whole system and third threw me across the road. Down on the road, with clothes all tattered, bleeding from my elbow, I could hear them laughing and taking a U-turn.
In that very moment, I forgot all the plans that had been made so articulately all these months and all I did was to get up to run. But they were, way faster than me with the vehicles in hand. Encircling me with the bikes, I got chills remembering that Bollywood movie, whose name I could never remember thereafter. I was never this scared. Never this shivery. I tried shouting, but the tears made them feeble. They still were laughing and abusing me in a way I had not even seen in movies. They were evidently drunk and now 2 of them had started unzipping their pants.
The bikes stopped and I could see the two men among the six, coming towards me. One of them was all prepared for something I wasn’t. That was the moment in which I started running. Ran like I had no other option, I paced faster than I thought I ever could. Shouting from behind, I could hear the bikes starting again. I did not have time. With motorbikes behind me, I was fully aware that I could never reach home in before them, no matter how hard I tried.
I saw this building in front of me where there lived a doctor I had known. I rushed inside and fell on the stairs trying to be faster. 4th floor it was, I rang the bell in hurry. Poor lady was an old doctor and she came as fast as she could while my mind was busy trying to figure out a Plan – B, in case she did not open the door. She opened the main gate and I rushed in without wasting a second. She got scared (obviously). Inside, I’d shut the door behind me and I could see her, all bewildered. She was scared to see me there as I was bleeding from my nose and the blood from my elbow was now dripping down on the floor through my fingers by now. I explained her and begged her to let me make some calls, which she agreed to. Mobile phones were still rare 10 years ago and I called as many numbers as I could remember. Some said they were busy, others had some unavoidable urgency. Finally I called my brother who was at a distance from the doctor’s house but comforted me saying that he will send his friend ASAP as he lived very nearby. I don’t remember if he took more time than expected or I was too restless to wait, but he came.
So I was there inside, all shivering and restless. I could see the woman getting nervous too. And that was justified!
She was a woman, who had been living alone. Someone barging into her private space was unacceptable. But I still feel thankful for the lady saved me in a way no other did that day.
Maybe around an hour later, I heard a familiar voice calling out my name. I was relieved! I rushed down to see my brother who had come with 4 of his friends. The gang was still standing and waiting behind them, which rushed away seeing me with help there.
He had brought a bed sheet with himself, which I don’t think he realized how thoughtful it was. I covered myself up and finally felt warm.
14 days and I did not have the courage to step out of my house. Locked in my room, I would sit and cry over the glimpse of something I was not supposed to remember. I knew karate, some of it, but I could not use it. I had nails, but I could not scratch them. I had voice, but I could not raise it. I felt so wasted. But I had to accept that this was the way I was. I had to change. How? No idea!
I knew leaving work was not an option. And I knew what happened that night could possibly happen again. So I had to think of ways to protect myself. I started coming back home before 10 at any cost, till I was strong enough to fight it back. No weekend work, no walking while returning and some other measures that I thought would help.
Things could have gone worse, it really could have. But I was lucky!
Not everyone is!
So ladies, take care of yourself!
Only you can do that. Be careful, be the lioness you are!
A man tore the top I was wearing that day and a man brought me sheets to cover myself up! It depends on you, what kind of a man do you prefer to be!