I had walked into that cafe and carefully spotted my seat. It was a self-service place, so I had to walk to the counter first. I placed my order and collected it, too. When I turned to my favorite high stool chair, I noticed it was taken. With a sad face, I walked past the men who had snatched my fate and tried to settle into one of the regular chairs. I was very uncomfortable and uneasy, there. It was in a dark corner and the adjacent group was quite noisy. No it wasn't a bunch of college kids. In fact, a group of senior citizens were having a re-union of some sort. Cute, I thought. But nonetheless, their constant chatter would not let me write that evening. And writing was as if a mission for me that day. 5 PM to 7 PM, I had decided. I had told myself that I had to write during these two hours. I was willing my brain cells to function and juice out the creativity. The pen couldn't just scribble on the pad now. My writing, ought to have more meaning to it.
Since morning I had prepared myself for it. Read a little during lunch, as if to familiarize myself with the string of alphabets that made reading a pleasure. But now: I was stuck in this cafe, in an uncomfortable chair because some creepy men had taken that table with the high stool chair. Not fair! He hadn’t even bought a coffee. He was sitting there just to use the WiFi. This is what happens in most self-service places, I thought.
Just then, my fate seemed to take a turn. A couch got vacant and this creepy duo decided to take to that reclining comfort. Hurrah! I thought. No, I am not exaggerating. Writing that day was extremely important. It was one self assuring act to make myself believe in Me again. The past week had been bad and writing was my only reclamation of fate. Yes, in my world this was important.
The men shifted to the couch, and unthinkingly I took the empty chairs. I placed my bag carefully on one chair, as if it were my date. However, my real date was with the paper and pen. Little did I know that those men were going to butt into this date.
Since they were creepy men and I had taken the seat they had occupied, I had attracted their attention like a magnet. They were staring at all women who walked in. My presence had come to their notice specifically and therefore I was the center of their attraction, especially since I was in clear, diagonal line of vision. They were strangely attracted to the XY chromosome race. When a female walked in, their eyes would almost impulsively turn to the direction and you could tell they were scanning from head to toe, and ogling at everything in between. They say, a woman knows a nasty man by his looks. I identified this blue shirt clad man, as one. He was not right.
However, the irony was that the women who walked in didn't care about his presence. I am sure; most of them didn't notice his existence at all. There were several girls, women, ladies and lassies that walked in. It was a popular cafe and this was a busy, Sunday evening. Women walked in, and they walked past. He was at his creepy act, and kept staring at me in spurts. I was judging him and the women, too. Some of them were slightly scantily clad, some were covered, some were beautiful and some even rough by my judgment. I was scared for them, me and us. Unknowingly, I was weighing their sense of dressing in my head and classifying the right and wrong. I hate to say this, but yes I was scared.
He was summing up every woman’s private parts in his head and then murmuring something to his friend, who took quick notes on a tissue paper. I am not sure what they were up to. I don’t know if it was some crass, cheap, perverted game they were at. But the whole situation, made me very uncomfortable. I was not okay with being the judgmental one here. I was not okay with the fact that I found myself vulnerable, uneasy, scared and most of all, I was not okay with being the subject of his sleazy leisure.
I was very conscious of how I was sitting: no crossed legs, not too much gap in between my lower limbs, hands in place. I was careful to ensure that I wasn't bending forward to let the neckline of my top, drop, ensuring that the ends of my scarf covered me necessarily. I felt blessed to be wearing a scarf, but I was also questioning myself on the need to dress up for this evening out. I was careful about my movement and cautious even when I shut my eyes to sneeze and yawn! It was not a nice feeling. I knew I was being watched. And no, this was not a random CCTV at a super market. Vulnerable was the best adjective here, but the magnanimity was far worse.
After several permutations and combinations of the possibilities of events, I made my way out of the cafe after a while. I carefully chose the exit which would let me mix in the crowd, though my house was closer from the other side. As I took the longer route home, I kept looking around to make sure I was not being followed.
I reached home, clicked the lights and first checked how I would raise an alarm, if hell broke loose. Two eyes, those two eyes and that stare had pierced me so hard, I realized.
When I went to bed that night, I wondered why I was so scared. My roots connected me to a country which is popular in the global news for all its hideous crimes against women. I knew all that and I had read about it, seen clips and videos of some accidents, too. I used to watch a TV show that featured these real stories to warn and educate people. These shows and those reports were intended to provide caution. However, there is a thin line that separates caution from paranoia. I, had unthinkingly, crossed that line.
That evening it was not just a pair of eyes that had left me trembling, but several cruel and reckless souls far, far away from where I was; had managed to shake my ground of positive thinking.
That evening, I reflected but never wrote.