By Samira Kidman
Illustrations by Debasmita Dasgupta
I am sitting on a bus next to the aisle, watching people inside and outside. The weather is lovely. My new sunglasses are on.
My ride is quite long and in a while, I see this 14-year-old boy coming in and standing in front of me. Next, I see a 50-year-old man doing the same, but standing right behind the boy so close that the young one has to physically resist. The old man stretches both hands to the grab handles above, locking the way out for the boy. Now, being a kid, he tries to move a bit, gets nervous, sweats, sighs, rolls his eyes. Nothing works – the old man does not react and ignores the kid’s body language. Seeing that, I turn my face to the boy and as if he is with me, I say (very strict): “Come, stand next to me.”
The man looks at me but the only thing he sees is his reflection in my big new black sunglasses.
He unlocks his hands and the boy is able to move to my side. I can see the relief on his face. There is someone on his side on the bus. He is not alone.
Unfortunately, I know exactly what the boy is feeling at this very moment. Fifteen years ago (plus or minus), a drunk man who was sitting next to me started slowly putting his hand on my knee and obviously was not thinking of stopping there. It was a summer day. I had a window seat, hoping to get some wind on my ride back home from school. Sun was burning my skin through the bus window. It was so hot I had to keep my hand up to cover my eyes from harsh rays. In old days, we had no AC buses, so my red face started sweating immediately. I was wearing a black skirt that ended slightly above my knees and a t-shirt. When this man sat next to me, I smelled alcohol and turned my face away towards the window. In some time, I noticed he had kept his hand between me and him on the seat. Then he touched my knee. I looked at him but he was looking towards the opposite side. I was too shy and embarrassed to even ask him to move it away. I started breathing heavily and didn’t know how to react. I moved my knee a bit away, but he used this movement to slide his hand a little higher. The whole world seemed to be one big burning hell. I desperately started looking at people for help. But no one seemed to be bothered by him as much as by the heat.
When I looked at him our eyes met and I saw how high he was. His half-closed eyes were looking through me. The only thing I could say was: “Please, take your hand off.” I remember the reply that came out of his mouth along with the smell of alcohol: “Alrighty.”
But it wasn’t going to be alright ever, was it? Can a broken mirror be put together again? I was shivering despite the heat, petrified that he might follow me till my flat. The burning anxiety of the incident stayed with me like a cold volcano waiting for the next crack to form.
Now, with this scene in my head, I lean towards the boy: “Someday, some man, most likely woman, will need your help more than you needed help today. You understand?” He nods.
It was one bus in one city in one country. Think about all the hotel rooms, offices, malls, streets, building blocks and so many other places all over the world where similar things might be happening at this very moment. You know why? Because molesters know that they won’t be punished. Because they know that no one will delay her/his walk to office or school to report him. And if it happens in your family, what shall you do? Will they believe you? Or will it be buried under the heaviness of family ties?
You think the old man who got down from my bus didn’t take another one?
This year was crucial for so many women who came out and told their #metoo stories. It has turned big industries like filmmaking and television upside down. Many men of different professions stood along with us despite knowing it might harm their own interests. The more we hear people speaking or standing by us, whatever their gender, the more we get the courage to speak ourselves.
And sometimes it is a simple thing that’s needed for us to do one by one – to do for someone else, what you wish someone could have done for you.
Samira Kidman is an Azerbaijani film editor who studied at FTII. She is based both in Mumbai and Baku.