Dad would call me a star and while he was there, I even thought I was one. It was a long time ago and sometimes I worry if I’m forgetting some of the things he taught me. You see, I’m ‘just’ a girl and it’s a great deal to write this down. I didn’t want people to think ill of me. In fact, I didn’t want people to think of me at all.
Yes, you would have figured, I worry about what people think. I’ve been like that all my life. Scared, self-conscious and hesitant. Hesitant to say what I ‘really’ felt when someone asked me ‘what do you think?’. It’s actually quite easy to say what I think. But there are consequences. My mother told me that. So did most of my teachers. My father didn’t. He said one must say exactly what they felt when asked to do so. It’s the only time one can. And he would laugh. Mother would give him a scornful look, he didn’t care. He died before I became an adult. My mother kept saying he wasn’t a practical man. He would have never made it. She married a ‘practical’ man. They hit it off pretty well. I just missed dad. An ‘adult’ is what the whole world seemed to be preparing me for everyday of my life. ‘You can do that when you’re on your own, you can say that, you can wear that, you can feel that.’ I believed everything. I guess it helped me become an adult. In a world where people always have a better idea of how you should live, it seemed like the right thing to do. Listen to people.
Then one day I watched a lady, fight with a man in the train. It was over a seat that the man had just occupied. He felt he had got there first. She said, she was waiting for it all this time. Both seemed to be right. It got a bit heated and he lost his temper. He told her that she was a ‘bitch’. She didn’t like that at all. At that moment I felt that she should back off and get through the day without an incident. Why wasn’t she saying sorry and moving away? What made her so arrogant? So audacious that she could stand and fight there with this stranger? My mother, or step-father would be surprised when I would narrate this over dinner tonight.
That’s when she hit him. I was petrified. What had she done? People in the train were shocked as well. I was nervous and was holding back my tears. She said, ‘how dare you call me that, you bastard?’. People gathered around and started yelling at her. ‘You shouldn’t speak like that, did your parents not teach you how to behave in public?’ They reminded her that she was a woman and she should know how to maintain her dignity. But what about their dignity I thought? Why were they not surprised that he had used the word ‘bitch’, while arguing about a seat? The now enraged man started abusing her even more. And then suddenly I heard a loud voice screaming ‘enough’ in the train.
Everyone turned and looked at me. And I let it flow.
I told them about how my mother taught me to shut up instead of speak-up, how to look away when I should be looking in the eye. How, my step-father taught me that, ‘men were men’ and that we women should learn the ways of the world. How, my teachers taught me to dress so that boys don’t harass me, instead of admonishing them. I told them that men always leered at women in the bus, but didn’t like other men looking at their daughters or wives. I told them how they had no right nor reason to side this ‘gentleman’ any more than to side her. It was between them and that since he had used a derogatory word first, it was he who was wrong. The lady who he had called a ‘bitch’ had not asked for the seat because she was a lady, but because she was patiently waiting beside it since a while. So instead of being graceful, how dare he use foul language? And what reason did they have to side him? Were they related? Were they hired? Or was it just that he was a man?
Then I turned my gaze away and peered through the window. My station had arrived. I noticed the station clock for what seemed like a long time. I turned to everyone in the carriage and they had backed away from the lady, who in turn, was watching me intently. Perhaps all of them thought I was insane. I was trembling as I got off the station. As I walked home, I realised what it meant to be an adult. I made a promise to my Dad. ‘Daddy, I might not be able to speak my mind all the time. But, if I need to, if it will mean something to someone, I will not hesitate for one moment.’