I refuse to be a victim.
This is the second guest article by Grace, whom I hope will become one of our regular contributing writers here. If you’re expecting something girly, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you have a real down on men, then I suppose it’ll ding all your bells, but that’d be a very narrow reading of both it and her.
It’s more about being in a frightening situation, about being really scared and yet refusing to be paralysed by it. One way or another, we’ve all been there irrespective of our dangly bits. It’s about hanging on in, managing the situation for just the next few precious survival moments, using your wits when that’s all you’ve got to hand. It’s about reading people, old-fashioned smarts and some true grit.
On the rare occasion when I allow myself the luxury of going off mission on this blog and write what can be termed a “personal” piece, I give myself no quarter, absolutely none. It’s raw truth or otherwise it’s just the vanity ramblings of yet another sad sack blogger on an ego trip. Any guest writer here punting in a personal piece to me gets held to that same exacting standard. Grace knew that and punted anyway. I’ve neither added nor subtracted a single word, and I’m publishing it.
“You missed the turn. Don’t worry, just take the next right and we can go round the block.”
“What’s the matter? You missed that too. Turn right at the top of the hill and we can come back.”
Continued silence from the driver of the car. “What does he think he’s doing?”
They continued along the highway at speed, the lights and streets of the suburbs dwindling away into the blackness of a country night.
“Where are we going?” Again no answer. “My mother will be furious if I’m not home by eleven.”
And still they sped into the night. It slowly dawned on her that she might be in trouble here. There were no more traffic lights, no more opportunities to jump out at any stops. She looked at the profile of the boy behind the wheel, his eyes fixed on the road ahead, his expression grim.
His name was Frank and he’d only been working at her office for a couple of months. She and all her other young workmates had a Friday Night Social Club; they went to the movies, played tennis under lights, went to dances or bowling and sometimes to a party at one of their houses. They were like all kids their age; couldn’t wait to turn twenty one and finally be regarded as adults, with the boys sometimes sneaking out the back door for a sip of beer or a quick smoke that their big brothers had bought, but they were a nice crowd and her mother let her go on these outings on condition she was home by eleven – or there’d be hell to pay.
She was seventeen.
That night the crowd had been tenpin bowling and they’d had a great time. Frank wasn’t her boyfriend; she didn’t have a boyfriend because her mother said she was too young, but he seemed a nice quiet sort of chap with a ready smile and when he asked if he could take her home after their team won with a top score, she said “Yes, thank you”. She lived about ten minutes away.
Now they were hurtling through the dark with little other traffic on the road, and she was afraid.
After half an hour or so the car slowed and his indicator flashed orange as he took a right turn. “Thank God – he’s going back.” But he wasn’t.
He was driving an old Chrysler, bench seats, patchy paintwork; he’d told her he was doing it up as he could afford it. An unsealed gravel road had appeared in the scrubby bush at the roadside and he turned along it, driving fairly slowly as stones banged and thudded under the car.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She tried to make her voice sound authoritative and indignant, anxious to hide any fearful tremor. “I told you my mother is expecting me home. Turn around NOW.”
He pulled the car into a clearing by the roadside, doused the lights and turned off the ignition. “What are you DOING?” Her voice sounded strident, panic not far away. He reached down beside his seat, she heard a click and suddenly the back of the bench seat fell away behind her. “Good isn’t it? Big as a double bed” he smirked.
She grabbed the door handle and her bag which had been sitting in her lap and jumped out of the car. The driver’s door opened and he got out. “Aaww come on back” he whined. She began to run, stumbling on the rocky uneven road.
“Aah, piss off then ya little prick tease”, closely followed by the slamming of the car door. The headlights exploded into a flash of light in the deep dark of the bush, he gunned the engine and spun in a turn and billowing clouds of dust. She moved to the side of the road to let him pass, turned around and saw the headlights coming straight for her. She jumped into the spikey undergrowth which tore at her skirt and ripped her stockings as the car flashed past, red tail-lights dimmed by the billowing dust, gritty in her throat and making her eyes water. Of course it was the dust – no way was she crying. The lights and the car soon disappeared over a rise in the ground and she was plunged into black silence, dust still hanging in the air.
At first she was fearful that he wouldn’t come back for her, and then she was afraid that he would.
With no idea where she was, or how far she was from home, she was certain of one thing; there was no way she could get back in that car. If he came back she would hide from him. Her feet were killing her as the rocks and gravel punched into the thin soles of her shoes and there was no grassy verge to walk on, just spikey undergrowth on both sides.
As she walked she tried to make sense of what had happened. What did he want? It wouldn’t have hurt to kiss him she supposed. “Big as a double bed” – he obviously had other things in mind. Slowly her fright turned to a burning anger. She had never given him any reason to think she was THAT sort of girl – never kissed him or showed much interest in him at all. Wait till she told them at the office what he’d done – the boys at work were decent sorts and they wouldn’t like it at all.
Her tiny wristwatch was too small to read in the dark and she had no idea what time it was. Her mother would be furious – she’d be getting a hiding for sure. She thought of her father. Once, when she was little, he’d explained what courage and bravery were – it meant doing something even when you were afraid, but doing it anyway because it was the right thing to do. She knew she’d done the right thing getting out of that car.
Tears pricked at her eyes. It wasn’t the stinging end of the hated feather duster cane that upset her, it was the thought of her Dad – he’d be so disappointed in her. How could she be stupid enough to get into a car with a boy she barely knew?
Presently she topped a rise in the dirt road and could see headlights on the highway ahead, cars and the distant sound of lorries speeding by. When she reached the highway she turned east, heading for home with no idea how far it was or how long it would take to get there. At first she hoped a passing car would stop, but then she was afraid one would. What if there were more than one man in the car? What chance would she have then? Maybe a police car would stop, wondering what a young girl was doing on the roadside. What if, maybe, perhaps – that wasn’t going to get her home and she kept on walking.
Eventually a car slowed and pulled up ahead of her. She stopped, not sure what she should do. The two front doors opened and her heart jammed in her throat. Then relief flooded through her – it was an old couple – a man and a lady, and they must have been at least forty!
They were heading to the city from interstate and had been driving all night. It was 2.30am. As they drove her home she told them what had happened and they said she was about thirty miles from where she lived. They commended her for jumping out of the car, and said they were glad to be able to help. They had a daughter her age, and were worried when they saw her on the roadside at that time of night.
Sadly for her, that feather duster was quite deaf, and stung her legs anyway – explanations went unheeded. On Monday morning, after she’d told her workmates what had happened, Frank disappeared at lunchtime, turning up a few days later with a big plaster on his broken nose and a front tooth missing. She never knew what had happened to him and he only turned up to collect his termination pay. Her friends from the Social Club were especially kind to her after that.
Fast forward ten years – much had changed in the world.
A rainy Friday night in the city, and she was headed home after a long day at the office; in fact it had been a long week. Her head was full of shipping manifests and client gripes, and she was glad to be getting back to her apartment to put her feet up.
The taxi driver was attempting to make small talk and she answered him in perfunctory monosyllables. He persisted. She was due interstate next week and she was trying to mentally go through her check-list of what still needed to be done for the meeting with her prospective clients.
“Have you lived in the city long?” the driver asked. “Long enough” she breathed with a patience she didn’t feel. “Oh shut the fuck up – I’m tired.”
The cab pulled up outside her building and she told him to keep the change, a sort of half-hearted unspoken apology for being such a cow when he was only trying to be polite. She turned the key in her front door gratefully and flicked on the lights. Dropping her brief case by the hall table, she was headed to the bathroom when she heard a knock at the door. “What the …? It’s late.”
She stood on tiptoe and peered through the peephole in the door. Through the fish-eye lens, and in the light on the landing, she recognised the distorted image of the taxi driver. The safety chain was secured (a long-term habit) so she opened the door as far as the chain would allow. “You left your umbrella in the cab – I thought you might need it.” He was offering her the forgotten umbrella.
Already feeling bad for being a grouch, she smiled at him and unslipped the chain. “Thank you so much.” As she reached for the umbrella he grabbed her forearm and shoved her back into the apartment, pinning her against the wall behind her. He kicked the door shut behind him.
A dozen things flashed through her mind. She was pinned by his whole body, his erection hard, so no leg-room to knee him in the balls; he had her arms pinned so she couldn’t go for his eyes or his nose, and she had kicked off her shoes as she came in and dropped her bag, so no hope of doing any damage in stockinged feet.
So … she smiled at him.
“What’s so funny?” he hissed.
“Is this your idea of whispering sweet nothings in a girl’s ear?”
He looked startled and cocked his head at her quizzically, still pinning her to the wall.
“I’m sorry – I’ve had a really shitty day and this just about tops it off. I really need to make some coffee – would you like some?”
He let her go and stepped back. “Sure – thanks. White and two sugars.”
“How fucking stupid IS this jerk?”
“Have you had a bad day too? I’m sure driving a taxi can be a bitch sometimes.” as she headed for the small galley kitchen. It was a narrow space and he stood at the end of the bench, blocking her way out.
Now it was her turn for idle chatter and she didn’t stop – not once. On and on she prattled about anything that came into her head. “I’ve heard of women talking a man to death but this is ridiculous.”
“Are you hungry?” as she grabbed a four-day-old BBQ chicken out of the fridge. He smiled and nodded – he was hungry. She felt the satisfying crunch of bone and cartilage as she wrested the drumsticks from the bird. “I wouldn’t eat this shit – I hope the fucker dies of food poisoning.”
She handed the man the plate of chicken and some paper napkins (didn’t want him wiping grease stains on her brocade upholstery) and with the coffee cups in hand, she nodded in the direction of the sofa in the living room. And off they went, trooping in to sit down for a nice cosy chat. “What is WRONG with this picture?”
He had a European accent (German probably), was blonde, medium height and solid build. She wasn’t out of the woods yet.
And so they sat, sipping hot coffee with him gnawing on the chicken, telling her the long sad story of his miserable life between mouthfuls. His wife didn’t understand him. “Sweet Jesus – that’s original.” About an hour passed and they finally ran out of ‘conversation’.
She stood and picked up his empty plate and the coffee mugs. “Thank you for the umbrella, it’s been really nice to meet you and I’m glad you could stay for coffee, but I’m really tired and I have a load of laundry to do before bed. And my boyfriend was a cab driver – I know you guys aren’t earning money when the cab’s parked” as she walked to the front door and held it open for him. “My boyfriend a cab driver? That’ll be the day.”
And out he went – just like that. No fuss, no muss – he was gone. She flicked the deadlock and slotted the chain then peered through the peephole as she watched him walk down the stairs opposite her door.
She turned, sinking slowly to the floor, her back against the door.
“Did I just imagine that?”
Suddenly she was off the floor like a cat, flicking the lights off and running to the front windows. She saw him walking up the footpath, his hands in his pockets; just an average sort of bloke out for a stroll. She realised in a rush, she had no idea of the name of the cab company – it hadn’t occurred to her to even notice it – she didn’t know the cab number or its registration and couldn’t even remember what colour it was – something dark she thought. He disappeared from sight into a side street. She was totally clueless.
What would she say to the police?
“I just entertained a total stranger to coffee and some supper – HELP ME !!!”
“No, I don’t know his name but he was quite good-looking and his wife didn’t understand him.”
“Oh, and I think he was wearing a grey jacket.”
“Oh, and he might be feeling a little queasy coz half the food in my fridge is rotten. I’ve been meaning to throw it out but I’ve been so busy.”
Suddenly she desperately needed to pee. Sitting on the porcelain throne with her knickers and tights around her ankles, she started to laugh. She couldn’t stop; the hilarity coming up from the soles of her feet and she laughed till the tears flowed. Then the sobs of relief began.
“What the hell IS it about Friday nights and brain-dead bloody arseholes?”
Next Monday morning she went to her local police station and reported the incident; it bothered her that some other young woman may find herself in a similar situation.
The police constable looked amused, took her statement and handed her a copy. The police sergeant agreed with her own assessment that there was little they could do with such a vague description and no other information forthcoming.
They could only charge a person with sufficient evidence to persuade a Prosecutor that, a) an assault had taken place and b) such evidence was likely to result in a successful prosecution.
She didn’t need to be told that the State wasn’t in the habit of taking non-winnable matters through the Court system just to soothe the hurt feelings of victimised women. With no injuries and no witnesses, what could they charge him with? Barging in without a proper invitation? What did he do except to give her a fright? And eat her lousy chicken.
With the constable stifling his mirth, the sergeant thanked her for reporting the matter; they’d be cognisant of any other complaints of the unwanted attentions of rogue taxi drivers, but he complimented her quick thinking and handling of a difficult situation, asking if she ever saw the driver in a taxi again to take the number and let them know; they’d add the information to her report.
Such aggressive behaviour from an opportunistic stranger was all about power over an unknown and cowering victim, or subduing someone who puts up a physical fight.
He had to admit that he’d never heard of fighting off a potential assailant with coffee and dodgy chicken legs, but whatever she had said to the man, it had worked. Shaking his head with a smile the sergeant went back to his desk, while she set off for the office reassured that she’d done all she could.
Her prattle on that night hadn’t been entirely random. She had begun by sympathising with the man. There’s something quite unattractive about a woman’s non-stop yapping and she couldn’t think of anything to cool a bloke’s ardour more quickly than the mention of dirty laundry, plus she was hopeful that saying she dated a taxi driver put her inside the tent, not out of it.
The experience changed the way she lived her life in many small ways, always taking responsibility for her own safety. It wasn’t about paranoia; it was a matter of ‘foreseeable risk’. White knights coming to her rescue were in short supply, so she took responsibility for herself and was glad of it.
Life, and another lesson learned.