I’ve started a new routine.
I usually pick out my clothes without thinking too much about it, an old t shirt, the same pair of jeans. The eyeliner glides on effortlessly, I’d been doing that since I was five. I tie my long hair in a ponytail usually, this is the only thing that takes time. More so, because I simply liked gliding my fingers through my hair, and trying elaborate hairdos even if it always just ends up in a ponytail. All of this takes me less than twenty minutes, I change out of my uniform only reluctantly but everything else goes on fast.
Lately though, I take longer. The t shirt I wear outlines my body too well, the old jeans seem snug,too snug. The eyeliner seems too much. My hair is too long and makes me look older than I am. I haven’t started wearing a bra yet, I should really tell my mum it’s time I wear one. But it’s an uncomfortable topic. I’m not altogether sure why I should be wearing one. I didn’t want to be old enough and yet it would feel like an added protective layer.
I take off my clothes. I can’t seem to find bigger, looser clothes. Maybe I should borrow my sister’s? But I’d never be allowed out of the house wearing baggy clothes. I put my clothes back on and throw a jacket on top of it, this will have to do. I tie my hair in a tight bun, even as a few stray strands threatened to fall loose around the nape of my neck. I wipe off the eyeliner. I rarely see my eyes bare. I look plain.
The walk to the tuition centre was becoming more painful by the day. When had I started noticing them? Everything seemed to happen all at once. The first time someone touched me I was much too young. Even now, I almost refuse to remember it the way it happened. The second time there was no escape from what was happening. The second time I learnt a new word:molestation. It didn’t come from the incident itself, I don’t think I understood what was happening even then. It was much later, in an old Reader’s Digest article that I read a story and learnt a new word. It’s the stupid word that caused trouble. It could have remained nothing if I didn’t know what it was. But then I did. And everything changed. Months after it happened, I continued having recurring nightmares. Every time I looked at pictures from that day, unsmiling pictures of me in front of famous monuments,beside my parents, I’d feel the desperate urge to erase myself from the pictures. As if that might mean that I was never there at all. I also wanted to get rid of the clothes, like from a scene of crime. They were new. They fit me well. I would keep staring at just how well. That morning I must have taken time in front of the mirror, admiring the new clothes on myself. I looked slim, I liked how I looked that day. That was the problem. I must have stood out.
I must look plain. I wouldn’t be noticed then.
I adopted this new way of life after I joined these tuitions too. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t inside school grounds, not inside a school van, not with my parents, not inside a car. I had to walk alone. It was a 15 minute walk. I walked ridiculously fast. It didn’t help. Even that makes me stand out.
They stand in groups by the street. They whistle and make low hissing noises. Everyone can see them. Everyone can see me. They ask me what my name is. Why am I walking so fast? Why wouldn’t I look at them? I would just walk faster, turning my head away from the questions hurled at me.
An auto whizzes past. The driver yells out something obscene at me. Everyone heard him. Everyone saw me. I sleepwalk my way home.
A scruffy young boy from the bicycle repair shop won’t keeps blocking my way. I can’t hear what he’s saying, the voices are becoming muffled now. He’s a hair’s breadth away. I keep my gaze lowered. My mum says my eyes are too wide, I look like a helpless child and people will take advantage of me. Why won’t you look at me? I look up at him and he grins and reaches a hand out. I swerve left and break into a run. Everyone saw him. Their eyes followed me.
When I reach home at night, my neck hurts. For more than four hours, my neck’s bent. I keep my nails short, very short. I clench my fist so hard, I’d still leave little indented marks on the inside of my palm. My parents remark on my naked eyes,my severe look. I look older and plainer. I don’t look feminine enough. I go back upstairs and put on some eyeliner and smile at my reflection. I breathe.