What Happens When You are Groped
A man groped me on a bus and now I hate my right breast.
In the Centre of Excellence resides many dangers, lurking and waiting to attack you. This long list of evil includes robbery, kidnap, traffic and the occasional police harassment. There is also the possibilty for a special brand of sexual harassment. The kind that happens in public transport.
For a woman who has never been a victim of sexual harassment in this manner, the feeling of an unwanted hand on my breast took so long to register that I am unsure if I imagined it.
In the first minute after I realized that something was aloof, these thoughts found a chair in my head and stewed; did it really happen? How long was his hand there for? Are you sure Nkem?
But how could I have imagined the feeling of warmth where it should not be? This wandering hand on my body felt like when the person sitting next to me presses their left knee into my right knee, only this time, it was my breast. Warm,intrusive and not in a good way.
On discovering this stranger’s hand, my shock took over. I sat in silence. Afraid that if I spoke no one would believe me. Afterall, the next stop was his. “No need to make a fuss” I said to myself. What is the point of attracting attention that may turn on my head? So I kept quiet, moved out of his hand’s way and remained uncomfortable.
Now, this cowardice that clamped my lips shut and stayed my hands, is a reminder that when I face trouble despite my imagined bravado I will most likely choose flight.
Why did I not say anything? I have asked myself and still ask. There are many painful things about this, worst of all is the shock-induced cowardice. A cowardice that stayed with me for days and made it hard to tell anyone what had happened.
Three days was how long it took to say to my friend, “someone touched me on the bus.” Horrified and full of complete disbelief that I would keep a thing like this to myself, she asked “why did you not say?” and for that I had no answer.
There are countless stories of women getting groped in buses and I have always imagined that when my turn came- not if, when it came, I would fight. One of the earliest lessons I have had to learn is that as a woman, sexual harassment is my burden and while I will not bear it everyday of my life, one day it will be my turn to carry it.
With this knowledge, I have armed myself in the endless battle against harassment. I have fought people for attempting to grope me. I have slapped hands, flipped my finger, and yelled “your papa” at men who have dared to touch me inappropriately.
Why did I do nothing that day?
A million baths will not cleanse me and all the Tik-Tok videos I watch will not help me forget. Now, I have a new fear, one that I never considered possible or imagined. I have a fear of public transport. I am poor so I cannot use the alternative of cab-hailing and unlike Olivia Rodriguo I have no driver’s license.
What happened on that Friday morning, worried that I would be late to work and pondering on the projects I had to complete, was not what I imagined would happen when the situation presented itself. A cat had my tongue in its paw and I could say nothing to the owner of the arm that laid rest on my body and found its place on my right boob.
My new favourite question to ask is “Why did I quietly sit there and say nothing, only tilting my body to the side and out of his reach?”
The irony of this incident is that 30 minutes before it happened, I had a fight with my mother about the inappropriateness of what I was wearing. In her eyes, the more skin I showed the more harassment I was likely to attract. Mummy I changed, I wore something longer, less revealing, did you tell the world not to touch me?
In an ideal world, I would never have dealt with this, but there is nothing ideal about life and how it works. Sexual harassment in a bus is as common as the use of public transport. So, I expect this to happen again. I do not know when, but I will be ready.
The next time it happens I will place my arms at my side and protect my body as best as I possibly can. I will be more mindful, will not drift off and will reserve the worries of work to when I am actually at work. My mind would be too busy creating anti-groping attempts.
And if anyone finds a way to break through this barrier they would have sought violence and I shall give it to them. My voice will accompany said violence, I will not cower and my spunk will not abandon me. But for now, I have to take my fifteenth bath for the day.