Monday, May 18, 2009

Lester the Molester

I wasn't sure why the tailor had felt it necessary to grab my knee while figuring out the length of my qameez. I've had shalwar qameezes tailored all my life, and not once has anyone had to hold my knee, like using his entire palm to hotly grip the knee part of my leg, while I explained to him that I wanted my qameez knee-length. It only lasted a couple of seconds, and I brushed it off. It's probably because it's the first time we've come to him, I reasoned. My mother and aunt stood next to me chatting while the youngish bearded Pakistani tailor took my measurements.

The next day we brought him some more clothes. My mother stood next to me, admiring the apparel displayed on the shop's wall, while the tailor took some more measurements. Apparently he hadn't got the length right the day before because he needed to measure it again. His measuring tape dangled from my shoulder to the floor when he put his left hand on my right breast to keep the tape steady. I froze because his entire palm was holding the whole breast. Time came to a standstill for me as I noticed that at first his hand had been trembling as it had hesitantly approached my chest, but when I froze, his confidence increased as did his grip on my whole right breast. He was avoiding my eyes while busying himself with reading the measuring tape, but I noticed him trying to supress an excited sly smile. It felt like a lifetime but he probably let go of my breast after 10 seconds like as if nothing had happened.

My mother and I left the shop without incident after five minutes. My mind was in a blur and I just wanted to get away. My mother - heck, no one in my family - ever talks about such things, and the best alternative is always to look away and pretend nothing ever happened. Over various times in my life, this had translated to my being left in the lurch for the sake of keeping appearances while everyone else conveniently brushed things under the carpet at my expense.

My body was heating up out of rage as we walked towards my dad waiting in the car, and I turned to my mother and told her that we were not coming back to this tailor again. She looked at me delicately and asked me why. I snarled with the effort it took me to bring up the topic to a family member and told her that he had groped me twice while she had been standing next to me, oblivious to the world. She didn't understand what I meant by "groped", so I spun around with one hand out towards her and pretended to grab her chest the way he had mine. My mother immediately angled herself away from me, and looked at me with an innocent girlish expression of, "no! do these things really happen?"

I've always hated it when she does that. It practically means that no one's got my back and I have to fend for myself. I've had to learn about a lot of ugliness in the world on my own with no one to turn to for advice, just because to my family, it's all taboo.

I turned away from her out of disgust at her and how the tailor had made me feel. We sat in the car and, as usual, that was the end of that.

Except it wasn't. I was disturbed about it as usual and feeling defiled. The little girl inside of me was crying and wishing somebody'd support her in this not-the-first-groping-situation-by-a-long-shot just once. My numerous groping incidents had started when I was probably seven and they all happened everytime my mother took me shopping with her. Most of the time they were shopkeepers. Once it was at our video store, and then there were random men who'd grope me on the street as I walked past them accompanied by an adult even. And this is before I hit puberty. I never told anyone except some close friends at eighteen.

All those ashamed little girl feelings welled up inside of this highly ferocious (gee, how'd I get to be that way?) 27-year-old. That night, I found a willing audience in a good friend online who, in turn, got angry and demanded that I go tell my father at once. Now this is the first time in my life that I had had someone to vent to after such an incident, and it felt good. I did take it up with my mother first but her response was, "why do you want to go around giving yourself a bad name?". That made mad because I don't think I had done anything to give myself a bad name. But that's just how I'd been raised until sometime in my adult life I'd rebelled against this self-deprecating attitude because, because it just wasn't fair. I snuck up to my dad's bed as he lay there with the lights turned off, turned in for the day. I didn't know what to say to him out of all the shame, disgust, embarassment, self-consciousness, awkwardness that was floating about inside of me. But I stammered my way through it. I think the darkness helped.

My father was silent for a second after I'd finished, long enough for me to wonder when he'd start blaming me for causing the incident somehow. He's always had an unpredictable temper and that's pretty much why I'd never been buddy-buddy with him ever. But I guess people can surprise you. My father actually lost all his drowsiness and sprung up upright on his bed in anger. He called for my mother and demanded how such a thing could have happened twice with her being there, and why, after I had told her about it outside the shop, did she not do anything when in fact she should have marched right back to the tailor and brought the roof down.

I had wanted to go back to the tailor and scream at him myself, but my father decided that he'd take the matter into his own hands soon and take it up, along with my mother, with the shop owner. You can't just be a pervert as a foreigner in Oman, your Omani sponsor will throw you out of the country. I never followed up but I believe they did go complain to the shop owner. We started going back to our old tailor who'd been making my clothes since before I had breasts.

They never brought the topic back up with me, but a week later, my aunt hovered up to me when she found a minute. She asked me why I hadn't told her the first day the tailor had groped me. He had been her recommendation after all.

1 comment:

Gargs said...

U know its interesting how when u read sumthing like this , the first thought tht comes to the mind is "U shudve slapped the pervert ba@#$".....
But when u really are in a situation like this u kinda end up totally zombied out wondering "Ok hold on wht just happened here.." And like u said no matter how may times u face a situation like this.. u never quite ready to deal with it :-(