The story actually starts a week before I left. I was walking home from Ibrahim’s Café around midnight, texting everyone about how happy I was to have gotten accepted into grad school, when a big, young man a few years older than me asked me what time it was. Of course I gave it to him, why wouldn’t I? The guy said thank you, ducked into a doorway, waited for me to get a few steps ahead—then used one hand to grab my waist while he stuck the other down my pants.
What would you do if a stranger twice your size grabbed you from behind? I screamed my head off. It didn’t seem to deter the guy. There was no one around. I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified. How is it going to feel when he sticks his finger in there? How is it going to feel when he knocks me down? What if he has a knife?
I pulled on his hands. Nothing doing. I made a fist and took a swing at him behind my own back. I don’t think I hit him that hard. I don’t know where I hit him, because I had my back directly to him. I thought he was going to knock me flat—he could have, he was a very big guy—but instead, he just turned around, gave me a shocked look like “Did you really do that?” and then ran like hell in the direction from which he had come.
Who does that and why? Just to make women’s lives difficult? Just to feel power over another human being? Just to fulfil their own selfish and all-powerful desire? Just to get into a woman’s trousers, when they don’t have the self-confidence and social graces to take the long way?
I called the cops and went down to the station to see if I could identify the guy. He didn’t seem to be in their picture database. They asked me about twenty times if I was sure the guy didn’t look or talk like a North African, talk like someone from the slums, look like a homeless person or smell like alcohol, which rather pissed me off—though I know they were trying to help. I said this before and I’ll say it again, it was a white man, clean shaven, who spoke standard French and wore clothes that, while I may not be able to say if they were clean, didn’t smell like alcohol or dirt. I don’t think misogyny knows any particular race or class.
The cops drove me home.
I got to thinking, if this had to happen, I’m lucky it happened in France, where I know the language and the emergency number. What if it had happened in Albania?
For five minutes, I thought about scrubbing the trip to Albania. How do you go off the beaten track if there could be assailants on every corner?
I actually thought, for five minutes, about giving up being a foreign correspondent. It’s not safe. I should become a teacher, like my father seems to want, or perhaps a local news reporter, covering beauty pageants and the occasional court case.
But honestly, by that logic—why leave the house and walk down the street? You could get hit by a car. Why take a car, a motorcycle or a bus? You could get into an accident. Why cook? You could burn yourself. Why buy restaurant food? It could be contaminated. And on and on it went…why not just stay in bed? You could fall out.
And besides, could I really give up my ambition, what I’ve spent the last eight years working on, the reason behind all those all-nighters, early mornings and hobbies fallen by the wayside? When, finally, it seems to be not that unattainable after all? Because of one loser who couldn’t earn the privilege to touch a woman but had to steal it?