She was returning home in an auto-rickshaw. She wore a perfectly decent, full sleeved salwar kameez without a dupatta. She found dupattas inconvenient and only wore them when she thought it was needed to complete her attire at a formal or ceremonial event. Here, she was simply in transit with luggage, on a hot December afternoon, squinting against the sun and aching to get back to her little children after 2 days. Her backpack was sitting next to her and a small suitcase was near her feet. The auto-rickshaw stopped at the signal and she looked at her watch. Her kids were waiting at home with the maid who was given an allowance to overstay in case she got delayed.
She looked around fretting about the jam until her eyes locked on a matador with 4 men sitting at the back staring at her. They smiled wickedly at her while whispering to each other, never once losing focus on her. She decided she would stare back without fear. After all, this was 4.30pm and on a road full of people. She wasn’t wearing her goggles so she did not. Why invite trouble? For the first time in years, she missed her dupatta but she couldn’t show it. She picked up her backpack and plonked it on her lap to hide her fully clothed chest. This made them laugh out so loud that she could hear them over 3 cars. The signal turned green and her auto raced ahead. What a relief, they were finally out of sight! She turned around and peeped from the little plastic window at the back of the auto-rickshaw and spotted them again. She felt her chest pounding. The hooligans were looking all around, for her, she presumed and prayed they’d never catch up. They didn’t.
Why was she cringing? Why was she tightening her fist so hard that her cell phone in it could nearly crack? Why was she caging her anger behind clenched teeth? Why was she pretending she wasn’t afraid? Why did she have to consider wearing her goggles to look them in the eye? Why did she wish she wore her dupatta?
Would they not stare then?