“What do you want?” she asked, looking down at the book she had been writing on a few minutes before.
I looked at my friends, wondering who would answer her question. This was my first time at a police station and dealing with the police. I had planned out a polite conversation that would eventually lead me to narrate my ordeal.
We would greet whoever was at the other end of the reporting desk, and when that was done, they would ask us why we were there. Now, there were no hello’s and how are you’s, and she didn’t ask why we were there. Her question was abrupt and in a hurry.
“We were robbed.”
She looked up at us and then back at her book.
“All of you?”
She must have expected us to continue, but we watched as she wrote the date and the reason for our visit.
Then she looked up, half-way interested in whatever we would say next.
“What did you lose, and where were you? What was taken?”
Was this how it went? Did someone receive a couple of guided questions to answer? Was I not supposed to narrate my ordeal with more details? I had heard of people writing down their statements on paper to ensure they captured all the details. So, when the other officer at the desk looked at us and asked what we did, I shouted that we were writers.
I hoped that he would sense my need to speak my truth and let me write it, even just for the sake of it, to know that they had all the details. I would have told them how the previous day had felt like a threat to everything I had worked for all my life. That for a moment, I had been reduced to nothing but a child who couldn’t do anything to defend herself, no matter how much I wanted to.
“What did you lose, and where were you? What was taken?”
How could I answer those questions without sounding like an angry feminist, because that is what I was in that moment?
“We were at the waterfall, and we lost our phones.”
She looked at us, a form of excitement sweeping through her face; this was something she knew. Before we could continue, she started talking about how they had received many such cases. She told us that the place we had gone was dangerous; they received at least one complaint every week. This was familiar.
Her ease of talking about the robberies made me uncomfortable, but I was told that you don’t question the police, especially when you needed their help. She went on and on about how students from the university were the main targets, that they were the ones who visited the fall often, what were we doing there? She wondered.
“I was worshipping; I wanted to feel god, I wanted to be angry in the one place that wouldn’t tell me I was overreacting, one that would embrace me in whatever emotion I was feeling. I wanted to feel hope because the last few weeks had felt like death. Every morning I had woken up, I wanted it to stop, the anguish of knowing that there was nothing I could do that would get me out of the predicament I was in fast enough. I wanted to feel patient in how things were going.
That day, I had been happy for the first time in a long time, and the only way to end such a day after a series of awful ones, was to worship. To tap into the energy at that moment and welcome more joy for the future. I wanted to plead my case before the sun that helped everything grow. To bask in its heat as I listened to the falling water and watched it find calm in the stream beneath.
I had been sitting in this worship with two of my favourite people doing their own thing behind me. I watched the twigs dance as they touched the flowing water; I listened to the bird songs and felt the cold breeze caress my skin. I was in heaven, I was happy, I was content, and I was grateful.
But then something shifted in the air. The twigs started dancing a little too vigorously to my liking, the water’s soothing sound stopped feeling calm, and all I could hear was the chaos. Before I could try and understand what was happening, I heard footsteps.
I go to nature to escape humanity because, in these places, I can live without fear. The ground I kiss with my feet will never cough me out; it never pushes me away.
I looked up from the water and saw two sets of feet, one in worn-out crocs; the man wearing them had my attention. There was something to him, something threatening; the other one was nothing but some form of background that was necessary for the moment.
I removed my hands from the water and wiped them on my trousers; I hated wearing jeans, how you could never really get all the wetness. My feet rested in the water as I watched the two men walk into our space.
There is something about acting clueless, how it allows you to listen to people without seeming like a threat. It allows me to keep interactions to a low, which was a good thing at this moment.
The tall one, the one with the crocs, was wearing a dirty and faded grey shirt and a pair of pants that didn’t quite fit his height. He looked at us and then started to talk to one of my friends, the only one he could interact with. Maybe it’s because they were both men, or perhaps it was because they spoke the same language. He assumed us, the women, went on talking about things I couldn’t care about.
See, that’s the thing about women like me; we have no time for small talk when two unknown men are standing next to us in the forest. When we look at the thickness of the bushes and the cluelessness of the men next to us when it comes to basic kindness, we cannot waste our energy worried about what they are saying.
As he spoke, exchanging whatever form of pleasantries a man like him could afford, I thought of my friend. We were two women and three men, yes, one of them was with us, but that didn’t matter. Women like me know that in such moments, you are alone. I imagined how we would leave them to their conversation, but then I remembered how far we were from other people; if we left this place and started walking towards the road, there was no telling how they would react. Women like me know that you have to think of the safest possible risk to survive such situations. Yes, anything we did would have resulted in an altercation; the question was, what would cause the least trouble.
So, I sat there, with my feet in the water, watching the dancing twigs, asking the universe to give us a sign. I could feel the fear in my friend; I could tell that her mind was also doing cat-wheels, trying to figure out how we would leave safely.
“Why don’t you give us one of them? How can you have two beautiful women, and we have none?”
I wanted to look up, shout at him, and tell him that we were people, who could make decisions for themselves, that we couldn’t be given away like one of those awful plates and cups people got at their high-schools for good performance. I wanted to call him out for thinking that men like him could get women like me.
Instead, I bit my lower lip and continued listening. Things could escalate at any moment; my energy was better spent thinking of how to leave. He looked at me; I could feel his eyes on me, let out an uncomfortable laugh, and then turned to the man who was on our side.
“That one looks like she likes sex.”
I would have jumped had I not been too scared to do anything. The man on our side laughed uncomfortably. I don’t know what men think about in these situations, but my mind was made up; we were going to leave, it was better to try something than sit in this danger.
I put my hands in the water, said my farewell to the flowing stream, pulled my sandals closer, and stood up. I was done. My friend was deep in thought, and when I asked her to get up because we were leaving, she needed a minute, but then she stood.
I hadn’t realized that I didn’t have my phone until I stood up to leave. I never carried it with me when I went into nature; I always wanted to be present. I had placed it on the ground the second we found our spot near the waterfall, and when I started walking away, I remembered where I placed it.
I looked around, but I knew, deep down, that it was gone. This man had been standing over it through this entire ordeal. He took it. I wanted to call him out; that is what you do, you call out thieves, you let them know that you know, at least that is what I wanted to do.
I walked to where he was, looked him in the eyes, and asked my friend to call me. I wanted it to ring in his pocket; I hoped he hadn’t turned it off. At first, he was uncomfortable; maybe that was because I was standing so close to him without flinching.
“Why are you looking at me? What do you expect to find?” he arrogantly asked like I was the one wasting his time.
He looked at his friend, the quiet one, and laughed. Maybe that was why his friend was there, to reinforce him and reassure him that he was the man. The minute they looked at each other and started laughing, he didn’t stop; he started taunting, pretending that he was helping me look for it, and asking stupid questions.
And as I walked away from him, trying to gather the rest of our things so we could leave, I heard my friend scream. The quiet one had also received his reinforcement, or maybe a command; he grabbed my friend’s phone, and when she refused to let it go, he grabbed her.
Women like me understand bigger things are at risk when a man you don’t know rubs on you, touches you, and worse still holds you with that much authority. There is a wave of anger in them that you dared fight back or resist what they wanted. They expected it to be easy; they would grab your phone and runoff; that was the plan.
Now, here we were, with someone standing in their way. The tall one seemed agitated; he walked from where he had been standing next to me and approached the commotion. I had talked back to him some minutes earlier, and he had said that they liked women like me, those who did not know their place, those who did not know who to respect or fear. I knew this was not the time to add my words to an intense situation.
Women like me know when we are out of our depth. My words couldn’t do anything for the situation we were in, we couldn’t fight them, at least not successfully, and we didn’t know whether they had weapons. There are bigger things to lose in such a situation. So, I looked at my friend as she held on and tried to fight in the only way she knew, and as I told her to let the phone go, I felt defeat. They would walk away; they would get the phones and leave, that was the most important thing.”
“What did you lose, and where were you? What was taken?”
I looked at her as she wrote on that huge book that dictated how much I could say.
If she had asked, if she had been in a position to ask, I would have told her my ordeal; maybe then she would understand when I said I lost my power and grounding. I could tell her that I lost my worship because now I was too scared to walk into the nature that gave me peace.
But how could I tell her that the phone wasn’t that important, not for me anyway? In such situations, women like me don’t worry about what the robbers would take as we do about what men that are robbers can take.
In that huge book of hers, could she write that I lost my writing? That I couldn’t let myself create because of what use was writing when I was broken beyond anything that made sense? When she asked what was taken, could I tell her that they took my freedom, my trust in this beautiful place that I live? That I felt betrayed by the very thing that I worshipped?
Two phones, that all she cared about; that was all she could afford to care about in that moment and time. So, two phones it is, forget everything else that women like me lose in such situations.