I asked friends to meet me at the coffee shop because I didn’t want to deal with the guy on my own. I wanted friends to hide behind. And I went an hour later than usual in hopes that he’d be gone by then. My stomach knotted as I parked, a tangle of anxiety (I hope the guy isn’t here) and anger (this guy isn’t going to ruin my favorite hangout, dammit).
My friends were waiting for me outside. If it hadn’t been 103 degrees, we might’ve sat outside. Inside, immediately, I saw him. The place was almost empty this time, and for some reason the music was off. I could see no way I could get by him without him seeing me.
My friends and I picked a table. He saw me. “Oh, hello,” I said as if distracted, and kept walking. I took a chair facing the window, but I had to pass him again to get to the counter. I chatted with the barista, a film student. I asked him why the music was off. The silence made the eyes boring into my back all the worse. The student was trying to fix it, and my voice is too loud and fake when I talk.
On my way to my seat, I nodded another hello to the guy. I didn’t want to be friendly, but neither did I want to anger him. Who knew what he was like when slighted?
My friends and I talked about our kids and school. The guy turned in his seat so he could watch us. I didn’t look, but felt him watching. He waited and waited. An hour went by. Another hour. I didn’t stop looking at one friend as if I were the best listener in the world. I wondered how long he was willing to wait.
About two hours apparently. One friend goes to make sure he is really gone. “If you had looked at him once,” she said, “he’d been over here.”
I talked to the barista, and found out another woman has complained about this guy. The barista said he’d seen this guy approach several women. I let my friends leave. I said I was going to write. But I couldn’t concentrate. I thought about the dark parking lot. I thought about my usual Tuesday nights at my favorite cafe, and the friends I’d met there.
I left early and the barista walked me to my car–even though he’s young enough to be my son. He said he’d tell the coffee shop owners about the guy. He told me not to stop coming there for my coffee.
I told him I’d come back, but maybe I’d wait a week or two. Give the guy time to move on.
Many of my students come from countries where women can’t go where they want when they want. They can’t do many things beyond what a man–father or husband–allow. The men won’t let them go out alone or even drive. I have Muslim students, and depending on what country they’re from, depends on how much freedom they have. A student from Egypt is here on her own. The students from Saudi Arabia are here with men to keep an eye on them. I don’t know how they stand it to be covered and veiled in this Texas heat.
Sometimes I think I’ve said something accidently wild. I told my class about a trip I took alone to Budapest where I got lost late at night for hours. Nothing like that could ever happen to them. So I assume. I could be wrong. I told them about complaining about a sexist professor. I wonder what I sound like to them.
It would be a mistake to think of them as naive or ignorant or incapable. They make some of the most astute observations in the class. They get the jokes. They are happy here though they miss the sounds of prayer.
But I have a hard time imagining them in coffee shops writing stories. They could of course. Why not? But I don’t know if the men allow it. There is no telling what might happen if a woman is out her own. The world is a dangerous place.
There is so much freedom in being allowed to go out and put pen to paper. We take it for granted and complain about block and time and publishing.
Some men seem to think that a woman on her own is a woman in need of his attention. Someone’s attention, for crying out loud! They can’t be happy or safe left with their own thoughts. A long time ago there was a young man who kept calling me and asking me out. I kept saying no. (His offer to show me–I kid you not–his “real bear skin rug” was not compelling.) He insisted I had to be seeing someone if I was saying no to him.
“No. I’m not seeing anyone.”
“Then you can go out with me.”
“No. You’re not my type. Really.”
“See. You are seeing someone.”
“No. I’m not.”
“You are, or you’d go out with me. Who is he?”
“Why is it so hard for you to believe that I’d rather be alone than be with you?” I said.
Finally, he stopped calling.
I’m wandering, but it is late. I’m tired. I’m angry. Why can’t a woman just go write?