Eugh. Supermarkets.

I abhor the supermarket. I hate it with a passion. I am not sure if it brings out the worst in me or if it brings out the worst in other people. The amount of stupidity and selfishness I see displayed in large supermarkets is unlike I have ever experienced anywhere.

What I can’t understand is why. Why is it that in supermarkets it is a like a behavioural free for all where people are permitted to act like animals? Is it the bright lights? The smell of meat from the butcher stall? The unlimited choice of food products? The privilege of being able to push around a supermarket trolley?

I know people who honestly get excited about supermarkets. They examine every shelf and every product. They weigh up the pros and cons of each brand and compare prices.

I am not one of these people. I am a ‘find-what-I-want-and-dash’ kind of person. This is very far from a leisure trip for me. This is not the highlight of my day at all.

Reasons why I hate the supermarket:

  1. People: they stand completely in the way, trollies jutting out, not allowing anyone to go up the aisle. Or they see someone they know and chat, this time two trollies barricading the aisle. The definitely see me trying to make my way through but STILL DON’T MOVE. It makes me want to scream. Or they pretend not to hear me say ‘excuse me’ at the top of my lungs. They just stand there, like cows ruminating. Obstacles in my path of life.
  2. Harassment: I was reaching into a chest freezer to grab some items. I was wearing Bermudas, but I was bent over and searching, bottom in the air. All of a sudden, two stock boys behind me shouted ‘Danger! Danger zone!’ and smirked. How I wish I could fart at will. Then another time, I decided to buy an extra-value pack of toilet paper. It was a rather large 24 roll thing which did not fit in a carrier bag. The packet had a very handy plastic strap on it, so no problem. As I was walking to my car someone shouted ‘Hey lady!! You sure shit a lot!’ to which I shouted ‘At least I don’t do it from my mouth!’
  3. Sexism: I was observing what was on offer at the meat counter when the butcher says that they have fresh rabbit. I love rabbit, but I am not so experienced with cooking it so I politely declined. Then the butcher said ‘So you won’t make rabbit and chips for your husband?? Poor guy, no rabbit for him. These modern girls, they do not cook rabbit for their husbands!’ I guess when I got married they left out that part- in sickness and in health, til rabbit do us part…my poor husband indeed.
  4. Disorientation: I never seem to know where anything is, even if I have been to a particular supermarket a dozen times. Things just seem to move. Or I do not see them because people are standing in front of the shelves ruminating. It’s maddening. It’s like I am running some bizarre relay race where the baton is a loaf of bread or a frozen pizza.
  5. Payment: When I see people in the 15 items or less aisle, I feel like I am at the airport, behind passengers who have over-weight baggage; they scramble to reassemble their belongings in order to follow regulations. It is not rocket science people, its fifteen items or less and no, your 12 yoghurts of the same brand do not count as one item, there are 12 of them with 12 individual barcodes. That’s like having two separate offspring but saying you have only one because they both came from your uterus.
  6. Children: I love children, but not in supermarkets when they are screaming. Although I empathise completely. With the kid that is, not with the parent. I understand. I would love to scream too. I can’t because I’m an adult. So I am jealous. I do not want to be there either, so I write passive aggressive blog posts, but a child gets to scream and make a nuisance of himself so perhaps he will never have to go to a supermarket ever again. I want to scream and make a nuisance of myself so maybe I never have to go to a supermarket ever again. But I can’t. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

The only thing worse than a supermarket on a Saturday morning is a supermarket on Christmas eve. But it is August, so I do not have to worry about that for a while.Eugh. Supermarkets, youths and hipsters. Just go away. Seriously.

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The most annoying passenger to be sat next to on a plane ever.

So today I was on a two hour flight to Prague. To my right was a young, hipster student who slept the whole time, God bless her. To my left was another story.

Cue Maltese housewife who I am certain has never been on a flight before. Her husband was in the seat across the aisle from her. 

And it began:

‘Guzi, rod is-salib ghax ha nitilqu!’

‘Ġuzi, torqodx ghax inti torqod ikrah u mintix ta’ quddiem in-nies!’

‘Iva, guzi, hares lejja meta nkellmek!’

And she didn’t stop reprimanding him for two and a half hours.

I brought out my iPad and began a game of monopoly.

‘Guzi! Ara din ta hdejja, x’tilghab il-monopoly! Qed tara, n-nies ghadhom jilghabuha!’

Oh lord. She assumed I could not understand Maltese. Let the games begin.

‘Guzi, qeda skomda! Ara hawn video! Oqghod attent Ġuzi, ghax jekk l-ajruplan jinzel fil-bahar inhallik teghreq! Ara din ta’ hdejja, baqat tilghab il-monopoly! Issa hekk jigri xi haga x’se taghmel din? Jien ma nsalvahiex zgur!’

Then the food cart came. I just asked for the water as I wasn’t too keen on the baguette because plane sickness is a thing, unfortunately.

‘Guzi! Ara kemm hi halja din! Ma haditx il-hobz! Hmmm…insomma, forsi din xi wahda minn dawn tal-‘gluten free’…’

Then she proceeded to lecture anyone who would listen for the rest of the flight on how having a gluten allergy ‘huwa kollhu bullshit’ and ‘fi zmieni ma kellniex ‘gluten’.’

When we finally landed, she brought out a brush to fix her hair which had the attractive-loaf-of-bread style and said ‘min jaf kif dejjaqtha lil din ta hdejja, miskina, lanqas tniffset u jiena nghid saghtejn shah!’

Oh Jesus. Shall I embarrass her royally? Oh the temptation to unleash my inner bitch! 

But I didn’t. I just smiled and disembarked.

By the way, Prague is lovely.

Enraged.

I am a happy person. I smile a lot. I wear brightly coloured, quirky clothes. I say positive things to people and I have a gentle demeanour. I make jokes to put others at ease. I see the bright side of life.

So it took a very long time for me to realise just what an angry person I really am. Deep down I feel bubbling lava of rage which I am either constantly ignoring or controlling. Sometimes I am able to forget it is there. But it never truly goes away. It hides somewhere in the caves of my inner self, in slumber until it gets provoked and awakened.

I am angry all the time. Something somewhere is always disappointing me. I am often very disappointed in myself. And in the world we live in.

I used to call it ‘irritation’. I used to say that no, I am not an angry person, I am just easily irritated. But that’s how it starts. Little things irritating you day after day without relent. Little things that are getting under your skin that you see no sign of changing or getting better in spite of one’s best efforts, one’s skill in diplomacy or trying to simply ‘not let it bother you’. It could be a situation. But mostly it will be another person. And then you start seeing that person as nothing but the thing that irritates you about him or her and you begin to fantasize about all their plans going bust or perhaps public humiliation most deserved after their offensive behaviour.

And BANG. That is what anger is. It is radioactive smog that blurs your vision and changes your sensibilities. It makes you stop seeing anything good in others or in different circumstances. It swells in your chest and consumes you. You stop being you and instead you are just angry. Paradoxically it is like a fuel that exhausts you. When you are taken over by it, you feel energised, strong and almost powerful. But when the outward rage passes and you gain back some rationality, all you really feel is sad and alone and empty. And often very, very misunderstood.

I am a very big fan of Marvel comics and the movies. I think the two angriest characters would have to be most obviously the incredible Hulk and maybe slightly less obviously Loki, the god of mischief from Thor. Loki has a lot of latent anger, being abandoned and adopted, told rather late in life of his true parentage and his brother being the golden boy. And even though he does revel in chaos, sometimes his rage does fuel him to do good things. In the second movie, Thor breaks Loki out of prison and relies on him to save the day and at a point Loki says something like if you can’t trust me, trust my rage. As for the Hulk, when he gets angry, he turns into a violent and destructive green monster and when he finally calms down he is basically spent. The interesting thing is that when the Hulk as Bruce Banner is questioned on what’s his secret, he says that nothing really needs to make him angry to trigger the Hulk because he is angry all the time.

Incompetence makes me angry.

Ignorance.

Deliberate stupidity.

People in power who are not worthy.

Bad people who receive good things.

People who do not think before they speak.

The unfairness of everything.

Cruelty.

Acceptance of mediocrity.

Religious fundamentalism.

Dishonesty.

Corruption.

These are some of the things that make my blood boil. It makes me scream inside. Inside I am constantly screaming. It is piercing and it rings in my ears. Inside I am jumping up and down and throwing things. Inside I am a green monster with purple trousers smashing things.

That being said, my anger at how unfair life is makes me want to be a better person and makes me want to do good things. Because in life it is important to know who you want to be, however it is just as important to know who you don’t want to be. And I do not want to be a surly, angry and unproductive person. So if I have these negative feelings, the least I can do is try to wrangle out a positive outcome.

So yes, I admit that I am an angry person. And I doubt that it will ever just go away. But I can control it and for the most part I do. And I never succumb to it and let it change me. That is one way in which the Hulk and myself differ:

He may smash.

But nothing will smash me.

Fathers and daughters.

IMG_0390Father’s day is coming up and buzzfeed have done these wonderful set of videos involving the try guys and the relationship with their fathers. This particular one really got me thinking:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieAtWSh2i_Q

The relationship between fathers and sons are very different of that between fathers and daughters…and mothers and daughters and mothers and sons for that matter. From what I have observed from friends and extended family members, the mother seems to take on the more sensitive role and seems to know her kids a little better than the dads do, in some instances the offspring do not even really have a relationship with the dad. Then, in the teenage years when anger sets in and a kind of wilfulness, the kids often end up resenting the parent who was least present. And this is especially apparent when the almost absent father figure has to be a disciplinarian. How can you impose rules on someone you do not know?

I did not grow up in the typical family. Both of my parents worked and I think, in my childhood-stained eyes, that both took on more or less an equal amount of responsibility. Both of my parents have different strengths and I think they played to them in quite a decent amount of harmony. My mum is an excellent teacher and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. My father has an excellent sense of humour and knew how to be very entertaining. In the discipline department, I think it was pretty much equal. I really hate it when I hear parents say ‘You just wait until your father gets home!’ It paints the dad like some angry monster. Did my mum ever say it? Sometimes. Seldom, but it would happen when she was truly at her wits end. Which, to be fair, was rare. And probably only because when my dad would yell he was just a tad scarier than my mum and a lot louder. Then later he would feel bad and come and hug us or tease us about something and try making us laugh, just to show that everything is still alright. Come to think of it, he does that when he has an argument with my mother too, to this day. I can tell he hates it when things are tense or if there’s murky water between himself and the people he cares about.

I like to talk about my relationship with my dad. It is different to the relationship he has with my older brother and my younger sister. On his side of the family, I was the first girl after a long line of boys…my dad has two brothers, then my brother came along, then my male cousin and then me. When I was an infant, my dad couldn’t get enough of me. I think my earliest memory of my dad is of me climbing into his lap during Canadian never-ending holy mass services and curling up and falling asleep. And he would always say ‘Marie-Claire, don’t sleep…’ but it was quite futile. The intoxicating smell of incense and my father’s warmth in the snowy atmosphere were too conducive to slumber. And also the feeling of complete safety in a world that to this day I still do not quite understand. My dad was a constant: in my mind, he would always be there, by my mother’s side to rally us on. And for the most part he was. And pretty much still is.

Fundamentally, I am more like my mother. In character, in mannerisms in most things. We are both a bit eccentric and we both feel like a lot of things really do not matter much. When it comes to challenges, we both generally do not think too much and just go for it. We look at things and think ‘oh well, if it all goes awry, I’ll figure it out’. My dad on the other hand is, in my opinion, over-cautious and wants to control every aspect of every situation. Which is not very compatible with raising a rather headstrong and mischievous teenage daughter with rather a different character to her father. You cannot control who she will meet, who she will date, what she will study, what she will wear, what she will do in the few hours she is out of your sight. Well, you can, but it will not be smooth and will have many, many repercussions.

Fast forward a decade from being tiny and fitting in my father’s lap…a seventeen year-old, scary teenage tigress with cranberry coloured hair with blue streaks in it (hair mascara was a thing) with very much a mind of her own with a penchant for halter tops and quite newly pubescent, hormone filled boys. And she had discovered alcohol and other things that are not so great for one’s health. Talk about a daddy nightmare.

We used to SCREAM at each other. The words ‘I hate you’ became a catch phrase. The more my dad tried to control, the worse it got because it just became a saga. We wouldn’t even know what we were arguing about any more, it just became a battle of who would get their own way. And who had the loudest voice. My other friend’s fathers were not as strict as mine. But that, I think, was because they were not as present as mine was. I saw my father as this mean asshole, who would not even try to understand me and was completely insensitive to what I needed to find myself.

But he wasn’t a mean asshole. He was insensitive, but he was not a mean asshole.

You know what he was?

Terrified.

He was terrified. He was terrified that his daughter was going to be a pregnant- junky-alcoholic-slut who sold her body on the street for a living. He was terrified that he was not important anymore and that he could not reach me. That a hug and joke did not work anymore. That I could not sit on his lap and be entertained by asking me ‘What noise does a lion make?’ to which I would reply ‘ROARRR!’

I wonder if he knew at that time that soon enough we would be roaring and each other.

And I did not become a ‘teenage-pregnant-junky-alcoholic-slut’ because in spite of everything I did have aspirations and dreams and those aspirations were very important to me. Remember, in character I am more like my mother and she was always a good role model for me and I wanted to be like her: a strong and independent woman with her own career and can be successful by doing her own thing. I look back at my behaviour and I do think that it was all just being a regular, angry teenager who really and truly was mishandled. I know my little sister had her rebellious moments, but hardly any of the drama…she’s a smart one; she learned from my mistakes and was far less vociferous and a lot more secretive with her transgressions. Either that or my dad relaxed when he saw that in spite of everything I turned out quite alright. And if I could take it all back, all the ‘I hate you’s and the ‘I wish you were dead’s, I would because I have a lot of regrets. But we all wish we knew then what we know now and as I always say, life does not have a rewind button.

I was a bit of a mean, insensitive, asshole. And for that I am truly sorry.

And now to the present. I am married, I live in my own house and I basically see my parents when I want to. And the honest to God truth is that I do want to. I want to a lot. I spend almost every day off with them. I want them to feel like they can rely on me. I want to make up for all the time I did not appreciate them enough. I want them to feel like now that I have grown up, I can take care of them, in a kind of role reversal.

And even though I have stated that in most ways I resemble my mother, I did inherit my father’s sophisticated sense of humour which definitely helps me out with my stand-up comedy.

And he really knows how to annoy the crap out of me.

And I really know how to annoy the crap out of him.

But at least now we can laugh about it.

Happy father’s day, dad.

IMG_0391

What I think about politics.

For the longest time, I did not care about politics. I only knew who our prime minister was and that was that. If anyone asked me who was the minister of this or that, I could not answer because I simply did not care. When I turned voting age, I voted for a party my family supported because, as I said, I simply did not care, none of this affects me remotely and the world keeps on spinning and life goes on, la-dee-dah.

All until something happened that did affect me. And all of a sudden I woke up and realised that who governs my country is actually kind of important.

I also realised that people who claim not to care about politics are generally those who do not need to care, people who are privileged to the point of arrogance. People who feel like they need nothing and no-one until they get a rude awakening.

And here I am today, a person who not only cares about politics but is actively interested and often thinks about what I can do, apart from casting my vote, to make a difference.

That being said, I think that in Malta and especially as a government employee in a government institution, it is most unwise to be very public about how you are going to cast your vote in that polling station. Because no matter who ends up getting elected, you are working in their institution and you have to be okay with that. If the party I support is not elected, I would not want my superiors at my place of work or anyone else for that matter to know I am disappointed. Because it none of their business. And disappointed or not, I do not want anyone to think that who is in government is going to affect my performance. Sounds silly? Well, you would be surprised at how many people actually think that way. ‘Who cares what they think!?’ you may say. And usually I would agree. But I do care what my superiors think as my career is important to me and I want to be taken seriously.

I once worked with someone who was constantly trying to find out which party I support. I could not for the life of me figure out why it was so important to him. Didn’t we work together just fine? Isn’t that all that mattered? Why did he want to know? So perhaps he could judge me?

Recently I was working with an American colleague of mine and for some reason I thought she was as anti-Trump as I was. To make conversation, I said ‘I would have loved to see Bernie Sanders as a president…or Hilary Clinton…’ to which she replied ‘oh, crooked Hilary?’ and then she went on to say how great she thought Trump was. I was shocked. I said, ‘But…but…he’s a misogynistic asshole!’ to which she replied ‘but he’s one of the people and he understands us!’ To dismiss the conversation, I said ‘ah well, I’m Canadian and we have the handsome Trudeau!’

And I hate myself for it, but I can’t quite look at that person in the same way ever again. To me, uneducated rednecks supported Trump, not intelligent and lovely people like my colleague.

You see what I did there?

I judged. I judged my lovely colleague. I had no right, but it just happened. And it is a very bad thing. And I do not want it to happen to me.

That is why you will not see me at party rallies. That is why you will not see me defending the party I support on Facebook. That is why I only have political discussions with those who are closest to me.

And please notice, I said closest to me. NOT just those who agree with me. I have a very good friend who I hold dear, who I have known for many years, since we were teenagers. We are political opposites, but I respect her deeply and care about her. We see eye to eye on many things. I most definitely do not think less of her because she will not vote as I do and I am more than certain she will not think less of me for that reason. I also know that I will never be able to change her mind and she knows she will not change mine. And that is perfectly fine.

I also believe that these rallies and endless Facebook posts initiated by the individual parties or their media representatives do not really accomplish anything. The people who go to the mass meetings/read these posts/share these posts are all already convinced. My father insists on listening to politically biased radio stations whenever I give him a lift. It embarrasses me, but I oblige. And while I listen to how one politician vilifies the other, I ask myself if anybody who supports a different party will listen to this and say ‘By Jove, I think he’s got it!’?? Nobody’s mind is going to be changed by putting up a photo of a politician on social media and writing something on the lines of ‘vote for him/her as they are akin to God’ as a caption. It is completely futile. It also makes me lose my faith in humanity (the little I have left). And then the comments. Oh Lord the comments. They range from ‘He/she is Lucifer on earth’ to ‘O! Behold this deity!’ I remain in awe at how people forget that these people are just mere mortals, not really different from you and me, but with a desire to be leaders of a country they love. Or else they are a bunch of power-hungry bastards; spin it which way you please but the former description allows me more peaceful slumber at night.

After all is said and done, I admire those who publicly support their party and stand up for what they believe in. It actually sets my heart ablaze. We obviously cannot and should not all agree politically and seeing people come together because they truly want to see the country do better, or because they believe in a certain person and want to support them and want to be a part of things is a truly beautiful thing in its essence. I would love to take a more active role in politics, I feel like I have a lot to offer and I think my ideas could possibly make a difference especially when it comes to healthcare and the profession that I love.

However, the idea of being in the public eye and affiliated to a party at this point in my life could probably do more harm than good. As an outsider, I have a naive and almost romantic view of what it would entail and although my intentions would only be good, I do not think I could bear to have my words twisted, my picture everywhere or unflattering photos or heavily doctored photos

of myself on social media claiming I am Jezebel and the Virgin Mary in equal amounts.

I will, though, conclude with this: your vote is what allows you to have just a little bit of control of the world you live in. Democracy is a privilege not known by everyone in the world. We are lucky. Don’t be foolish or frivolous with your vote. Think carefully, read and research and do what you and only you think is right.

 

Be Mine

Lucy puts on a little make-up. It’s Friday night and the regular gang are meeting up as usual for a night on the town. Exams are over so her parents thankfully allowed her to go out tonight and tomorrow night as well. She was basically on house arrest until a levels were over. And she supposed with good reason. After all, she was a little prone to partying just a little too hard. 

She wore a new-ish fancy top and jeans and went to tell her parents goodnight and negotiate curfew. It used to be midnight but now it was summer and the night buses ran on the hour and she knew that she could probably push it until 1am, especially if her older brother would ride the same bus. Even later if she got a lift with one of her brother’s friends. 

Her parents agreed. That’s the great thing about house arrest- parents seem to think it’s a cure for unruly teenagers but really and truly it just fuels the desire to lose control even more.

She grabbed her little backpack and walked out the door.

She walked around the corner behind her house. There was this abandoned hairdresser’s studio with a huge, overgrown vine tree covering the entire front area of this place. Lucy hid behind the tree and changed her jeans for a pair of shorts and her trainers for something sexier. She put her discarded clothes in the backpack and put everything in the garbage bag she always left behind the tree and made her way to the bus stop to meet the others.

And there he was. The object of Lucy’s desire. Michael. Leaning against the bus stop, torn jeans, sweet and beautiful. He was talking to Claire. She was fun and pretty, not incredibly smart but good at exams. Lucy and Claire were good friends. Not best friends because Lucy didn’t do best friends, but good enough. Not good enough however to tell her how much she liked him. That she kept pretty much a secret, even though she thought it was fairly obvious. They always hung out at school and they were constantly calling each other. Everyone seemed to think something was bound to happen, but for some reason it didn’t yet. The rest of the gang arrived and they jumped on the bus and headed off.

They would always buy cheap liquor from some grocery store before hitting the clubs because venue drinks were watered down and expensive. Lucy always got drunk first and got drunk the worst. But since everyone was inebriated and celebrating, nobody really cared. Suddenly emboldened by very low quality vodka, she linked arms with Michael and walked towards the venue of choice. And he smiled because they were friends. Great friends really.

They all did a few shots while there and soon enough everyone was dancing and the music was pumping and everyone was clowning around and Michael and Lucy were pretending that they were performing one of the songs and basically entertaining everybody. Lucy unsteadily climbed on top of one of the massive speakers and brought out her digital camera. It was a tiny thing, not very sophisticated but it did the job. She liked capturing moments…it made her a little popular because everyone always wanted to see if she captured them doing something funny or cool or risqué. From that height, she had a great view and started taking random snaps.

When all of a sudden, her camera rested on Michael. His lips locked on Claire’s. Lucy zoomed in and snapped the picture. Snap.

Pain. Pain captured on her little but effective device. And disbelief. And horror. And feelings. Too many feelings that alcohol couldn’t obliterate but simply make worse.

Lucy slowly climbed off the speaker and made her way to the exit for air. She threw up in a corner to jeers from people she did not know. She bummed a cigarette off someone she also did not know.

Claire came bouncing out of the club, jacked up on RedBull.

‘Ohhh Lucy! I totally got off with Michael! I always thought he was cute, but who knew he had such great skill with his tongue, yeah? You don’t mind right? I mean, I know you’re friends and all, but if something had to happen, it would have happened, yeah? You would’ve told me, for sure cuz we’re besties! Right?’

Lucy nodded without looking at her. Claire kissed her quickly on the cheek and said ‘That’s what I thought! Love ya!’ And she bounced right back in to be with Michael.

Lucy’s Michael.

Only he wasn’t.

And Lucy thought as she walked away to catch the early bus home, how awful this teenage life is. She hoped it gets better.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAjcVuc46Vw

Written as part of Miriam Calleja’s creative writing work shops. The assignment was to write a short story inspired by the lyrics of a song. She is the author of Pomegranate Heart and Inside skin. http://www.miriamcalleja.com

 

Can’t touch this.

I was 11 and it was a super hot day in June, 1995. I was lazing about the house, watching TV. I had just finished exams and it was the first week of summer holidays and I was still in that haze of being happy that school’s out but at the same time not entirely knowing what to do with myself. My sister was at summer school and my brother at his summer job and most of my friends were abroad so I was kind of at a loss.

I asked my mum for some money for some ice-cream and she was a little absent minded, in the middle of correcting exam papers and she handed me a whole pound. A WHOLE pound! And there was nobody about so I did not have to share it. I could actually buy an Algida Cornetto for 80c and not a Lyon’s Maid for 30c!

I quickly put on a pair of flip-flops before my mum could realise what she did and raced out the door to a near-by grocer.

I chose my cornetto from the chest freezers outside the shop and went to the till to pay. I had been to this grocer many times, almost every day before school in my uniform to buy sweets for all the kids on the bus stop.

But this time I was not in uniform because it was summer holidays. As I paid for my ice-cream and waited for my change, the man at the till said ‘hmmm you like ice-cream, yes?’

I just nodded and wished he would hurry up with the change because the damn thing was melting. I was the only customer so he wasn’t in a rush.

He finally gave me my change and then said ‘bye darling!’ and then reached out and kind of tickled right between my pre-pubescent and very minimal breasts and made a weird cat noise, like a ‘meowwwwrrrr’.

I grabbed the ice-cream and just ran out of there. I ran all the way home. And running in flip-flops was quite a feat. I did not have a house key yet and I had to ring the bell. My parents did not answer right away and I rang again. Then my dad opened the door and was puzzled at my urgency and my red and sweaty face.

I did not know exactly what had happened. But I knew it was not right. Why would anyone want to touch me there?

I was 11 and painfully unaware that I was growing up. It never crossed my mind that a grown man may want to touch me. The nuns at school often warned us about the trouble boys can cause and how we need to learn when to say ‘stop’. But that was about boys. I did not know that men had to be told ‘stop’ too.

It was the 90s and I looked like a stick insect. I was wearing short frayed denim shorts and a halter top. I already had the beginnings of acne and I was very awkward.

In other words, I was a kid.

Thank God, my family are very open and honest with each other and I told my dad what happened, what that shop keeper did. He turned an interesting shade of puce and immediately said he was going to storm to that grocery store, find that guy and ‘give him a knuckle sandwich’. Of course, he didn’t, but he never let me or my sister go there ever again.

After a little while, a large and modern grocery store opened very close by and the owner of this smaller store had to close down. And I never saw that guy again.

But I never forgot him. Because he taught me that I was not a kid anymore. And now men could look at me in a different way. And I had to think twice before putting on a pair of shorts. My pigtails were not cute anymore, they were provocative. And I suddenly had to be careful of how I sat.

Back then we did not really know about the terms ‘rape culture’ and ‘victim blaming’. I was not aware that I should be able to wear what I want and men should learn to control themselves. Because frankly, a lot of men would not control themselves and I only had control over what I could do to prevent this situation from ever happening again.

But it did happen again. Countless times. I had a man put his hand up my skirt twice. I had my breast grabbed once. Once a man in the street grabbed my face and said ‘oh you are so pretty’ and I had to yank myself away. Once a boy followed a girl friend and I, spewing sexual innuendo in a really loud voice behind us.

We were fourteen. I was wearing dungarees.

Now I am 33 and it still happens. I get ‘why don’t you smile’ while I am jogging. Some months ago at the iron monger, the shop assistant tried to touch my boobs twice.

It is everywhere. And I get the feeling that it can happen at any age. Once a man made a comment at my little sister when she was eight years old! Eight! She was a baby! I remember that she giggled and said ‘What a stupid man!’ Hmmm. Stupid was not the adjective I had in mind.

I bet there is not a woman out there who has never been groped or harassed. I am most certain that every woman who reads this blog post can share a story of when they were scared or felt unsafe in the presence of a man.

I am scared of being alone in a taxi with a male taxi driver. I remember when I used to ride a taxi home late with my girl friends; we would agree that the last person left would text someone to say they were safe. I am sometimes afraid to ride the lift alone with a man. Yes, I know that not all men are like that. I know many lovely, wonderful men who would not dream of such things. But unfortunately, all it takes is one man to do irreparable damage.

The nuns did right at school to tell us when to say ‘stop’.

But in the boy’s schools, were the pupils taught that when a girl says ‘stop’ they must listen? And were they taught that if a girl says nothing at all, it does not automatically mean go?

Sometimes I think when it comes to abiding by the traffic lights of life, some are electively colour-blind.

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