So, tonight on the train home, I was propositioned.
He was tall, lean, slit-eyed, and stubbled; in a red v-neck sweater, brownish chinos, and gray sneakers; and wearing an mp3 player and earphones ensemble. A decently-dressed, decent-looking dude you probably wouldn’t think twice about if you saw him outside. So, I didn’t think any more of him than I should have. As I stood on his right waiting for the train shouldering my bag and carrying my umbrella, I could see him giving me sideways glances. Those were also towards the direction of the train so again I didn’t think of them any more than I should have. While waiting, I hung back and leaned on the rails behind me with my hands in my pockets and admiring a mud stain on my light blue Vans over my black socks and under my rolled up midnight-blue chinos. I could feel his stare following mine and I thought, maybe this is just a dude that appreciates my style. Perfectly normal and dare I say it, a little flattering.
The train finally rolled into the station. To ready myself, I removed my bag from my shoulders and carried it opposite my umbrella.
By this time, I had moved in front of him to get into a better position to ride. I knew he had a full view of my back against my stretchy gray v-neck. I thought I could almost hear him breathing in deeply or maybe that was the train speeding by. As the train doors opened, I hung back slightly, knowing passengers would be exiting and waiting to strike forward at that pause when the train had divested itself but hadn’t yet acquired. With so many passengers waiting for the train, the space left behind by the alighters was instantly filled, him included. His back was turned to the door, resigned to the fact that I wasn’t riding. Miraculously though, before the doors closed, the floor opened up just enough for me and another man. I, too, stood with my back to the door as it closed behind me sealing us in.
Somehow, he had known I had gotten to ride, maybe he smelled me. He looked behind and to his left at the man in front of me, making sure of something. In a twist of fate, the man in front of me had his back turned to him and could not see him at all. Thus began my three-train station-ride nightmare.
He began by pivoting to his right bringing his back against the man in front of me, placing his right arm at the ceiling above and to the right of my head ending his pivot and bringing his hips perpendicular to mine. His supporting arm bent an elbow into my face and shoulders which I ignored. Then I felt his left hand touch my right which was carrying my umbrella. Maliciously innocent grazing on my index knuckle and the skin behind it. Accidental touches on my thumb knuckle. Finally, tender strokes on the fleshy in-between of my index and thumb. The whole time, I could feel his fervent stares at my face, body, and crotch while still hidden behind his supporting arm. I ignored it all by looking to my left, unmoved. I passed Ortigas.
This only encouraged him. He pivoted to his right some more and shifted his supporting arm to the left of my head, pointing his hips directly towards me at a dangerous angle. I looked at him this once to acknowledge that we were now face-to-face and that I didn’t like it all. He only eyed hungrily back with questioningly quick elevator eye brows. I looked to the left and then down. His hand rested on his crotch, his left fingers now curling forward, acting as makeshift penis tendrils. His contact lost all pretense of accident, it was now urgent and persistent. Cold anxiety began pooling on the skin of my nape. My jaw tightened. Nausea began drifting up my throat. My breath weakened and slowed. The buzz of the train muted and all I could hear was his breathing pressing on my eardrums: savoring my soul and inhaling the very essence of me. My knees stiffened to compensate for their weakness. His stare snapped between my crotch and face, aching for a reaction. I remained stone-faced and bodied. When suddenly, I saw in the bottom of my peripheral vision, his hand-penis tendrils shoot towards my crotch. I quickly shook his hand off while still staring at a space to my left, sweating. He didn’t deserve the honor of looking into my eyes again throughout this ordeal. I passed Santolan.
With my quick rejection, he reverse pivoted, seemingly defeated. This was his final act and for his finale, his right cheek was angled towards my crotch. He reverted back to accidental bumps using the bucking train as cover. My cleverly-placed umbrella meant that he was stubbornly pressing against the hard plastic handle instead. He whipped his head back and forth, still awaiting a response. He received none, I had arrived at Cubao.
I excused myself almost meekly, my mental stores depleted. As I stepped away from my floor space, he slid into it, for reasons that escape me. Whatever warmth he had hoped to soak up there had long since dissipated. I could feel his hunger hot on the back of my head as I stumbled out of the cabin. As I distanced myself from the train, I began dry heaving, teasing at bile. My next and final train ride was thankfully uneventful yet disgust still pulses as I type this out. What if I saw him again? If I saw him once, there will always be a chance—however small—that I could see him again. My mind solidified into a numb epiphany: so this is what being a woman must feel like.
Postscript: I wish all homosexuals all the happiness in the world for their integrity amidst homophobia but harassment is harassment. He invaded my temple where I had chosen to praise only the female form—sans bias. Yet as much as I was uncomfortable, I knew, in that place and time: I was powerless.
Designated by Nature as problem-solvers, men are conditioned to “suck it up”, “deal with it”, and “man up”. These mantras have turned us into silent sufferers bordering on schizophrenics. We’re so out of touch with our emotions that dealing with them directly is perceived as something distinctly anti-masculine. I could have said something. Stared him into the eye, raised my voice, and made a scene; but I was terrified. What if people didn’t believe me? That I was crazy? Or lying? What if, in a horrible turn of events, everyone in the train thought I was the instigator, not the victim? Would my comparably darker skin, messy hair, big eyes, and larger frame lose me sympathy instead of gain? I didn’t want to risk the embarrassment. I exchanged stoic suffering for saving face.
We are men, we know no shame.