what it means

this older man at the bus stop casually

tells you that you're beautiful,

compliments your smile,

then starts to share with you about his life.

when 60 year-olds do that,

you nod and listen,

because that's the courteous thing to do

when an elder speaks to you.

but then he steps closer to you,

breathes down your cheek,

says you should be his woman,

and puts both arms around you.

at this point, your mind leaves the space

that rendered him an elder

and moves into the mental self-defense

of engaging with a strange man.

you shudder inside

but keep your cool on the surface.

you tell him you're taken,

a lie you resent relying on

as an escape route from the patriarchal culture

that never has to be held accountable

for its expectation that you are either of two things only:

available to men or taken by a man.

he gets on the same bus as you and you start praying

that there would be just single seats,

and not double seats, that are open

so that you can sit next to someone else

and have your interaction with him end quickly

and without confrontation.

when the bus reaches his stop,

he reaches out and grabs your hand to say goodbye

and you don't know how to (dis)engage

except to tell him to take care.

being a womxn often means this.

that you listen and nod and smile,

and that you always nurture,

even when you're repulsed

or even when you're afraid

because surviving sometimes means pretending

that it's not you and your mothers and sisters and matriarchs

who've actually been doing the protecting,

of ourselves and of men,

for all of our lives.

thy nguyenComment