On that road, with my eyes open for the first time, I noticed things I hadn't before. Women tend to walk through life selectively blinkered, I think; because never before had I actually seen men stare. Men whistling, ogling, leering, yes, all of those. But this matter-of-fact checking out? Not before.
Nearly every man who passed by did it - young, old; with friends, with girlfriend, with wife, with children, alone. It seemed so casual - a flicker of the eyes, no more; in the midst of conversations and silences, a quick inventory: face, breasts, legs, breasts; all right, done, let's move on.
It took me at least twenty minutes to realize it was happening, and I think one of the first conscious thoughts was, Exactly how blind have I been? The next thought was, And this is why they say all men are animals? And I found bubbling up in me an unholy desire to burst out laughing. Was that wrong?
My memories of the rest of the evening are marked by little moments lit up in fluorescent shop-front light.
I remember the way I stood in the beginning. Arrogance. I am going to lounge, and I am going to watch, and I have every right to do both. I remember thinking it was going to be easy.
I remember staring into the Bata store I was standing in front of, watching people go in and out, letting my mind drift until I abruptly realized I was turning myself off again. I remember how hard it was to remind myself to be there.
I remember the two people with the cameras.
I remember the boy in the blue shirt who stared back at me all the way down Brigade Road, and I remember how flustered he was each time he turned back to see me still staring at him.
I remember all the looks - startlement, curiosity, discomfort. I remember the man who returned for a second look.
I remember walking down the road so all of us could stand closer together. I remember ending up next to my sister. I remember not thinking about all the men staring at her exposed midriff. I remember the man who stopped, the one who got up right in her face, the one who made me leave my post on the rail and abandon my pretence of isolation and go stand by her side.
I remember walking down to Mota Royal Arcade. The fire at Pizza Corner. The man who jerked his elbow into each of the girls in front of me till my sister, in front of me, told him to "Hutt". I remember thinking, She's too young and reckless to be here.
I remember Mota Arcade.
Every moment of it.
Every man who stared. All the people who didn't give us a second glance. All the women who walked past, with girl friend and boyfriend and husband and family. They never saw us. I wondered if I would have. The one girl who stopped, took a letter, read it, and joined us. My sister. My niece. Me.
Anticlimax. Grand finale.
All the eyes.