When I was a little girl, I lived on a university campus where my parents were professors. The campus was cut off from the city by gates and guards. If on one side of the university wall there was traffic, pollution, congestion—on the other were lush green fields, tall trees, libraries and schools—where students and teachers could coexist in a safe space.
Naturally, my parents were okay with me taking walks by myself by the time I was 13. So, I would get up at 7 in the morning, put on my jogging shoes, and run all the way to the campus gate with my best friend. The road that took me to the end of my daily circuit was one of the most picturesque in the entire university. It was dotted with Eucalyptus trees on one side and Bougainvillea flowers that cascaded like waterfalls, on the other.
One day, when my friend was down with flu, I decided to go running by myself. The biggest hurdles I could possibly encounter were untimely rain (since it was the rainy season) or street dogs that sometimes chased us home. But, I had faced these scenarios earlier, without much trouble. So, I strapped on my jogging shoes and happily ventured out.
When I reached the half-way mark, I slowed down to catch my breath. A small group of students, who were out on a jog like me, overtook me just then. They were a bunch of guys from another country. I could tell by the sound of their accents that seemed peculiar to my ears and the fashion of their clothes that I had never seen before.
Each year, our university took in a sizable chunk of students from all over the world. Our chancellor believed that it added to the diversity on campus. In exchange, it allowed foreign nationals to learn our local language and customs.
As these students crossed my path, they muttered something amongst themselves and I thought I heard them laugh. I suddenly grew wary of their presence. Were they laughing at me? Could it have been my overactive imagination? For all you know, they were simply sharing a joke amongst themselves. So, I resumed jogging, without giving heed to my paranoia. This time I overtook them as I gained pace on my way back home.
Ten minutes into my run, I started to feel the burn in my muscles. I had pushed myself little too hard in the last mile. I needed to slow down and stretch my body. I approached a bench on the sidewalk and bent over to relieve the pain in my legs. In the meanwhile, I saw the same group of guys, catching up.
As I watched them jog toward me from a distance, I tried to guess their age. It seemed like they were 25-year-olds. They were all much taller than men from my country. They had broader shoulders, athletic bodies, and different colored hair. I curiously studied their appearance and wondered if I found them attractive.
As they approached, I self-consciously pulled my gaze away. That’s when I felt it land right next to my feet. I could’ve been wrong about it once, but it happened twice, then thrice—white, foamy spit collected from their mouths hurled in my direction.
My teenage mind could not comprehend what had just transpired. May be, I reasoned they were just spitting on the ground to clear their throats. Sometimes when people are exhausted with exercise, spit gathers up and you need to throw it out to clear up the passage. I had seen my brother do that on the football field. May be, it was simply that?
But, why did the three of them do it at that same exact spot, by my feet? Was it something they had talked about? Was this the joke they were in on? I stood there soaked in my sweat drenched clothes, paralyzed by something I could not understand.
I am still not sure what really happened? Over the years, I have allowed memory and time to smudge the details of that November morning.
But, for several months in my dreams after, I remember trying to find my own resolution. In one dream, I could see myself running faster so that the boys never caught up. In another, my best friend never had flu, so we were together when the incident happened. We teamed up against my assailants and took them to task. In another, I caught up with the boys, blocked their way, looked straight into their eyes, and demanded an apology.
In another, as we wake up to this new world, I wonder, could there be a #metoo for this too?