I remember you. Whenever I see other men near me, I am constantly reminded of you. Even during the most menial tasks, like washing the dishes or brushing my teeth, those beady eyes—which appear to be very accustomed to looking at women—keep haunting me. What haunts me more is that you probably don’t even remember me, as you must have stared at “vulnerable” women a million times already.
One Sunday afternoon, I was walking along the sidewalk carrying takeout for my family. The sun was glaring at me and wearing shorts gave little relief to my already sweaty legs. From my peripheral vision, I caught sight of you rolling down the window of the passenger seat with your eyes blatantly staring at me. It was haunting, that stare. Despite the intense heat of the sun, nothing could compare to the heat emanating from my blood boiling in anger. This kept happening way too much. In an attempt to insult you, I raised my middle finger in annoyance. That didn’t stop you. You took my disgust as a sign of encouragement, smiling smugly as you looked at every crevice and curve that I no longer seemed to own. Like a hunter stalking its prey, I was defenseless in your presence who was eager to look for an easy kill. This was when I realized that vulgar behavior could do no harm to men like him. So as I placed my surrendering little finger back on my side, carrying the fear that you would go down that car and approach me, I turned at the next block.
You remind me of someone. It was rush hour in Batangas City and everyone was clamoring to get a seat in the jeep so that they could get a ride home. Not that it matters for people like you, but I was a minor at that time. I had on my wrinkled uniform: an innocent blouse and a red plaid long skirt partnered with white socks and worn-out shoes. Out of all the people that I could get seated next to, just my luck to get seated beside your kind: a creepy old man with graying hair and skin too wrinkled to look younger than 60. This man suddenly started giving unwarranted “compliments” to me. I was listless but what triggered me the most was when he praised how smooth and fair my skin looked that day. Right then and there, I wanted to peel my skin off until it was bruised and bleeding. Until it no longer held its same appeal to him. Until he’d finally leave me alone.
The woman who was next to me gave an apologetic look, “Hayaan mo na lang muna, Ineng.” As if it was a normal occurrence, I was expected to tolerate this because women suffer through this almost daily. I held the handles of the jeepney tighter and gritted my teeth in anger. I tried my hardest to ignore the words that this man kept forcing onto me but then it finally dawned on me that I’d rather walk home than hear another word from this man. In my last attempt at salvation, I told the driver to stop the jeep. We waited for two hours to find another ride home.
You remind me of someone. Coincidentally, this also took place in a jeepney. As usual, it was cramped and the school uniform that I had on only grew more wrinkly by the hour. At first, I thought that the man beside me was innocently crossing his arms. But when he subtly moved his hand back and forth, I knew that he was one of you. Trying to justify what he was doing, I thought that maybe I was just assuming or making things up. Baka ‘di niya sinasadya. But then as I felt my right boob brush the back of his right hand once again, I knew I wasn’t wrong. I looked away in pity because I couldn’t stomach witnessing myself getting harassed by another stranger. What disgusts me the most was the fact that, when he came out of the jeepney, he dared to look back at me. I hugged myself tighter and told myself that I should be more careful next time. Maybe I was too inviting.
Manong, these are only some of the many, many instances where I am reminded of you. Looking back, I know I could never fight you off nor have the courage to openly speak up about how I feel. Though I try to protest with my small little finger or try my hardest to avoid being in situations like these, I know that it will still happen. It happened yesterday, and it will happen tomorrow. It’s a reality I couldn’t escape. In case I did not spell it clear enough, your perverted compliments, gazes, and groping don’t flatter me.
You made me feel disgusted with myself. I wish I didn’t wear shorts at that time. I wish I didn’t sit next to that deranged old man. I wish I didn’t have to wish these things when all I wanted was to safely go home.
I remember each and every one of you. You may vary in age, face, and personality, but your intentions are all the same. You might have forgotten me, but I will never forget you. For as much as I do not want to, I remember you.