No, I am not beckoning you... I am just a woman trying to get to work
The driver who sees my loosely wrapped headscarf, jeans and long shirt, and wonders what’s going on; the passer-by who watches me adjust the messenger bag on my sagging shoulder with one hand and cover my eyes from the sun with the other, squinting at something in the distance; the curious men and women on motorcycles, in vans, riding bicycles and on foot, wondering what I’m doing on a street corner, so early in the day. And especially to those who might wonder if maybe, just maybe…
Let me stop you right there and say what doesn’t need to be said – what shouldn’t have to be said: No, I am not a prostitute.
It may be a truth universally acknowledged that a lone woman on a public street must be in want of sex commerce; yet, I am not a sex worker. I am just a woman looking for a taxi to take her to work.
I stand here because my family only has one car and it doesn’t make financial sense for me to buy my own yet (maybe ever). I stand here because my current transport situation is such that I need to find a new mode to commute, every morning. I stand here because this damn city doesn’t have any proper public transportation. Because I need to freaking get to work.
So no, I am not beckoning you.
I don’t want you to stop and ask me how much I’ll take or to slow down your Prado or Bolan or Honda or your washed-up, rimless, 98 Toyota, to see if I’m interested in making a quick buck. I don’t want you to park your ride a few hundred yards ahead of me and stare at me through your rear view mirror either. Or drive by me multiple times despite my obvious disinterest.
Maybe you already know that; that I am not what you think. But I bet you don’t know that I have written down your license plate number or what I’m planning to do with it now.
Believe me when I say I wish I could forget the view into your car; I wish I could just forget your faces – clean-shaven, bearded and moustached alike, and your clothes – crisply ironed shirts and shalwar kameez. The thoughts written in the arch of your suggestively raised brows hit me every time; they raise doubts about the bearded/clean-shaven, and well and poorly dressed men I have in my own life.
I am just a woman looking to get to work, whose sagging shoulders and tired eyes bear witness to the exhaustion of waking up to the thought of this one extra thing that needs to be done every damn morning. It is exhausting to be in this routine of dealing with filthy men in fancy cars and sexist men everywhere else; this includes the well-reputed multinational that taxis take me to every morning.
This is the organisation where I’m told Shahid Afridi didn’t have it entirely wrong and the best chefs in the world, after all, are men. Where my colleague looks at me in his crisp white shirt, neatly pressed pants and eerily white teeth and tells me I have no idea what I’m talking about when I say women have it tough in this country. And though I don’t particularly identify myself as a feminist, and my voice is composed as I demolish him into silence, I can’t stop my hands from shaking with rage at this man who insists he knows better than I do what it’s like to be a woman.
What it’s like to be a woman who is solicited for sex on her own street, outside her own home; who is told by her wiser colleagues to just buy a car, or have one called to her house even though, yes, it is ludicrous that she should be punished for being a woman without a car and driver. To be the woman who waits and wonders whether it’ll be another 15 minutes till she gets out and away from the lecherous eyes on the street to the chauvinist minds in her office.
A woman whose her heart skips a beat when she finally sees a flicker of yellow at the end of the road and, ironically, despite the warnings of disapproving aunties about taxi drivers (they rape and kidnap in between trying to make a living for their families – another obvious, universally acknowledged truth), she is relieved to get into the backseat because she knows that no sexual advances will follow. Because this man seems to be the only other person this morning who understands the type of business transaction she is looking for. That standing on a street corner does not equate to working on it. That she is just tired and pissed off and needs to get to point B... one minute ago.
How can that man, in the crisp white shirt, ever understand what it’s like to be a woman?
I hope for the day when the rest of you, driving, walking and riding-by, would just drive, walk and ride on without questioning; that when you see me, you somehow, finally, realise that I am not a prostitute; I am just a woman in a sick man’s world trying to get to work.