Under My Skin

3/21/14

            He could have sat anywhere on this godforsaken bus, but of course, he decides to sit right next to me. My eyes dart away from him, cheeks flushing. I grip the armrest with my left hand and dig my nails into the seat with my right. The right side of my body suddenly feels unwashed and muggy as he slithers into the seat next to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him set his bag under the seat. I know he’s looking at me—he’s purposefully and acutely aware of my presence. He’s going to say something to me, I can feel it.

            I was uncomfortable the second I saw him notice me—while he was walking up the aisle. It was like something clicked in his mind. It was only for a split second, but he definitely had a look in his eye. I can see his pointed gaze burning into my skin out of the corner of my eye.

            “Hello there,” he says. My initial reaction is to pretend I don’t hear him: my futile effort of self-reassurance that he’s talking on the phone or to another passenger.

            “Miss?” I know he’s talking to me. I’m trapped between him and the wall of the bus. I choke a little bit at that thought.

            “Yes?” I reach for my phone instinctively, trying desperately to seem busy and distracted enough not to look at him.

            “Do you have the time?”

            “It’s—2:43.” I hope to God that’s all he’s going to say.

            “Oh great. Thank you. Where are you headed?”

            “To an appointment.”

            “Oh. A doctor’s appointment?”

            “Yes.” Of course I’m not going to tell this man I’m seeing a therapist for anxiety.

            “That’s good. Got to keep healthy and… such.” The way he says “such” makes my entire body subtly convulse. I do not respond.

            “Aren’t you going to ask where I’m going?” He asks, teasingly. This is where the shaking begins. I turn to look out the window. “It would be polite to ask me where I’m going, seeing as I asked you where you’re going.” I bite down on my bottom lip.

            “Where are you going?” I squeak.

            “Downtown, but I can tell that’s not entirely interesting to you.” His tone of voice changed from forcefully polite to mildly annoyed. “Aren’t you going to look at me? You need to look people in the eye when they’re talking to you.” His words were both scolding, like a father talking to a child, and suggestive. I didn’t know that was possible. I muster my faltering courage to turn and look directly at him for the first time. He’s much older than me—maybe forty-five. He’s well dressed and his hair is slicked back. The shirt and pants he’s wearing are clean and new, but something about him feels greasy. He’s normal. He would blend in with the residents of my town, except for the fact that he’s riding the bus. He looks like he owns a car, what is he doing here? I can’t bring myself to look into his eyes for more than a second before I divert my gaze to his chin. It crinkles as his mouth folds into a smile.

            “Wow, I didn’t know I was sitting next to such a gorgeous girl.” The line sounds so disingenuous—worse than the typical nightclub talk I’m used to, even.

            “Thank you.” I can’t believe I just said that. I don’t mean it, I just want him to stop.

            “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Jessica Rabbit?” Besides the red hair, Jessica Rabbit and I have very little in common, body-wise. Even if we did have similarities, I’m wearing an outfit that would make that extremely difficult to distinguish.

            “No.”

            “Well, it’s true.”

He started describing my body: just observing everything about it. He talked about my feet and my legs and my hips… all the way up. It was like I was standing in front of him, completely naked. I choked.

            “Look at those legs… I bet you’re flexible. You look like a gymnast. I’m sure you could bend into all kinds of shapes…”

            He just wouldn’t stop—it was like his mouth ran away from his face. He just exploded. My eyes and ears are burning.

            “Your neck looks so pure, has anyone ever kissed it before?”

            I didn’t even look at him, not even once. I was just staring out the window. I didn’t know what else to do. He put his hand on my knee and I jerked it away from him. That just made him louder… like he was angry at me for not jumping his bones. And no one said a thing. Not a whimper of protest or a comment in my defense. But they sure stared once he stood up. He started yelling. He wanted to take me home.

            “C’mon! I’ll treat you nice! Buy you a five-star dinner! Buy you whatever you want! Damn, I’m trying to give you a compliment and you can’t even look at me? What the fuck kind of manners do you have? God, you’re just an ungrateful little bitch, huh? All of you pretty young girls are just stuck up little motherfuckers! You can’t even take acompliment! You can’t give a guy the fucking time of day! You’re fucking pathetic, do you know that? You fucking bitch!”

           

            All of the prep in the world—everything my mom told me to do, everything I learned in that self-defense class last year, even the goddamn pepper spray in my purse—I couldn’t even move. I couldn’t do anything. Nobody did anything. He got off the bus before my stop. If he stayed on—I’d probably still be sitting there. Why couldn’t I move? Why couldn’t I tell him off? I’ve gone over this scenario over and over again in my head, preparing exactly what I would say to someone if I were ever in this position, and I just fucking sat there. How could one person render another person so powerless?

            My hands won’t stop shaking.