I saw you today, pulling up on a bike in front of me. We were both on the bike path approaching a traffic light. I noticed that you had a big, angry scar on your face. I wondered, how did you get that.
As much as I wanted to know, I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to find out. You are a man, I am a woman. We were the only two people on the path. Avoiding any interaction with you was paramount.
I stopped my bike behind yours, just out of your peripheral vision.
I hoped you wouldn’t assume I was in any way interested in speaking to you, or that I wanted to be spoken to. I sat there, perched on my seat, impatiently waiting for the light to turn so I could move forward, be free and not have to worry about what you were thinking or what your agenda was.
The light took an inordinately long time to turn.
Before it did, I saw with dread you turning toward me.
My heart raced.
What would you say? Would it be crude or vulgar? Would I have to come up with some quick-witted response, designed to shut you down but not overly offend you?
“Do you know how many miles this bike path is?” you asked. Your tone was inscrutable. Neither friendly or rude.
I debated for one weighted, interminable minute.
Should I answer you? That scar on your face. Was it an accident? Did someone fight back when you tried to hurt them? Or was it something else altogether that I would never understand? If I spoke to you as a man, was I inviting danger? But if I didn’t speak to you as a human being, was I a bad person?
“The path runs about 24 miles. If you follow it in this direction, you will eventually reach the botanic gardens,” I said.
You smiled at me. “This is my first time here.” Your accent was Polish, maybe Russian. Your smile seemed sincere.
“Well, good luck. The route is hard to follow at times. But you’ll figure it out.”
“Thank you! Okay!” you grinned, the angry red scar on your face creasing with the effort.
“Okay. Have fun,” I sort of mumbled as you rode away, not wanting you to believe I was overly invested in what you were doing or the things we had (briefly) discussed.
As you crossed the road, I was careful to remain behind you. It was not easy, because you clearly did not know the way. I lingered on my bike and spun my pedals as I waited for you to wait for oncoming cars and find your bearings. When you finally rode a comfortable distance ahead of me (because I let you, not because I am slow) and became a non-troublesome blur of blue shirt and red shorts, I allowed myself to take a breath.
Why must it always be this way? I thought.
I remembered then something that someone once said to me—or did I hear it on a television show?
A man’s primary concern is that he’ll be rejected; women are afraid they will be killed.
I rode the rest of the way home speculating; could you—this person—have been a friend?
My husband would have laughed at me for asking. “He just wanted to f*ck you,” he’d say. As if it were a compliment.
You are the hunter, I am the prey.
I will always ride behind you and choose my words and my tone carefully. For you might swoop down upon me and devour me without remorse. And this is how it is with men and women, and how it is in the world.
After over three years at elephant and 536 articles, I have decided to step down as featured writer. I have cherished every moment here and the opportunities for growth it has provided, both as an author and a woman seeking truth and healing.
If you have read my words, I thank you.
May we all be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Toby Israel
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