I know you are looking at me because I can feel your eyes on my body. A quick glance in your direction confirms it. You, and your friend.
I’m glad I have sunglasses on, so I don’t have to either catch, or avoid your eye. If I catch your eye I might imply my acceptance of your scrutiny. Even take responsibility for it.
If I avoid it, I defer to your power. I make myself your subordinate, and concur with your evaluation that I am there for you.
Underneath the front of my dungaree shorts, I am wearing a cropped vest. I know you can see the sides of my body, my naked skin, from around the bottom of my ribcage to the top of my hips. I can feel the air on my stomach.
I remind myself that I don’t need to justify how I dress. I shouldn’t have to automatically point out how hot it is, how I like to feel air on my skin, how I am not wearing this with the specific intent of soliciting attention from you or anybody else, that I’m a married woman and if nothing else would deter you the fact I already 'belong' to another man might.
I shouldn’t have to.
I am acutely conscious of the motion of walking. How am I walking, exactly? What messages are you interpreting from my body as I put one foot in front of the other? Must make sure my hips don’t swing too much. Or that my buttocks aren’t too revealed by the length of my stride. Shorter steps. Must not look like I’m strutting or parading. Exhibiting myself.
You and your friend lean back, your eyes still raking over me. You’re smiling. Nodding. Talking in a low tone.
Thoughts rise before I can stop them. I should be flattered by the attention. I should take it as a compliment. I should think it’s empowering. If I were attracted to you, I would feel totally differently about your scrutiny. I would be enlivened, excited, validated. I would be floating on air.
I’m a hypocrite.
This discomfort, the anxiety rising in me, it's all my own fault.
I should have put on baggy, knee-length shorts. I should be wearing a loose-fitting vest that conceals my femaleness. That would still be light and airy. I don’t have to flash so much flesh to stay cool. I must have secretly wanted your attention and now I have it, I have absolutely no grounds for disliking it. I’m getting exactly what I deserve.
Silly little girl. Silly little girl who argued so vociferously that women should be able to wear whatever they like without judgement or assessment.
Foolish, naïve child to think I could expose any part of my body whatsoever without it instantly becoming sexualised.
Silly little girl, to think my body belongs to me.
Shame washes over me. Crashes over me. I reach for my four-year-old daughter’s hand, wanting the protection of her innocent presence to remind you that contrary to my appearance, I am sexually unavailable.
I turn my head to listen to my six-year-old daughter as we pass you and your friend so I don’t have to see you even behind my sunglasses, because I can already feel my cheeks are flushed with mortification.
With my other hand, I pull on my dog’s lead to urge her closer to me.
As the distance between us increases, I still feel your eyes on my departing back. I still taste my own shame, thick and rank in my throat. Silly little girl.
I tighten my grip on my daughter’s hand.