Men are terror. You learn this early enough. I don't remember my very first realisation of this truth – I was probably too young. Instead of carrying that first lesson of just how men can unseat your equilibrium, I remember first learning that they could find you anywhere. I was eleven or twelve, Watching the YoTV kids play a silly game on a black and white 32-centimeter TV set my mother had recently bought. A man was in the yard looking for someone. We lived next to the gate so we missed nothing. He suggestively grabbed his crotch asking how I would touch or treat him – I'm not sure. Later, I stood behind my mother after we went to the yard where he lived. She told them she would burn everything to the ground if he ever came near me again. I never greeted him again, or felt any pity for him when I saw him passed-out-drunk on the street.
Last year was the year men repeatedly shook me out of my body, the year my mutual internet follows got to watch me recall fresh traumas across Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.
2016 got off to a terrible start: In a neighbourhood I had always felt reasonably safe in – where I had spent years learning to navigate and "stay safe", a man pointed a gun in my face, demanding my phone. I was confused, angry. In the canvas tote bag I was carrying, I also had a laptop that belongs to my employer. For too many seconds I couldn't find the phone in the bag, he kept waving the gun in my face, pulling me into a darker area.
As he went through my wallet, he found my ID and told me to take it. He kept mentioning a friend of his who was on his way to the scene. The friend wouldn't be gentle or as nice, apparently. He had a gun to me but still felt the need to dangle the threat of more danger and harm. The situation likely didn't last that long but it felt eternal. For weeks that followed, in my sleep and on taxis and during conversations, I found myself coming through that path, him corking the gun, my startled scream. I don't know when my mind stopped replaying the reel.
It's through my understanding of the terror men can inflict that I have, in my 25 years of life, devised strategies of safety and escape.
Next, in Noord taxi rank after seven – my worst scenario: being in Noord after dark – I stepped on a homeless man as we both manoeuvred to avoid the pool of dirty water in our way. To my apology, he yelled, demanding to know what he's supposed to do with it. He said he should shoot me – I saw the decision forming on his face. He followed me, saying he had the good mind to kill me and I believed he could do it if he chose to. The rank was not empty, it wasn't peak-time-busy but there were people and taxis coming and going. I saw my head split open by this stranger. I saw myself falling and eventually dying. Maybe they would start to see what is going on then.
As a rule, I do not look at car crashes or when people lie dead in public spaces such as a taxi rank. While this man followed me, painting a strong picture of my public death with his ravings, I couldn't stop the tears. Later, I would rationalise that life had fucked him over so much that he felt that I had stepped on him on purpose. He'd come to expect it from life and had a script ready in response. I wouldn't make any excuses for him. Life fucking him over didn't justify the venom, I refused to believe he didn't understand how potent it was. In the meantime, I ducked between parked taxis and made my way to my bay and into a taxi. He was gone. Nobody saw a thing.
This does not mention the would-be friends, acquaintances or lovers who have taken the varying intimacies we shared and mangled them into ugly shapes. This was casual violence that women supposedly sign up for each time we leave the house.
Again, in the traumatic Noord Taxi rank vicinity, two men found me waiting for a light to change so I could get to the other side and one stood just in from of me and the other to my right. The one in front said "incane into ebulalisa umuntu" and followed up to say he wanted my phone, which he expected to be in my bag. It wasn't even dark yet. I was baffled, I was pissed off. I told them I would scream and everyone around us would know – it was a bluff so bad my voice shook. I knew I could scream but I wasn't sure anyone would care or look up.
When the light changed and I got across, hoping they didn't follow me, I looked back to see the man who'd told me I could die, waving and smiling. He shouted that he had been joking. It was only right that I give them the finger while I prayed they would stay there.
The next time a man decided to kick at my foundations is still fresh on my mind. This is because in the last month, I had to ride on the taxi he drives two times. The strangest escalation of my life, as I first thought of it, was routine enough: A woman didn't know where she was going and this man didn't want to give her directions. Called out, by me, he turned sniper and focused the rear-view mirror. He called me all manner of fat and sloppy. I was taken by surprise because do people really talk to other people like that? If there were a scenario that would warrant the barrage of verbal abuse, was that the one? Simply asking for better service for another person?
Other than myself and the woman who had just disembarked from the taxi, correct directions finally on her side, there were maybe two other people in the taxi and the driver's friend who was sitting with him chatting it up. The disbelief mixed with the humiliation – job well done to him – had an audience. Weeks after it happened, I had to check whether it was him when I signalled for a taxi and when a quantum stopped.
These are just the random men who came charging in and out of my world. This does not mention the would-be friends, acquaintances or lovers who have taken the varying intimacies we shared and mangled them into ugly shapes. This was casual violence that women supposedly sign up for each time we leave the house.
The good thing that came out of this experience is I refuse to normalise the fear and the trauma. At each of these blows – and many other less-flashy ones I had to forget to keep sane – I stayed shocked. We don't deserve to live in fear. We shouldn't have to prepare for violence. Expecting terror shouldn't be the cloak that finishes our outfits each time we leave the house. It's too much a price for women and people who present femme to pay.