It was a few weeks into September, shortly after I started a job at a marketing agency in Seattle. I had to bus back to the Microsoft campus in Redmond to update my credentials. It was my second or third time having to do this and it was pretty out of the way for me, seeing as how I lived 20 minutes north of the city at the time, so I had to leave around noon if I wanted to eventually get home by 5PM. Needless to say, I was already pretty irritated as I dropped down on the bench to wait for my bus. I hadn’t brought my headphones that day, either. The situation just plain sucked overall.
Five minutes passed. Then ten. I found myself getting anxious and opened up my backpack to double-check that I had everything I needed: laptop, employee ID, wallet… Everything was there, of course.
As I zipped my bag back up, I saw a man approaching the bus stop from my left. He looked to be in his 60’s or 70’s. I can’t recall his ethnicity, but he had a distinct deep tan about him, contrasted by the gray of his fine-tailored suit. He had a cane and a crooked smile as he approached me, and I felt my stomach begin to bend itself into knots.
Please don’t. It’s a thought I have all-too-often I do feel guilty for having that sort of instant reaction, but it’s proven to be justified about 50% of the time. All I can do is brace myself — just like how I did as a kid.
The bench I was sitting on was actually underneath one of those shelters, which makes sense seeing as how it rains almost year-round often in Washington. There were two or three lined up side-by-side on the sidewalk with a bench under each. He stood at the very corner of the one I was under and didn’t do anything but cast me a polite smile at first. I let my shoulders slump in relief and silently thanked him for maintaining a respectable distance.
But the universe likes to mock me, because it was at that point he turned and asked, “Excuse me, but could I share that bench with you?”
“Oh, sure!” I was nervous so I answered immediately and scooted as far left as I possibly could.
“I don’t bite,” he concluded with a chuckle, and moved to sit beside me. I laughed uneasily at the joke, hoping he wouldn’t — “Unless you want me to.”
FUCK. That was it: that glint in his eye. Suddenly a potentially innocent old man had revealed himself to be a creep and now I was trapped sitting next to him. I knew it. Why did I say yes?!
“Aha…” I busied myself with my phone instead and tried not to hold eye contact. He was looking at me, though. I could feel it. Come on, 545. Please.
“Are you Indian?” he asked abruptly.
“No,” My tone had permanently transformed into uneasy laughter. “Filipino.”
“Oh! I see! Well, you’re very beautiful.”
“Thank you.” Please, stop. I’m sure you could be my grandfather in age. Stop it.
“Very, very beautiful. What do you like to do for fun, eh?”
I wish I had the courage to say I shut him down directly, but I didn’t. I never do. I don’t know what it is that makes it so difficult to stand up for myself. Is it Society’s expectation that women be polite always? Probably. Either way, I continued the conversation longer than I should have.
“Oh, not much, honestly. I’m kind of a workaholic! All I do is work.” I hoped that would shut him down, wouldn’t give him anything to latch onto.
“No, I think you have lots of friends.”
“A beautiful girl like you? I bet you have a new guy every night! And one for every day, too.” He was grinning. Projecting a fantasy onto me as if I were a cardboard cutout. I could feel my skin crawling.
“N-No, not really. I’m far too busy for that,” I assured him, and leaned forward to peer around the corner. Where was this bus? My phone app said 15 minutes. This was the longest 15 minutes in history.
“You should! It’s good for you,” He insisted. “You know what isn’t good for you? Marriage.”
“O-Oh?” I couldn’t help but observe the wedding ring on his finger, in addition to the chunky golden ones on his other hand. He seemed rich to me. I connected his appearance and his demeanor, as well as the query about my ethnicity and wondered if he had an arranged marriage. I felt bad for his wife. I felt bad for his wife whether it was arranged or not, really.
“Yes. Marriage doesn’t mean anything,” he explained. “And men don’t love you, anyway.”
If I had been drinking, I would’ve done a spit-take. As a young lady born and raised on Disney princess movies who has fantasized about her wedding day since age six, I felt personally insulted. Again, I looked for the bus. “Is that so?”
“Nope. Men don’t love anyone. Marriage means nothing. The best thing you can do, my dear, is never get married. Just have fun!” I wondered if he truly believed he was giving me sage advice or if he was trying to lead — “Have you ever been with a married man?”
Holy shit. This just keeps getting worse.
“No, I’m I’m not interested in that.”
I started to worry that he’d follow me onto my bus. If so, I’d have to get off early — I didn’t care. But what if he got off, too? I know now that my anxiety was getting the better of me, but at the time I’d rather have a plan than not. If he did follow me all the way to Redmond, I knew I could lose him by using my ID card to get into a restricted area. I took comfort in that knowledge, but still preferred it not be the case.
“Aw, that’s too bad. I’ve never had a Filipina before.”
God, what have I done to deserve this? I only hummed in response this time, praying he would get the hint that I wasn’t interested. At all. But I had a feeling he had gotten the hint and didn’t care — and that thought was the terrifying part. Men like that have the potential to be capable of terrible things.
The conversation continued, but I can’t quite recall much of the details because it was more of the same. More ‘oh, I bet you have a lot of boyfriends’ and ‘oh, you’re so pretty’ up until finally his bus arrived. He got up and reminded me once more never to marry before giving me a friendly wave and boarding. Then he was gone.
I put my head in my hands and heaved a great sigh of relief while simultaneously suppressing a full-body shiver. It was only then that bus 545 rolled up. Perfect timing, right?