[Let's get Serious]: Reflection, by way of A Rant: I was Robbed, and this is How I Feel about It
I don’t know where to start. I have wanted to have something written down about the incident for almost two months now. I’m always starting paragraphs in my mind, then scrapping them. They sound too whiney, too selfish, too naïve.
What I want to say is that I am angry. I am angry, and I am probably still in disbelief. I am not able to walk around the neighbourhood or in town without being afraid that there’s someone waiting to attack me. I feel foolish for being so indignant about what happened. Foolishness compounds into guilt when I think of how people would probably say “it could have been worse…you should just be grateful- you were lucky” if I told them how I was feeling.
I haven’t been able to write anything because I still feel, somewhere at the back of my mind, that it was my fault for being out alone in a new (read: strange) place like that. Even now, I am not actually saying anything. I’m still hiding behind the word “it”, and using phrases like “the incident”…
On the 7th of March, while I was walking down one of the more residential streets of Observatory, I was attacked. I remember the sound of footsteps speeding towards me, then arms clamped around my neck. Next, I’m on the ground, kicking around while trying to hit the person who’s clearly trying to strangle me. By the time he has let go of me, pulled my bag off my shoulder and run off, I am in tears. I get up feeling dizzy, and start walking back the way I came- hoping someone in one of the houses will hear me calling for help.
I don’t have my glasses anymore, and I’m throwing my hands over my head saying “oh my god…I can’t believe this…please help me” over and over again. A man in an AA truck says he can’t help me. A woman appears seemingly from nowhere, and offers her help. She says saw the guy running towards me. She wants to drive off after him, but at that moment I am not interested in tracking down or confronting the person who made me feel so vulnerable and unsafe. I just want to be home. I can’t believe what has just happened. All I wanted was to see where the train station was, so I could plan a trip to Muizenberg for an upcoming weekend.
What I got was the shock of my life. A close encounter with crime. Of course, I knew that it was something that happened, but I had never given much thought to what it was like to be a victim of it. Now I feel like I should have been more enraged (and sympathetic) when I had heard about the three or four times that my friends or family had been mugged.
I had to go to the police station after Kate (the woman who wanted to drive after the guy) dropped me off at my place. After using the phone at reception to call my aunt to tell her what happened, and drinking some of the Coke the receptionist gave me (because apparently sugar helps to calm nerves…?), someone walked me to the police station.
I was silent and kept my head down for most of the walk. I tried to keep up as best I could, but all I wanted was to be at home. (Suddenly it seemed like I was a whole world away from home.) I wanted to be back at the moment before I decided to walk to the train station, so I could warn myself against it.
At the police station, I had to relive parts of the experience for the docket. Where were you? What time was it? What did he look like? What was he wearing? Would you be able to identify him? What did he take?
All I could say I saw was a Coloured guy in a red golf shirt. Later, it occurred to me that it was probably the guy who was looking at me while I tried to take a picture of the tunnel leading to the platforms at the station. I had ideas of posting the picture as part of a “things to see around Observatory” series. So much for that. There’s also something about the way he looked at me in the split-second before he ran off. It was almost as if there was something he expected me to say. (I can think of a lot of disparaging things to say, punctuated by well-placed expletives and a few jibes about mothers- but it doesn’t matter now.)
One of the police officers asked me if I was going to need to speak to some type of counsellor. I said no, partly because I didn’t want anything more to do with the police, and partly because I had already started to feel like I was being a burden. (Why did I (or, do I) believe that my feelings are a nuisance for the people around me?)
The next day, someone knocked on my door to tell me there was a detective waiting for me downstairs. It’s early on a Saturday, but I’m up: I couldn’t switch off the lights or fall asleep the night before. The detective wants to know if I have any physical injuries, and I say no- it’s only that I can still feel where that guy’s hands were around my neck. (Over the next few days, that tightness I was feeling begins to feel more like a bruising- the area around my neck and my chest is painful to touch.)
I didn’t think I would be going any further than the reception, but the detective says he wants me to show him where it happened. So it’s a Saturday morning and I’m in the front seat of a detective’s car with a doek on, and a cardigan pulled over my pyjama top. (I have no bra on, either, so if this were a different situation the story would most likely be a lot more scandalous…)
There is awkward small talk about where I’m from and what I’m studying- all the things that don’t seem to matter anymore. We get to the street near the train station, and apparently the street I said I was on is not the same as the street I am showing the detective now. He says something like “so the street is actually called…”, and I feel slighted. Surely he could’ve made the correction privately, without making me feel like I should’ve tried harder to remember exactly where something bad happened to me?
On the drive back, he says there’s not much the police can do because I can’t identify the guy. And unless I have phone’s serial number, I won’t be getting that back either. I could’ve figured that out by myself. I hadn’t had high hopes of finding the guy, and I didn’t want any of the stuff back either. How would that go? “Oh, sorry- I didn’t mean to try to strangle you, then make off with just about everything that is valuable to you and important for your life. Here’s your bag back”? Not likely. I just wanted to forget it all happened.
The next week or so was horrible. I can’t see clearly, I don’t have a phone, and all my cards are gone. Effectively, I have no money and I have no way of communicating with my people. Add to that the fact that I lost my ID and my glasses, and you can see why I felt helpless and vulnerable.
Every time I had to squint to read a sign or noticeboard, every time I remembered I couldn’t access the library, every time I thought of the value of all the things I’d lost (material things, yes, but things that mattered all the same), I remembered what happened. I thought back to being on the ground, struggling to break free, thinking “my parents did not send me to Cape Town to die.”
I think the sharp awareness of my own mortality is what’s most jarring. Of course, I had no illusions that I was invincible before- I’m a reasonable person. But it’s knowing that at any given moment, if I make it obvious that I have a phone, or a watch or money, or whatever, it could be over for me.
I hate thinking that someone attacked me, and then stole from me, and what I automatically think is “it could’ve been worse- at least he didn’t have a knife or a gun.” At least. Like I should just accept that I’m lucky to have survived, and move on.
“It happens.” Why does it happen? Why should I feel “lucky” that this violation and complete disregard of my personal space (belongings/ dignity/ individual freedom) was “not as bad” as something else?
As if I didn’t have enough trust issues. I never answer any of these men that greet me with their ‘hello sweeties’ and their ‘unjani mamas’ on the streets. Because what business do we have with each other? These men have been making my life difficult for years.
But this is different. Now I’ve had to deal with a man (or, more accurately and from what I could see without my glasses and through tears, a boy) who caused me physical harm and has made the possibility of someone else doing that to me very real in my life. I am always looking over my shoulder now- I feel unsafe in the world.
I can certainly not use trains alone now. All train stations are dangerous to me now- going there would be putting myself at risk. I can’t make plans for myself and move around freely anymore. I hate that.
I could blame capitalism, or a corrupt government, or generations of inherited inequalities that drive people to violence and crime. I could blame patriarchy, for the way it keeps in place a system within which women will always be the first to be victimised and violated.
There are many “should haves” and “if onlys”, but in the end what people say is true. It could happen to anyone, and it really is the way it is.
That doesn’t mean I accept it.