I spot that head of curly silver hair, proud in its shabbiness, from across the long table in the noisy room full of people, alcohol, and not enough food. Below it, rests a familiar smirk. I don’t know the man who needlessly stands at an angle against other men who make eye contact and politely nod along. He – the man with that bouncy silver hair that irritates me – has a wandering eye. He scans the room. His mannerism is distracted and flighty, like a hormonal teenager. But, he’s no teenager. He’s at least two decades older than me. He thinks he’s young. I haven’t spoken to him, but I can tell that he “likes to hang out with younger people because they energize him.” A man a lot like him once said these words to me, and I am certain that this bouncy silver-haired stranger who rubs me the wrong way, would say something similar. It’s a type I’ve learnt to sniff out from a distance.
They walk a certain way. With a spring in their step that’s inappropriate for their age. They smile a lot, and make light of everything you say or do. Oh, how thrilling it can be at first! How freeing to not be burdened by the gravitas of your life. Until you realise that their witty sense of humour is fully marinated for when they want to gloss over the pain they cause you. ‘Oh, it’s no big deal,’ they say, with an inconsiderate joke, and that smirk on the face. That fucking smirk.
I watch him scan the room, pausing every time he spots a young woman. I hope he locks eyes with me, so that I can communicate my contempt for men like him. But, he doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t. He doesn’t make eye contact with any of the other women who aren’t young enough, or coy enough. Men like him know who to prey on. They hunt down the naive ones, the young ones, the hopeful ones, the vulnerable ones. There are quite a few here in this room, and I pray for their safety tonight. ‘It’s a private party. There’s too many people. He won’t dare do anything,’ I tell myself.
Later, I see him holding a young woman’s hand longer than she’d have liked. She pulls back, as he leans in, and comments on her off-shoulder dress. She intuitively pulls the sleeve up, which is, in fact, meant to rest on the middle of her bicep. I stare him down as I walk past him. He doesn’t give a shit. Of course.
Even later, I see him forcibly kissing a young woman. Younger than me, definitely. Decades younger than him. She tries to stop him, politely. But, he’s old and powerful, and she is only at the beginning of her career. She asks him about this company or that. He dismisses her with generic and pointless answers. ‘Yeah, it’s good.’ ‘You should go for it.’ ‘I don’t know about that one.’ No explanation. No helpful information. In between a few more unsolicited kisses, he tells her that she should go home with him, and they can talk all about it over some wine. She tells him she’ll follow him. She wants to escape.
I try to make eye contact with the young woman. She doesn’t look my way. I decide I’ve judged the situation wrongly. I’m confused. I’m awkward. I’m in denial. I do nothing.
The next day, I can’t stop thinking about her. I can’t stop thinking about how all I had to do was walk up to her, pretend to have run into her after years, and drag her away from that man I don’t know, but I know. I feel terrible.
I tell my husband. He feels terrible, but can’t understand why she wouldn’t just say no. There were so many people around, after all. She was safe. She was, yes. In a way. He wouldn’t have raped her or killed her at the party. But, that doesn’t matter. As a young woman navigating this world which clearly belongs to rich men with privilege that grants them immunity, you don’t always know how to say no. You don’t want to piss them off. You doubt yourself. You tell yourself you’re reading too much into it. You play it cool, and go with what they tell you – that it’s no big deal.
But, it is. It is a big fucking deal. It is a big deal that men like that curly haired lech don’t fear anyone. That they have no reason to, because they don’t have to face real consequences. One company may fire them. Another will hire. There are enough young and impressionable women out in the world who trust too much and forgive too much and love too much. So, maybe, for him it really is no big deal.
But, it is. It is a big fucking deal, and I know it. I know somewhere deep inside, she knows it, too, but she’s silenced herself like all women do at some point. And so have I. And I feel terrible.
I write. I read. I do yoga. I hula hoop. I love cats and dogs in equal measure. I'd say the same for wine. My zen motto: "Eat kale for the body, cake for the soul." Find me on IG: @prachigangwani87