When you sit next to a rapist, something inside your body screams in fear, but you’re not sure if you should be scared in the first place.
Sure, you’re a woman, and his history of violence, the history that you know of anyway, is generally with women. You don’t know everything. But you do not need to know everything. Just one story is enough. Why isn’t it always, though?
You know that he makes a good blazer look great. You know that his beard curls softly around itself, making his face look more like that of a dapper older man than a certified assaulter. You know that he’s an artist who gets his hands dirty with paints and watercolours, graffiti and charcoal drawings, making a world much like his own where once again, he is the master, the shaper, the creator and destroyer, with one stroke of a brush.
You know that he makes women do things they don’t want to do. You know that they leave his house, sometimes in tears, sometimes in screams, sometimes in absolute silence, grieving for the thing that died in his sheets by the graveside of emotions they will never feel again. That they will stifle. Because feeling them means their minds will begin to be unravelled by memory.
You know that not enough women know about this man, because the body count grows. And you know he’s never been tried for anything. Accused of anything. Beaten by anyone. Chastised, even. Not even a slap on the wrist. Some mild societal ostracization. A drink thrown in his face, for God’s sake. Anything, surely.
Those who are aware here act like they are not. Which is even worse. Because you’re sitting next to a rapist, and the people who know he is one would let you leave this party with him, and keep drinking their wine, commenting on the DJ’s great taste.
He turns to you and smiles. You are confused because the smile is not that of a hunter. He does not look predatory, doesn’t wear a label in red shouting a warning. He is talking about Nairobi rain and politics. His words wash over you in a blur and you nod. You can’t even help it…you smile. You have always been taught to smile at men…at people, in polite conversation, and so your lips betray your solidarity with his victims and they pull upwards.
Your body is working on autopilot because there is no rule book on how to behave around abusers; try not to attract attention, so that nothing happens to you. Or attract attention so that someone notices if something goes wrong. Smile, so that maybe if you create a bond he will not hurt you, but also, don’t smile, so that he doesn’t feel comfortable trying to hurt you. Because you look no-nonsense. Like you’ll report him at a whiff of impropriety. Cross your legs to indicate, by your body language, that you want nothing from him, but don’t cross your legs because it looks sexy? And you don’t know what rapists are into these days? And you don’t want to be next?
He gets up to dance with a girl. You know she likes him. Of course, she does. He smells good. Like wood shavings and musk, and whisky. There is no reason not to, right? You see the contemplative look in his eye. Your body and throat seize up, filling with bile, but your smile stays and you don’t move.
You are there. Smiling. Like the rest of them.