Gender & Identity, Life

brown skin, city streets

“don’t smile, and you dare not laugh with your mouth open.” Was this her way of telling us how to avoid rape?

“i didn’t touch you,” he said

springtime, i flaunt in kameez and churidaar, my chiffon orna dancing to the soft breeze,
hugging my body,

the inches my mother always reminded Sabia, Sazia and i to veil,

buk dhako,” she would tell us, cover your chest but really, cover your breasts

regardless of size. i was never flat and so my mother gave my boobs extra attention
especially before they walked down brooklyn’s Little Bangladesh

“make sure your orna falls to your thighs, keep your eyes on the ground.” Was this her
way of protecting us from the male gaze? Was this her way of molding us into acceptable
Bengali girls? Was this her way of policing our bodies?

i learned to take in the Bengali men’s subtle hisses, i love yous, terribly high-pitched
humming to something Bollywood, or that one time when the imam-to-be at Baitul
Jannah Masjid revealed his love for me…i hadn’t even had my first period or that time
when i had been vigorously picking at my teeth because i couldn’t dislodge the remnant
food still stuck, only to be met with winking eyes and an audible kiss from a man
sitting across from me on the train.

“don’t smile, and you dare not laugh with your mouth open.” Was this her way of telling
us how to avoid rape? Was this her way of creating a difference between men and women?
Was this her way of telling us that we were beautiful?

despite the years of perfecting how to cover and keep a straight face, my most serious
face was met with, “ekta hashi dao,” “you should smile.”

and sometimes i would give in to their requests to smile or know how my day was going,
these were the easiest of their demands, and besides, i’m not a bitch, a slut, or whatever
derogatory adjectives my rejection was sometimes met with

i learned to keep walking, that my femme body will be objectified and fetishized by men
on the streets is a mundane part of life

i know it’ll happen except i didn’t know he would spit on me

why did you spit on me?!

he’s not Bengali, perhaps my kameez is foreign to him, perhaps my kameez is foreign to
the city crowd who did not stop at my cry

his saliva slid off the left cheek of my face as i tried to retaliate…but  never learned how
to

why would you do that?” i tasted the first tear. i tried hard to hold in the kettles
because he could not know, he could not know the fear and sadness that took over.

my body knows how to handle trauma
…that trauma, brownness, and woman are synonymous is something i’ve internalized

miss, at least i didn’t touch you.

…that i fear street harassment from men of my own and other men of color resonates
more than ever,

my brown skin in kameez

needs to be tamed with your spit because after all, a wild me, a woman who is yours only
through salivation, cannot roam free

i am revisiting this narrative after eight months since the incident and still,

it’s the entitlement that i don’t / will never understand,

i question my inability to heal entirely,

why i felt so powerless and paralyzed, that i could’ve done something…but didn’t.

the resilience that is my body, i want to know how it outlives the splinters.