At first the man seemed innocuous.
“Hey! I like your red shoes!” he called from across the aisle, quiet enough that Colin didn’t even hear.
“Colin?” I asked and he turned. “The man says he likes your shoes.”
“Thank you,” Colin said dutifully.
“I like your green coat,” the man continued. “It’s very bright”. Colin simply nodded. “And your hair,” he added. At that point Colin put in his earbuds.
“I really like your shoes,” the man continued then repeated it again as Colin stayed silent. I wondered when he was going to get the hint that Colin did not want to talk.
“He’s wearing headphones, he can’t hear you,” I pointed out, hoping that would be the end. It wasn’t.
“He can hear me just fine,” the man said with a chuckle. “See?” he added as Colin took out the buds.
The bus stopped. I hoped the man was leaving but it was just a woman getting on. She took a seat nearby.
“Are they Converse?” he asked once the bus started again.
“No,” I replied. Colin stayed silent.
“They look like really bouncy shoes. I bet you’re bouncy too.”
With that he got up and walked across the aisle, rubbing Colin’s arm before sitting down beside him. The lady looked at them and moved farther down the bus.
“I really like your hair,” he said softly as he stroked Colin’s hair. Colin looked as stunned as I felt.
“I think you’re so pretty.”
His hand moved to Colin’s arm again and the stroking continued.
Colin snapped, “Stop that! I don’t like that!” while I said, “Hey! Leave my son alone.”
“I want you to go back to your own seat,” Colin said forcefully. The man laughed.
“No,” he said simply. It was clear Colin had no idea what to do.
I was sitting in a section with only three seats so I moved to the middle seat.
“Colin, come sit beside me,” I said. He stood up and came over immediately.
“Thanks,” he whispered once he was settled.
The harassment didn’t end there. The man had been on the phone that whole time, pretty much ignoring whoever was on the other side. Now he gave them his full attention, detailing how gorgeous Colin was while flipping between referring to him as male and female.
“There’s two pretty girls,” the man continued. “The other one has blue hair and it looks really good on her. Matches her big blue eyes.”
At least we were almost to our stop. I tried to ignore the man but he was speaking loud enough for us to hear his every word. I knew it was on purpose.
“Can you skip going to Marshalls?” Colin asked earnestly, studiously looking everywhere except at the man seated across from us.
The plan was for me to take a peek at Marshalls and see if there was something there for Colin’s birthday in June while he bought snacks at Dollar Tree.
“Why don’t you wander around Marshalls while I look and then we can both go to Dollar Tree?”
“That’s fine,” he said with relief.
We got to the shopping centre and went to climb off the bus. Colin made a brief stop to tell the bus driver what happened. She looked bewildered, as if she had no idea what to do with that information. The man remained seated the whole time and stayed on board as the bus pulled away. Colin gave a visible sigh of relief.
“Where do you want to meet?” he asked.
“Umm… how about in the food section?” I asked, trying to picture a place in Marshalls that he could find easily.
“There’s a food section at Home Depot?” he asked in bewilderment. Then I clued in. Now that the man was gone, Colin felt fine to go on his own.
“How about at the key cutting place,” I said and he agreed.
It wasn’t until we’d paid for the keys and were on the way to the grocery store that Colin brought up the bus incident.
“I don’t like what that man did to me,” Colin blurted.
I doubled checked for cars and kept walking beside him, “I bet you don’t,” I agreed.
“He made me feel uncomfortable,” he continued. “Some women wouldn’t think that was sexual assault because it only happens to women.”
“Except you’re a woman,” I pointed out.
“The man didn’t know that,” Colin retaliated. I shrugged, even though he couldn’t see me.
“He called you a girl too.”
Colin didn’t have a response for that. We walked in silence a few more feet.
“I don’t like what that woman did,” Colin said, confusing the heck out of me.
“What woman?” I asked.
“The woman on the bus,” Colin explained. “He started touching my arm and she just got up and walked away.”
I nodded. “A lot of people are like that. They don’t know what to do or they don’t want to get involved so they ignore the situation.”
“I really didn’t like that,” Colin murmured under his breath. We stayed silent until we got to the grocery store. He hasn’t brought up the incidence since. Although I doubt he’s forgotten. I don’t think he ever will.
By some luck of the draw, Colin is a very feminine looking man, despite his height. Maybe that’s what attracted the man? It would make sense considering that he kept alternating genders for Colin.
Colin’s not an innocent in many ways. He’s taken a comprehensive sex education programme and is quite knowledgeable about politics, war, and how they combine. But today he lost that bit of innocence and gained the realization that some people will look at him just as an object to use and not a person. It’s a lesson I wish neither of my kids had ever learned.
Today Colin earned his #metoo