Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What a whistle means

Three black men leaning on a wall outside a Broolyn convenience store on Myrtle Avenue broke into whistles and words as a woman walked by. The woman was Indian, and was often mistaken for Latin American, but these noises did not discriminate between nationalities. The men lived in the nearby ghetto and, given its violent reputation, were somewhat restrained in their opinions. Previously, one lady had returned home without looking over her shoulder and found, when she shut the door and turned around, a rather large and unknown man from the ghetto in her living room. Another had returned late on a winter evening and was raped in her brownstone lobby by someone who had posed as a resident. Stories of being followed were endless. When the police and fire departments were diverted to Manhattan on September 11, crime spurted and, if my memory is true, women friends stayed indoors.

It was a Sunday afternoon when we passed by the three men. There was barely anyone else around, and their presence made the moment seem as threatening as a late night stroll. Suddenly it was unwise to be here – daylight did not matter when the street was deserted. She was thin and tiny, and I could not possibly fight them. But there was pride. “Don’t just stand there, do something,” the inner masochist appealed. Caught between machismo and caution I paused briefly, but she took my arm reflexively, yanking me back into stride.

Down the lane she smiled unexpectedly and said, “It’s not all bad. Delhi was much, much worse. These guys were appreciating me, and I’m flattered. You think it’s all abuse, but it’s not. With some guys you can just tell what they mean.”