Image Credit: José Miguel Paredes
I’m 12 and I’m walking down the road to visit a friend from school. Although we are in the same class, she does not live in the same neighborhood as I do. Our school is right at the border of Kaunas, my home city in Lithuania, and a lot of children who study there come from the suburbs.
It’s a long stretch from my home to hers, but the bus to her neighborhood only passes by every couple of hours and I’d rather be walking than waiting. There are no houses on either side of that part of the road, as I’ve already left behind the imaginary border of the city. I’m walking alone.
A red convertible suddenly pulls over in front of me, blocking my way, so I am obliged to stop. I’m scared. “What time is it?” the guy in the car asks, with a mocking smile on his face. “It’s 2 p.m.,” I answer, trying to cheat myself into believing that it’s a normal question requiring a normal answer, and that if I follow that game, nothing bad can happen.
Miraculously, he then thanks me and drives away. I am too young.
I’m 14 and I’m keeping company to my mother whose male colleague invited her to come over to his house, so he can give us some vegetables from his garden. He is around 70, or at least that’s how I feel about his age at that moment. They both work at the same school where I study, and I know that they have also been close friends for the past couple of years. I am too young to grasp it at that moment, but almost two decades later, when I am already married myself, I will recognize, mirrored in the patterns of my own behavior, a repressed desire between them.
We meet my mom’s friend on the street close to his house and while saying “hello” to me, he pulls open the neck of my T-Shirt and drops a cherry between my breasts while looking down to see it fall in. I’m angry and embarrassed, and I mention this to my mother when we finally leave, and she says I should leave it there, that he only meant it as a joke.
I am 15 and it’s Teacher’s Day in Lithuania. According to the tradition, students give flowers to their favorite teachers on this day, and one can easily tell who the student favorites are by the number of flowers on the desks of each class as the day goes by.
I have my last flower with me, as I have already given the rest away to my favorite teachers. I have saved the last one for my anatomy teacher whom I couldn’t find during the day. He is grumpy most of the time, always telling us off for even the smallest offenses, and a lot of students don’t like him. But he also makes us think and question things, and once he even admitted he was wrong when I argued with him, which makes me like him even more, as I feel that he sees me as a person.
I take the advantage of the fact that my mom works at school, and with her help I find out where he has his next class. I get there a few minutes early and wait for him outside the classroom, the flower in my hand. And then there he is—tall, big, graying hair, a moustache. He must be almost 45.
“Happy Teacher’s Day,” I say and hand him the flower. He takes it and kisses me on the lips.
Only years later I realize it has been my first kiss.
I am 16 and I am walking to school in the morning. My mom works at my school, but she has to be there much earlier than me, so we never walk together.
The sun is already out, but it’s still a little dark. I am walking alone, although there are other kids walking in front and behind me—half of the neighborhood’s kids take the same road to go to school. I see a man walking towards me. He is short, his hair is black and curly, he is wearing light blue jeans. There is something weird about him, and I am almost at his level when I notice his penis hanging out of his unzipped pants.
In the next weeks I meet him often and my girl classmates tell me they have met him as well. Sometimes he just passes by, his penis swinging to the rhythm of his pace. Sometimes he hisses at me and offers me to suck it.
Almost a year later I am visiting a friend and we decide to walk to a nearby grocery store to get some food. When we get to a cashier we notice the “penis guy” packing his things away. We both recognize him and without any words between us we follow him out. He stores his stuff in the car while we take down his plate number.
We inform our mothers. Our mothers inform the police. We find out that the guy is a former student of our school, that he is married and has a child. For some reason I feel pity for him. He is not arrested, but he stops swinging his penis at us in the mornings.
I am 17 and after winning a local competition at my school, and later the second place in my home city Kaunas, I am invited to participate in the national competition of Russian language that will take place in Jonava, a small neighboring town in Lithuania. I know the competition won’t be fair, as a lot of participants have Russian speaking parents, given that Lithuania has only become independent a decade ago, but I’m proud to be one of those who did not have that advantage and still made it to the national competition.
My Russian teacher drives me and another girl, who came from some other school in my city, to the competition. It will last for two days, so we’ll have to spend the night in Jonava, and I’m excited. I have my guitar with me, as instead of reading a poem in Russian I am planning to sing it, hoping to win the jury by being original, knowing that there will be many participants whose language skills are much better than mine.
When we arrive, I discover that the other girl and me will be sharing a room in a Soviet style student dorm. After the day is over, all participating students are offered to go to a local disco, to which students from local schools have also been invited. I look at the boys in tracksuits hanging around on the street and decide not to go. The other girl agrees with me, so we walk back to our room in the dorm together.
Once inside, we spend the evening chatting, then I take out my guitar and sing a few songs for her. I fall silent immediately when we hear a loud bang on the door. “Open the door!”
Another bang. Then a kick. Then another one.
“Open it NOW!” Another boy’s voice. “We know you are there!”
The girl and me look at each other silently, our hearts pounding so hard that I’m sure the boys on the other side of the door can hear us.
Another bang. “Don’t hide from us!”
I am sure that the whole dorm must hear them, so someone must come and tell them off, but then we might be the only ones who have not gone to the disco. I am watching the face of the girl that has gone completely white now and I am wondering if she knows, as well as me, that although the key is in its lock, I have forgotten to lock door when we entered the room.
For the next fifteen minutes that feel to me like hours—and while we listen to a series of never ending obscenities aimed at us, or rather at the entire girl race—I am trying to gather all my courage and make myself stand up, go to the door and lock it. I replay that series of movements in my head between the bangs, but I am petrified, and I can’t move.
“YOU BITCHES!” one of them shouts, emphasizing his message with a series of kicks. And then there’s a sudden silence. A minute has gone. Then another one. We do not move, do not talk, just watch each other’s pale faces, and I can’t believe that in that half an hour of rage none of the boys has even tried to turn the handle.
I jump up, run to the door and turn the key. It’s 10:30 p.m. The night has just started.
I am 21 and although I’m about to finish my BA in sociology at the university, I still live with my parents in the same residential neighborhood at the border of the city.
It’s early afternoon when I get off a bus that takes me from the university to the adjacent neighborhood from which I sometimes walk back home. Public transportation system seems to have frozen in time since Lithuania recovered its independence after the Soviet times, and buses to my own neighborhood are still scarce. I’m impatient to be home, so I decide to walk.
I don’t take that route often, as almost all the way I have to walk on a highway which is not meant for pedestrians. I know I am almost halfway there when I reach the place where a few major highways meet. What I am not aware of is that the police have recently registered a few cases of kidnapping and rape under the same overpass I am passing by right now. Even though I don’t have this knowledge, I don’t feel safe walking there alone and the case of the red convertible more than a decade ago crosses my mind.
I only get to take a few more steps when a black car slows down and then continues driving next to me.
“Do you need a ride?” the guy in the car says.
I keep walking and he keeps driving next to me as well. I can’t believe it is really happening, and although I almost can’t breathe out of fear, at the same time it feels like I’m part of a movie. I try to cheat myself into believing that one can’t be hurt in a movie. The man must be around 40; his hair is black and unkempt; he is overweight. This time I am old enough to know that this is not a normal conversation, and once again, I make myself participate in it. I thank him for his kind offer.
“I live just around the corner,” I say, although there are no houses around the corner and he must know it. I keep walking and he slows down, and in a few moments that seem to last for hours I leave him behind. I can’t believe my luck when his car suddenly reemerges and catches up with me again.
“Are you sure?” he says.
I thank him again and keep walking. He does not follow.
I am 23 and I am in my first year of social anthropology master program at the same university where I did my undergraduate program. I feel excited as not only we have a visiting professor from the US that day—something that does not happen often—but the university administration also asked us, the students, to take him out for a drink that night.
There are a few of us with him at the bar. The conversation is interesting, but the English of my fellow students is failing and it’s me who is talking to the professor most of the time. He is big and has a graying beard, and he fiddles with his camera that sits on the table all the time. His eyes are quick and smart. Although the evening has just started, my colleagues start to leave, each giving a different excuse. I like the course of our conversation and I feel that the professor is enjoying it as well, and I am reluctant to leave.
A few more minutes pass and everyone else is gone —only the two of us are at the table now. In a blink of an eye the tone of the conversation changes, and the professor says that he knows that I want him, because I am the one who stayed until the end and because he took photos of me —he is showing me the photos while he is saying that—and they prove his point. He is still my professor and I feel that I need to explain myself as I must have given him a wrong impression, so I keep talking to him.
Another blink of an eye and he is now saying that he is married, but that his wife can’t have children, so she allows him to look for another woman who could be the mother of his children. I am still trying to make sense of the conversation, and I feel apologetic for not wanting to be that woman.
I ask him to delete the pictures. He doesn’t.
I think about the university administration who asked us to take him out, and I know they would not believe my story if I tried to talk to them. And neither would other students who left only moments ago, as I know there was absolutely nothing out of place in our conversation before they all left. In the end, I accompany him to his taxi although I can’t explain to myself why I am doing it.
He has my email, as all of us have given him our emails earlier in the evening. He writes me the next day. He says he knows I want him. He says he knows I would be a perfect mother for his children. I manage a negative reply and block him after he writes me again.
A couple of years later I find his message on Skype. He says he knows I live in Spain now. He says it’s time for us start talking like adults and that it’s time for me to stop being angry. I block him. A year later he adds me on Facebook. I block him again. I prefer to think that I must really seem like a perfect mother.
I am 24 and I’m about to graduate from my master’s program. I’m not the only one in my class still living with my parents, but I must definitely be the only one without a car in a city where public transportation has not yet become a right.
It’s past 9 p.m. and I am waiting for a shared minibus taxi to go home, which is a lesser evil than having to wait for a bus that rarely passes through my secluded neighborhood. A guy with a tracksuit a few meters behind me is asking a girl who must also be waiting for a minibus to give him her phone number. She is clearly annoyed and not interested, but he is insisting so much that she resigns, and I silently hope she is giving him a fake number.
My minibus arrives and to my dismay the guy in the tracksuit gets in as well. He looks me up and down when he passes by and takes a seat behind me. I am aware of his presence during the trip. I stop the minibus a hundred meters away from my apartment building and when I stand up to get off, the guy stands up as well. It’s a coincidence, I tell myself, and still I’m in panic.
It’s dark outside when we get off, and I keep walking towards my apartment block, trying to transmit self-confidence of which I have nothing right now. I can hear his steps right behind me. I start walking faster. He starts walking faster as well. I reach the entrance to my block and slip in quickly closing the door behind me.
Safe now, I tell myself. He will not follow inside. But the door opens, and he does. I run up the stairs. I don’t fake self-confidence anymore. I’m running for my life. If I can only reach my flat on the 4th floor.
He catches up with me on the 3rd. “Good evening, neighbor,” he says laughing. “I see you are in a hurry.”
I run up the remaining flight of stairs, while I hear him open the door of his flat.
I find out later on that he is the son of my neighbor, just back from prison.
I am 28 and since a couple of years ago I live in Madrid, the never-sleeping capital of Spain. The fact that it seems to never sleep adds to my feeling of safety in this city and for the first time in my life I can say that I am not afraid of walking home alone at night.
I work in an international university now, and after a merge of two departments I start getting on really well with one of my new male colleagues. He is ten years older than me, married, and has two kids.
One day after work we leave together, and he offers to walk me home, so that we can keep talking. It’s random things we are talking about—work, his gym, the little daughter that is now sick. It’s fall and it’s quickly getting dark.
Halfway home I turn to him and say, “What the hell are you doing walking me home?” He stops immediately and stares at me without saying a word. I can see he is shocked and in pain, as if I have suddenly punched him in the face. He turns then and walks away, taking the first street to the right, leaving me standing in the middle of the sidewalk. I slowly walk home alone.
The whole following week we sit at our desks in the office, facing each other, without even exchanging a “hello” in the morning.
It’s my last day in this office before moving to another floor. I message him and ask him if he wants to have a “goodbye” coffee with me. He agrees immediately, and we go out to a nearby cafeteria. We talk, and then talk some more. It’s like an invisible wall in me has suddenly crumbled and I feel I can trust him. We’ve been friends since then for almost a decade.
I have never invited him home.
Giedre Pavalkyte is Lithuanian, although she has been living and working in Madrid, Spain, for the past 11 years. Her two biggest passions have always been literature and music, but, even as an aspiring writer and an amateur musician, she has never pursued any of them professionally. If she were asked to define herself in one word, it would be “curious”—in her 35 years of life, she has obtained degrees in various subjects, including sociology, social anthropology, international business administration and digital leadership. Giedre currently works in an international business school. During her free time she is taking creative writing classes and runs an English speaking book club in Madrid. She tweets @giedrep.