Learning the hard way

How the streets shaped me. The way I walk. The things I say. The clothes I wear. My posture. My thoughts. My need to figure out what you are thinking so that I can pre-empt it, prevent it, forestall it. The constant, endless staying on watch. How my body never relaxes.

I have long learnt to mistrust my body that seems to send out signals, messages, silent acknowledgments unbeknownst to me. Betraying me. Letting me down. I learnt to walk in certain ways - with my elbows stucking out slightly, with shoulders turned inwards slightly, my steps moving away from anyone on the pavement. Measuring the distance between me and you, while you are still 5 steps away. I can do this while laughing over a joke, drinking chai or working out a problem in my head. It feels as natural as breathing now, even though it's not.

Here, on different turf, I am re-learning the dynamics of my body. The new interpretations. New ways of seeing. Of thinking. Of dressing. I am on high alert for new, unwritten rules; learning easily. I am also un-learning. Uncurling. Letting go. I experiment gingerly. Lean over the table for a book and stay like that chatting with a friend for a while without having to worry about someone staring at my butt. Reach up on high shelves for something, learning not to instinctively pull down my shirt. Wear a tight shirt and not spend all evening with my arms crossed in an awkward stance. Lean into someone and laugh at a joke. Do a mad little jig on the road. Walk home at midnight by myself with no fear of anything except for the crazy cat that sometimes springs out at me 5 houses down the street. Close my eyes and catch a quick nap on the bus.

Sometimes, just for the joy of the feeling, I stretch in public - a long, luxurious stretch. First my toes uncurling, then my legs follow reaching forward. My back arches and I stretch my arms as far back as they can go. Close my eyes, yawn and let my head fall back. Stay like that for a few delicious moments. Open my eyes to find no one watching. Smile.

- Action Hero A