When I was about fourteen or fifteen I often caught the bus to the shopping centre that was about twenty minutes or so away from my house.
I loved going to the shopping centre. Spend my hard earned money on bits and pieces that I could afford. Since I started working part time at the age of fourteen I had to pay for all my own clothing, shoes and anything else I wanted that was not considered necessary. Sometimes I would go with friends but mostly I was on my own.
The bus I caught stopped in front of a group of shops not far from my house. To get there I just had to walk across a park and turn left and there was the bus stop. I always dressed nicely to go to the shops. It was that era. When you went out you dressed nicely. Never a tracksuit to be seen.
Looking back, I realise I was a very pretty teenager. Maybe a bit more than just pretty. I was noticeable. At that age I still did not wear make up and had that peachy perfection that goes with extreme youth. I can’t say I thought I was particularly attractive. Flat chested, thick lipped and too wide cheeks made me feel just ugly. I had that foreign look that was not fashionable at the time. What I wanted was to be like the popular Australian girl. Long legged, blue eyed, blond hair and sporting a beachy tan. I looked nothing like an Australian, I looked like a European.
Plus, being the recipient of extremely inappropriate and unwanted attention from a very, very young age had completely robbed me of my self esteem. Although not a girl who had a victim type of behaviour, I can see that I had not tools on how to defend myself against male attention. I was mute when it happened. Struck with a helpless kind of inertia. I think that is what happens when abused as a child.
It was about the age of fourteen or fifteen that I started to get a different kind of attention. The first time I experienced it was on one bus trip to the shopping centre.
One day I caught the bus from outside the milk bar as usual. As I had caught it quite a few times I recognised the bus driver and as I stepped on the bus he said hello. I said hello back to him. I think he would have been about forty years old, Italian with a very thick accent. He had dark wavy hair and wore Buddy Holly style glasses. I sat in a seat that was on the opposite side of the driver and and few seats back. Took out my book and started reading. The bus bounced along the road.
I noticed that he passed a person waiting to be picked up at a bus stop and figured that he knew what he was doing and thought nothing of it. In fact, for the entire trip he did not pick up one person which was unusual as there would always be about ten people catching the bus at that time.
We got to the stop at the shopping centre and I packed up my book and was about to stand up when the bus driver came out with the most unbelievable statement.
“I see you all the time on the bus and I have to tell you how beautiful you are and that I love you. I want you to meet my wife and my children. I have four children and they would love you. I want to marry you and I want you to be their mother,” he blurted out.
I sat there in silence and wondered how I could get up and out of my seat and then out of the bus. I can clearly recall being very concerned how I could get to the door without him touching me.
“Would you like to meet my children. You are so beautiful and I can’t stop looking at you. I have loved you since I first saw you step onto the bus.”
I still had said nothing, just kind of looked up at him. To say I felt trapped is an understatement. My head was working out how to get away without too much bother. Like finding something on my shoe and trying to remove it without causing a fuss.
“Can you meet my children? Can we go to the movies?” he asked.
Without knowing why I knew it would be a good thing to be agreeable, I nodded. He opened the bus door and I slowly stood up and made my way towards it hoping I could get to it before he made an attempt to touch me. Alas, I was not quick enough and he grabbed right hand and kissed it. I felt revolted and fearful but did not pull back. Just let him get whatever he needed to do over and done with.
“I’ll see you later when you go home. Catch the 4.30 bus and I will be driving,” he said as I stepped off. I gave a random wave in agreeance and moved as quickly as I could into the doors of the store. My shopping trip was completely ruined and not even a trip to the donut shop helped restore my happiness.
Needless to say, I did not catch that bus home. There was another bus route which was a bit longer but at least I felt safe. For about six months I stayed away from the shopping centre. I felt sad when I thought about going there but eventually that passed.
I never used that bus route again.
And I never saw that driver again either.