I’m drowning within a sticky ball-pit of some whack Colombian nightlife. A blur of plastic colourful balls bounce off the wall, knocking half-empty beers from tables. Tom’s sweaty head emerges from the sea of balls and bodies. The room is spinning in the dizzy sick way you feel post teacup ride at your school fete. I think I’ve had about enough for one night.
“We haven’t even finished that baggie yet,” Tom slowly pulls it from the back of his phone. But I’m not in the mood for a line.
Abandoning my friends, I stumble my way through the club. A security guard noticing my sloppy form nudges me towards the exit, more worried about getting me out of his way then what happens to me after I’ve left.
The El Poblado club district in Medellin is like a zoo full of restless animals on cocaine. I feel nocturnal. I’m sure my pupil dilation would fit the description of possum in the headlights.
Taxis are lined up and down the main street ready to shoot through. Tossing up the level of taxi driver seediness, I opt for Senor ‘Alejandro’. Let’s be honest, it’s a lucky dip decision.
“El Alto, por favor,” I say, ordering the directions back to the Airbnb in my blurry state. A stout Latino with beady eyes, chain necklace and a dirty mo leers back at me.
I never have been very fortunate with lucky dips.
He gestures for me to get in. I slide into the passengers’ seat.
Rookie error, I probably should’ve gotten in the back.
As he turns the clunky ignition, a bobble head dog figure dances on the tacky carpet dash.
“De donde eres?” Alejandro queries where on earth my terrible Spanish accent comes from.
“Australia.” There is a silence and he raises his thick brows.
“Tienes novio?” (Do you have a boyfriend?)
He adjusts to scan me up and down in my short dress and points to my naked ring finger. I choose to play dumb pretending I don’t understand.
No you perverted prick; I’m not in a relationship.
We make it through the clogged traffic leading away from the clubs. The main streets are dark and empty during the early hours of the morning, only lit by a few streetlights. All of a sudden, the taxi takes a completely wrong turn. I sink down into my seat as bile rises up to my throat.
My eyes remain focused on my lap, trying not to meet his gaze. It’s a subconscious precaution that gives me a sense of safety. I’ve recently started noticing it more in other women when they too are experiencing a level of discomfort. Most notably when passing a group of men. I’m not sure who has taught us, but we seem to just do.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see he’s lighting a fat Cuban cigar whilst steering with his knees. The puff of smoke that follows his drag fills the cabin. So much so, I lose clear sight of the road in front.
“Muy linda,” – very beautiful – he repeats between sniggers. The slapping of his hands on the steering wheel and tinny reggae bounces left to right through the speakers and my brain. I start visualising myself as the star of the next solo female backpacker murder mystery.
Excuse me mate, but when in my directions home did I mention I wanted to feel unsafe?
He then proceeds to lean over me, stroking my unshaven thighs with his fat fingers that creep slightly under my dress. My upchuck reflex is definitely now in greater effect as I force the bile back down.
“Peludo,” he says, curling his lip and rubbing the tips of his right fingers together communicating to me that I have hairy legs. I am repulsed.
I may become the star of the next taxi driver murder film.
I feel subordinate and that my body is at the discretion of this stranger. It’s a powerless feeling, like when you’re paralysed in a dream unable to run away from the monster chasing you.
Basically the equivalent to “fucking stop” is the little Spanish I know to try and save myself from becoming the cling-wrapped body in the boot. He ignores the red traffic lights, which sends me louder alarm bells. I have to get the fuck out. I kick my legs at the door in hope that he’ll stop.
But obviously this isn’t helping with his acceleration as we run yet another red light.
I consider my options. Remaining calm is sensible, although I’m scared it may lead me into a darker tunnel of uncomfortable, unwanted hassling. I’m no Lara Croft but I figure action is my only path to the light at the end.
He slows the car slightly, approaching a right hand turn.
Where could you possibly be taking me?
I breathe in and a sudden feeling hits me in the pit of my stomach, controlling the hairs on my neck to stand up.
I throw open the door nearly swinging it off its hinges. My feet don’t even hit the ground as I launch myself into a curbside garden. Before I know, it I’m falling backwards through a bush in a potentially break-your-neck manner.
I land flat on my stomach, amazed that I’m not sensing any pain coming from anywhere.
Hollywood, I too do all my own stunts.
Screeching brakes close by pull me straight to my feet. Please don’t follow me. Not wanting to look back, I sprint a few blocks down the street until I can no longer hear his idling motor.
I’m in butt-fuck nowhere.
I notice a footbridge crossing above the highway in the direction of El Alto. My legs take over my thoughts and I begin the marathon home without blinking. I stick to the shadows and hold my breath.
Five kilometres later, I kick off my shoes and dive onto the coach. My feet are tingling and hot from pounding the pavement. The sound of blood pumping to my ears sends me to sleep; I’m too exhausted to recall what happened.
“So did you find your way home okay last night?” Tom asks while he preps a Berocca drink.
“Actually, I decided to go for a 5km run.”
He looks at me as if to say, You’re crazy.
“I had a creepy driver sexually assault me in the taxi home and didn’t know what else to do but to jump out of his car.”
“What? You should have just stayed with us!”
“I’d had a gutful and just wanted to get home.”
Ultimately without being sexually assaulted in the taxi.
“Could’ve slept in the club until we were ready to head off.”
I deserve to feel safe. It’s a human right.
And as a woman I’m not sure what is more frightening, the power that crushes us, or our endless ability to endure it?