erasmus

Baywaves — Still In Bed

There’s a group of four not-quite-adults-not-quite-kids walking through the square. They are not dressed for the weather; three are wearing grey, black and dark blue jeans, one a long fit maxi dress. Their skin is pale and they are wearing sunglasses in March. Three had emerged from the nearby supermarket, one rejoined the others from the Tabac, and they appear to have purchased groceries rather than souvenirs. They are not fazed by the Mediterranean surroundings and they are walking with purpose; they know their surroundings well but are clearly unfamiliar with the temperate spring climate in Antibes.

Kamran smiles to himself – foreign exchange students for sure. He watches them as they walk towards the restaurant and approaches them, offering a table in his silky North African French accent. He makes eye contact with the tall blonde and tries to imply with his gaze that he would like to take her home and ravage her – she is shy and avoids his gaze. A short man with glasses replies in broken French that they are not eating tonight, and leads the group forwards. They walk past and he stays in place, watching the figure of the blonde, her buttocks fill the dress she is wearing and her hips flare with every step. She turns and they make eye contact and he licks his lips.

The group eventually pass out of Kamran’s view, down a side street behind the bus station. The beautiful marble tiles are replaced with cobbles and graffiti, instead of designer shops there is a hole in the wall that sells kebabs and Iced Tea. They huddle outside a small green door on the left as the short man fumbles with his keys. The two women feel uncomfortable under the leer of an overweight African man, emptying a large plastic bucket of foul smelling liquid into the gutter. The other member of the group withdraws the cigarettes he purchased in the Tabac and lights one. The bucket man goes about his bucket business. Finally the door is open and the two women huddle in quickly behind the short man.

The corridor sucks in the dry heat from outside, its cold stone walls and tiled floors seem damp by contrast, and the cracks in the walls breathe out dust that is briefly illuminated in the light from outside. None of the group try and call the elevator behind the iron gate in the centre of the stairwell, they instead take the stairs, knowing that elevator has been out of service since the day they moved in. As the short man who is leading the group reaches the first floor, he hits a yellow plastic timer switch and the hallway is illuminated by a dank orange glow. The only sounds are their shoes slapping against the tiles and the wheezing breaths of the smoker, at the rear of the group and falling behind. They finally congregate outside a large brown door on the third floor as the short man once again fumbles for keys, giving the slow man time to catch up. The hallway light clicks off as the door clicks open.

FMNSM

Tristen — Glass Jar

Alex glanced down at his phone. Seventy-two new Whatsapp notifications – a new record.

“Jesus Christ…” he mumbled inaudibly as he held his thumb against the home button to unlock his phone. He opened the app and started reading:

“Steve – get me Bea’s number.”

“You keen?”

“Yes. She was fucking fit.”

“Haha. She’s got a boyfriend mate.”

“Pfft – details.”

Those first few messages set the tone for the rest of the conversation. He drafted some inane response a few times to ensure he was seen as participating in the banter, but couldn’t bring himself to press send.

Alex was not a misogynist. He was not violent towards women, nor was he lewd or disrespectful. You wouldn’t group him in with the Weinsteins or Trumps of this world, nor would you include him under the umbrella of ‘toxic masculinity’. He was, nonetheless, guilty of a crime; he was a coward when it came to confronting his peers.

As a younger man he had embraced the herd mentality of masculinity, quick to brag of his sexual conquests and always seen laughing at his friends’ suggestive comments, or even contributing his own. He had even begun to assimilate the language of sexual violence into day to day areas of his life – sporting teams were violated at the hands of opponents, for instance – and in turn he was accepted into the all-male, all-white group of friends he had formed. It was a slippery slope and it was only when he met Jean did he manage to stop his descent.

While Jean did not exactly consider herself a hardcore feminist – she shared the occasional Guardian article on Facebook, sure, and from time to time posted a status agreeing with the latest shared experience hashtag – but to Alex she was a modern-day Emmeline Pankhurst. She opened his eyes to the point of view of a young woman, and he began to understand (to the limited extent a young man can understand anything) the plight that faced them. The gender pay gap was real, the glass ceiling was real, the forced choice of career vs family was real; all these things that he had easily ignored were suddenly uncomfortably confronted.

He began to educate himself, reading novels by empowered women such as Margaret Atwood, Jeannette Winterson, Sylvia Plath; he began to distance himself from the jokes that normalised rape-culture; he stopped commenting on the appearance of women to his friends. It was slightly backwards that a lot of Alex’ efforts had begun in an attempt to impress Jean, but let’s give him a break; he was trying. He was even aware how backwards that was. Fast forward to today and Alex had spent years atoning for the misogynist mistakes he had made, but there was still one barrier he could not overcome. He was a coward when it came to confronting his friends.

And so, he continued to be part of the problem as he put his phone face down and ignored the nasty tone the conversation had taken, instead drafting a nasty-toned email of his own to Matthew at INNOVATE.