Topic: Blond hair and distressed by Simon Overall

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

As a university student I studied anthropology. It was a vision of liberating insight that drove me to lectures; the belief that I would gain the spiritual and psychological rewards from humanistic knowledge of culture and people.

My weekends were spent in a Shell gas station. It gave my life electricity. It was liberating to be interacting with the public. The contacts might be superficial, but though fleeting they were real. Working there I learnt how polite the average Kiwi is in the everyday.

This event occurred one afternoon when I was sole charge at the station. It was a Saturday or Sunday, a late afternoon or evening, in Grey Street, Hamilton East, a Shell station on the corner of Grey and Naylor Streets on routes south of the city.

I saw a young woman walking south on Grey Street.

One takes things in as impressions then carries on with the day. She was carrying her shoes. I think it registered in my mind that a Cortina car was keeping abreast of her as she walked on the footpath, the car inching along slowly and deliberately. Perhaps also I noted a look of weariness or wariness about her.

She turned into the station and came up to the counter. She wanted to use the phone or buy phone credit. The subliminal things one might have sensed were becoming apparent. She was attractive. She was distressed and though it was a passive distress I was alerted. She seemed to be looking at her arm and carrying it as if injured, but there was no obvious damage.

Her movements were of someone caught in slow motion, as if, through some kind of psychological paralysis, she separated from the tempo of the everyday. I asked if she had been assaulted. She did not nod an assent, but looked again at her arm. Whatever she had been through had rendered her mute.

By this time or before the Cortina car had come onto the forecourt and I went out and asked if they wanted petrol, speaking into the driver's side window. They did not want anything and moved off soon after. They were white pakeha youths or young men. I was not focused on them when talking to them and the contact was fleeting. They drove off and I will never see them again, but on occasions I see them in my mind.

I was soon back in the shop dealing with the customer. When I asked if she had been assaulted is when she looked to her arm. She wanted to make a call and after purchasing some phone credit she tried a call on her cellphone. It transpired that she was trying to call her boyfriend. During the transaction she made a comment.

"He's going to kill them when he finds out."

This comment betrays the character of the events. The implication of something done to her, and of the guys shadowing her; her obvious distress, could only be comprehendible in the context of a rape or something extreme. I presume they had raped her at some location and were shadowing her along Grey Street as part of a pantomime to communicate - that if she complained and made a statement to police, she could never be secure from them.

Similarly with their parking on the forecourt while she was in the shop.

I asked her if she wanted to phone the police or perhaps I just proceeded to phone them myself. They arrived soon after. By this time she had seated herself on the ground outside the west side of the shop, facing the late afternoon sun or evening light. It was incongruous and pathetic.

She was in formal clothes as if she had been to a function of some kind, and you don't plant yourself on the ground when you are in your best outfit. In my mind I can see sunlight and a breeze caress her blonde hair. Seated thus she commenced to ring her boyfriend. She must have got an answerphone or no reply. She kept repeating, “Please, baby, I need you. Oh, please, baby.”

The police arrived, and included a female officer, and after speaking with her they ran her home. Presumably she was not making a complaint. Perhaps her shadowing by her predators had succeeded in intimidating her. She was obviously shocked and several hours of examinations and making statements would have driven her into further distress.

What I have alluded to is that she was beautiful, alluringly dressed in black, not a lock out of place in her beautiful blonde hair. She was such an obviously feminine consciousness. In the face of this tragedy she was not angry but seeking the comfort of the man in her life.

“Please, baby. I need you. Please answer.”

 

When she was driven off in the police car she went out of my life, until fifteen years later as I wrote this account. I presume that she went away to live out her life of outward normality and inward distress. Going through the rape experience she faces the inner death of a sense of safety and deference to femininity every day.

When I graduated I worked on at the station for ten years. I could not leave; it was too rewarding to be there. I said I had sought the spiritual and psychological rewards from humanistic knowledge of people and culture and the gas station fulfilled this as much as any environment.

One phenomenon I learnt of through anthropology was rape as male peer solidarity. With this incident I think I learnt something of rape culture amongst white youths in an ordinary and attractive suburban context.

As I think of her and the events a sense of evil and her pathos still blows across my mind.

----

This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/J6DA-7Z9Z

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion