Case study#2: Twenty-something Malagasy guy in rundown cafe in Antananarivo, January 2004
I was sitting in a nice restaurant in Tana one evening having dinner with the head of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) I was working as a volunteer with. He took me out to dinner on a few occasions as he enjoyed the company and conversation, and probably also enjoyed the opportunity to be indulgent to someone. During one of the stories that the NGO head was telling I scanned the room behind him with my eyes, just… I dunno, I wasn’t bored but I was just suddenly curious about the other characters who were making up the scene in this fancy place. As I did so my eyes fell on this one guy who was sitting at the end of a long table of happy, laughing diners, who consisted partly of members from Madagascar’s most internationally-noted musical group at that time. He was looking my way as well and smiled. I smiled back.
Later in the evening I went to the toilets, there was just a one-person room for use by men and women, and when I came out saw him waiting outside the door. He gave me a nice Hi, which I reciprocated as I headed down the stairs back to the table. About 40 minutes later I made a second trip to the toilets, and lo and behold he was behind the door the second time I came out as well. Only this time he followed his Hi with asking me if I’d like to do something with him the next day.
He was an attractive guy with a nice smile, skin the colour of dark chocolate and cool-ass hair, like chin length dreads but the thick bunches were smooth not nappy and held themselves together tightly. Feeling flattered and curious I agreed to meet him the next afternoon at a well-known cafe that sat on a large terrace. I was familiar with the place and knew that where we would be meeting was out in the open, light and in an oft-frequented part of town.
The next morning I went out walking through town to get some errands done. As I stalked down the sidewalk of the main avenue, intently focused on some mission in my mind, a guy ran up through the edges of my peripheral vision and planted himself in front of me.
“Hey Susan! I was calling out to you, didn’t you hear me? I was calling your name!” It was the attractive Malagasy guy from the night before.
I explained to him that I really hadn’t heard him as I had been lost in thought and thinking about the next place I was on my way to. We chatted for a bit, most of it him reminding me that we had a date later in the day and checking that I could remember where it was, when it was, where it was, when it was. Really needing to get away I assured him that I was definitely going to be there. We parted ways.
A few hours later at lunchtime I used a public phone to arrange a meeting with someone from the NGO to get some help with my work in the early afternoon. At the end of the call I turned around and pushed open the doors to find that same guy I was still yet to see later on in the afternoon standing in front of me. He was surprised to run into me in town like that again, and somehow still needed to check that I was going to turn up for our date. Fairly annoyed at this point I assured him once again that I had always planned on turning up and left soon after to avoid more chit-chat revolving around our impending rendez-vous.
Cut finally to late-afternoon on this Sunday in Tana to me walking up to the cafe where I find him and an attractive young woman sitting at a table together. I’m a bit confused as I greet him, but my confusion doesn’t matter because he stands up and proceeds to lead the way to another venue, leaving the woman behind without introducing us or even saying goodbye or any other words to her. Meanwhile she smiled sweetly at me the whole time.
The revised venue for our date was ten minutes away from the terrace cafe. The trip there required various lefts and rights around corners I was increasingly less familiar with and culminated in slipping into a narrow, derelict alleyway on which the entry to cafe Version 2.0 was located.
Once inside he lead me to the back of the small, long and narrow room that was cafe 2.0. where we took our seats. I noted with interest that the owners of the cafe were Asian.
He decided that beer was in order and got a 1L bottle for us to share. We talked and got on pretty well for the next 2 hours. This was probably in large part due to my habit of asking a lot of questions, particularly motivated in this case by curiosity about what his life as a young Malagasy person in an urban environment was like. Even if he did occasionally throw in a weird thing like telling me how I look exactly like a girl he used to know and getting starry-eyed over the memory, I was having a pretty good time getting to know him.
Up until the 2 hour mark.
He too must have felt that the mood was nice because it was then that he proposed that we go off to a hotel to have sex. I declined the proposition but he kept it on the table elaborating further in soft tones that he would be gentle and I would really enjoy myself, etc etc. I told him I didn’t want to. He really didn’t seem to understand how I could turn down some spontaneous sexin’, it was as if he had offered me a nice piece of cake and I was misguidedly rejecting it because I was worried about becoming fat from this one piece of cake. My response made no sense to him.
His patience knew no bounds when it came to listening to my explanations and responding with his own exhortations: I told him that I hadn’t known him long enough, that I wasn’t in any mood for it, that the situation didn’t feel right and I just plain didn’t want to. Everything was deflected swiftly and self-assuredly. As I got desperate I even broke my (at that time) golden rule of honesty and claimed that I was involved with someone. “What does it matter? They won’t ever know?”
Earnest and apparently deaf in special ways, he ordered another beer and kept me tied up in this straightjacket of a discussion for 2 more hours. It was a surreal nightmare, being stuck in this chair opposite this guy who I had thought was friendly and nice and could now not stop talking about how we really should be having sex, in a dimly-lit dingy place that looked more crackhouse than cafe, and was of course only accessible through seedy, blink-and-you-miss-it lane. Night had fallen and we were only getting further and further into darkness and quiet. I went to the toilet once (yes, the toilet was a crackhouse toilet too) not because I needed to but because I wanted to walk by the counter where the owners were standing to see if I could engage them in eye contact. Nope, I did not in fact exist to them. They ignored me more than I’d been ignored before; even with the incident at the airport the queue of people and the immigration officer had used their vision on me even if they didn’t care about my welfare. In short, I felt very alone and very stupid. I was completely miserable about the state of affairs I had let myself get into.
With fear budding in my chest and my sense of helplessness starting to tire me out, I finally let myself be pushed by that force that is Nothing Left To Lose. I stopped our “discussing” and made outright declarations of brutal honesty.
I told him that he was scaring me. I told him that I was really unhappy that he would not accept what I wanted even when I had said I didn’t want to so many times already, and that I didn’t feel I could trust him. I told him that I was worried about how I was stuck there alone with him and didn’t feel that I could leave with him endlessly trying to persuade me and keep me there until he got what he wanted.
The look on his face after he heard this was like a clearing that had pierced a fog and was growing ever wider by the second. He apologised immediately, saying that he didn’t want me to feel like that. He paid for the beer and led the way out of the cafe.
Bizarrely enough even after apologising he still attempted some kind of trick as we were walking up the alleyway. A few short steps out of the cafe he veered over towards the wall and stopped, clearly expecting that I would go stand by the wall with him rather than leave without him.
“Hey, come over here to the wall!”
“Come on, just come over here….. come over here……..”
I power walked up out of the alleyway and he joined me in short measure. We didn’t speak as (to my surprise) he took me to a row of taxis and handed me a wad of cash for the fare. He held my door open for me and before I got into the car he asked me out for the next night, to have dinner at a really good barbeque restaurant that he knew. I agreed to it without hesitation, sat down in the cab, watched and felt the door close solidly, then told the driver where to go and sank down into the seat.
You can’t buy or recreate the purity and the completeness of the relief I felt in the back of that departing taxi. I was so grateful that I had managed to get away and that I never had to be in the same place as him again.