The ups and downs of Park Life
Gemma was left a little shaken by an encounter in the park in Brussels in her latest The Good Life column...
I am currently reflecting on how I could possibly be burnt red raw today in the aftermath of Saturday, while large drops of rain fall from the sky and my fingers are shaking with the cold as I write this. Those who say climate change does not exist, please get a grip.
With a music festival taking place in the nearby park and promises of temperatures hitting 34 degrees, there was no way I was sitting inside on my laptop. I decided I would work in the sunshine. I got there at about one. It was packed with good vibes as people laughed, danced and, of course, drank. I’m starting to love Saturdays – nothing in particular to do but explore the city. Honestly, it’s more of a holiday for me than work.
One thing this experience has taught me so far is how to be on my own. I love being with people and I have met lots of amazing people here so far but I’ve never minded being on my own either, which I think is a really good trait to have. Unfortunately, I’ve realised that other people seem to have a problem with leaving people alone!
I was on a Facetime call home at about 8pm in the evening, which is 7pm for yourselves, don’t forget. I was sitting in the park chatting away when this man approached me and beckoned for me to take out my Airpods. I’d say he was in his late twenties. I took them out, which was my first mistake because I knew well what he was going to say. Whether he remembered it or not, this is not the first time he has approached me in the park. On one of my first few days here, I was taking a picture of the Cinquantenaire Arch. He started asking where I was from, what I was doing here, giving compliments, asked me to go for drinks and then asked for my phone number. I took his phone and put in my number, a few digits amiss of course. So here we were again and I was expecting the usual spiel. I was right. Compliments and the whole lot and then asked me if my phone call was urgent and if it could wait until later. Yes it was urgent and no it could not wait. He said his goodbyes and went on his way.
I’d say it was just before 9pm when I hung up the phone and, as soon as I put it down, a man maybe in his forties approached. I started to gather my things immediately. This one completely freaked me out. He wanted to know my name, where I was from, what I was doing here, if I was a student and what I was studying. Mostly innocent questions but I was giving him short answers – I did not want to make conversation. He then asked if he could sit down.
“No sorry but I have to go now,” I said.
“Where do you live?” He responds.
“Down the road,” says I.
A co-worker from my days behind the bar (I really miss it) advised me to always reply with this. He proceeds to ask my age and if I will return to the park tomorrow. Not if you are here, I thought to myself as I attempted to walk away from him without replying. I swear this man was trying to become my shadow. He asked if he could meet me tomorrow to which I just said no.
“I’m working,” and quite frankly you’re annoying me.
“You are lying, people don’t work on Sundays.”
At this stage I was petrified, he was getting extremely persistent and was intent on following me.
“I have to go,” I said, and with that quickened my pace.
I walked into the crowd who had gathered to listen to the music. I didn’t look around for a few minutes but when I did I couldn’t see any sight of him so I began to walk home.
I know I shouldn’t have entertained him in the first place but I was afraid to be rude in case this would worsen the situation. I was on edge the whole way home.
I’d like to think that we live in a world where women can go out alone but can we really? This was a park packed with people at 9pm. I’d hate to imagine what would happen if the likes approached any later with nobody around. I hate these situations, you never know how to best handle them.
If it happens again, I may start speaking ‘as Gaeilge’.
* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a second year journalism student in University of Limerick.
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