Navigating Life’s Tests from Behind the Wheel

By Mariam Mohamed

Take Back the Night Week started on Sunday. The events are all aimed at promoting awareness about violence and sexual harassment against women. Most people do not think of sexual harassment as violence, but since it makes a woman feel violated, it is a violent act. I should know, I’ve been there, though my story pales in comparison to the horrors that some women have faced.

Some time ago I had my driving test. For all the practice, that day itself makes you nervous with the kind of anxiety that you feel in your esophagus, which wells up just to the base of your throat and stays there threatening to come up. The most you can do is ignore it.

Perhaps I would not have been so nervous if I had just done what everyone else did. In Trinidad, as your driving test approaches, your instructor might ask you if you want a little extra “help” – the kind that costs $200. I was the most naive person in the universe because even though I had an idea that the bribery existed, I didn’t really expect it to be this widespread. It is different hearing about bribery as something politicians do on television than having it enter your own life. It was explained to me that everyone pays his or her driving instructor, who then splits the bribe with the test officer.

I absolutely did not intend to pay, however. I refused to give those goblins any of my parents’ hard-earned money. My driving was very good. I should have been able to pass the test without any help. Unless, of course, they only planned on giving passes to the people who paid the bribe regardless of how well anyone drove.

Then I thought, it might not even come to this, after all, my driving instructor seemed like a nice guy. Nevertheless, at the end of my last class, my instructor said he had something he wanted to discuss. I immediately knew what it was. I sat there in the driver’s seat of the car, consumed in the moment and trying to decide whether I should bring up the subject of “payment.” I decided to go for it. “I know a lot of people pay to pass,” I began “but I’m not going to, even if I fail.”OK,” he replied, but I could sense that he was taken aback. I got out of the car wondering if I had done the right thing. Isn’t that horrible to live in a world that makes you feel uncomfortable when you do something right!

But that wasn’t the end of it. As it turned out, the test officer was a real pervert. His eyes were bloodshot red – maybe from after-work rum – and a cigarette was a permanent attachment to his lips . even during tests. I abhor cigarette smoke! But that’s not the worst. He constantly flirted with all the girls. I spoke to him once and had already been called “honey” and “sweetheart.” I had to go out alone in a car and have my driving tested by this old sicko.

Luckily for me, my first test was to reverse – which is what I was worst at. Imagine my shock when he started to give me instructions on how and when to turn! “Hmmm, why is he helping me?” I thought, “doesn’t he know that I didn’t pay the bribe?”

Then it occurred to me; he thought I looked good. This is why he’s helping me. I thought of no other reason. My short driving test confirmed this. I gritted my teeth through five minutes of being called “darling.” He kept waving his hand and saying “Drive baby, drive” in an annoyingly orgasmic way. In my head I was thinking, “What the hell is wrong with you? We’re not having sex here pal!”

Almost to the end of my test I made a blooper – I went too far out onto a road I was turning onto. “You can’t do that when you’re driving, you know. Big, big mistake,” he said. I nervously pulled into the test area parking lot. “So did I pass?” I asked in the most cheerful tone I could muster. “Yeah, you did,” he replied. I was amazed. But that was nothing compared to the shock on my instructor’s face. He came over to the car with a look of consolation on his face, but when he found out that I had actually passed without paying a bribe he looked dumbfounded and confused. Poor thing.

So now I definitely think that the reason I passed was because I looked good. And my conscience asks me, “Isn’t looking good so you can get what you want the same thing as offering a bribe?” I didn’t do it on purpose, and yet I still feel cheap. What I learned from this is that somehow corrupt people have a way of making you feel bad even when you know you’re doing the right thing and being true to yourself. I don’t let that feeling get to me. It’s superficial. I can’t help the way I look, and he is responsible for the way he reacts. It’s his fault, not mine.

Maryam Mohamed is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. She can be reached at Window To My World usually appears every other Friday.

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