"Hello," the man greeted, as I trotted down the corridor. "Is there a big event on this weekend?"
I turned to face him and felt it. "It" was a strange combination of emotion and physical reaction that caught me completely off-guard; the stomach lurch, the sudden urge to vomit as my gag reflex kicked in, dizziness and itchy feet. I don't know if you've ever had real itchy feet (not just the metaphorical "it's time for a holiday" type) - the urge to run for the hills that is so overwhelming that you can't physically stand still...
It wasn't the first time I had seen him over the weekend. When I arrived last Friday night, he was on his way out of the gym. But it had been nice and easy that time - I kept my head down and scurried on by as he left. This was a little different.
Who was he? He was the man who raped me last year. I knew there was a chance that he would be around. Though it was a hotel, he was a gym member and it did make sense that he'd be around at some point. But I had rationalised that the probability of encountering him was low; I would have to be passing that same part of the corridor at the same moment. Unless I decided to chill out in the gym, it was highly unlikely. I didn't think I'd see him multiple times.
Part of me wanted to run as fast as I could. Perhaps I would have done, but I was wearing my crew badge on my lanyard, and I knew I was representing the company. So I forced myself to stop, take a breath and smiled back at him.
I'm kinda good at that now, the composing myself to look like I'm comfortable. Between meetings with male colleagues, kids' dads and other things, I'm fairly used to being alone with men (though still dislike it), and have developed a series of barriers that allow me to fake it - big smile, straight back, confident, professional attitude and an awareness of my potential escape route. And breathing. Breathing's quite important, as is holding my hands in front of me so no-one can see them shake. It's become so automatic, that I barely have to think about it on a day to day basis.
But I did last Saturday...
"Yes," I told him, my hands gripped tightly together. I told him the name of the company and explained, "It's a signing event."
He nodded. "I've heard of that one before. Are you staff or just here for fun?"
I explained that I was crew and answered his questions patiently and politely, whilst silently praying for him to leave me the hell alone.
Afterwards, it took me a while to verbalise what upset me about the encounter. "Of course you were upset - he raped you" doesn't actually cover the whole reaction and range of feelings. It was more than that. It was more than fear of him, or sorrow at what I went through, or anger at what he did or a sense of isolation....
It was absolute rage and indignation. Because not only did he turn my world upside down last summer, just when I thought I was finding my feet, but he had the gall to talk to me like I was just another person. And that's when I realised that - to him - I was just another person.
He changed my life, had a great impact on it. But I had no impact on his. I was nothing more than a body to him and I never would be. He didn't feel any remorse or guilt or anything, because he couldn't remember me or my face, even though he spent all that time hurting me in the most vile, intimate and personal manner. He will never remember my face, but I will never forget his.