In an Italian cafe I saw two eight-year-olds locked in a passionate embrace. I had to blink. What on earth? On closer examination he had her locked, her neck was rigid, he had hold of her head in both his hands.
Their lips were pressed on each other, hard and still. It was a Holywood endeavour, something they had seen and now copied; not something felt. I felt frozen, as did she. After a long time, perhaps a minute, the girl brought both her hands up and tried to prise him off her face. He lifted his head. She clapped both palms over her mouth to protect herself. But it was no use. He came in again, swooping on her, an unpleasant grin of entitlement souring his face like a sneer. Boys aren’t born with this expression. He kissed her again, if we could really call it a kiss. It was an occupation, a tiny, private siege that shamed her in this sunny public place.
This is the first hot day in five weeks in Berlin’s climate disordered summer. It has rained and rained and it’s as cloudy as winter, that long grey fleece. Everybody was out. In the garden of the cafe people sat plunging long-handled spoons into gouts of melting ice cream, large men stirred tiny espressos with tiny tin spoons. The girl endured her assault in full view of everyone. So far as I could tell, I was the only one who noticed.
I sat in an agony of empathic shame. This was the beginning for her and things would get worse. They had for me. I felt my legs tauten into springs and wanted to rush over there, but – to my horror – the thought of this tiny boy’s scorn frightened me and I was unable to protect her and could not even approach them.
He broke it off just as the mother, mother of one or maybe – horrifying – both came back from the bathroom visit he had opportunistically expanded. The boy got onto his bike and bent his head. He was shorter than her, when she stood up, and her long caramel strands of hair hid her face. I saw the mother say something cheerful and I saw the girl trying to smile. This is what we breed by rearing our boys on porn, our girls on romantic comedies where persistent stalking always pays off and no means please. I paid my bill to the sneering Italian waiter whose courtesy deteriorates the more I am friendly to him and I always forget. Cycling home I thought about the feminist truism that patriarchy wounds men, too, and thought how different these wounds sometimes seem.