I sat down between two people, in the small seats on the Metropolitan line. Like the myth of urinal etiquette, I wouldn’t have done it if I had an option, but I was hungover, tired, and everyone standing had suitcases that swung into ankles with the motion of the train.
To my right, an older woman leaning into her male companion. I nicked the toe of her foot as I sat down – I apologized and she sniffed and looked away.
Often I will read, or listen to music. Sometimes, especially on a short ride, I’ll just sit and look at my reflection in the opposite window. Today, there was nothing to distract me from the short man in the peaked hat to my immediate left who began to lean forward, twisting his head almost painfully around the bar that parted us, to look at my face.
We’re trained to be polite and so while my first instinct is fear, my first reaction is nothing. He’s looking for his friend, he’s looking at the map, he’s just looking.
But then – the scrape of fingers on my knee and a low voice in my ear:
I don’t look at him or say anything because why would I and what would it do. Instead, I just stand up, immediately, like I knew it was coming, and walk off down the carriage, careful not to stand on the woman’s foot again, aware that probably nobody else has heard or noticed a thing.
This time I stand, deliberately behind the thick torso of a man with his child, because if he’s looking down the carriage after me, then I don’t want to know. I don’t want to feel his eyes, and I’m too tired to play my other tricks, getting off the train and into another carriage altogether, waiting for the next train.
He doesn’t follow me, of course, because probably my warm vacated seat was taken by another woman he thought he could touch.
I walk from Old Street to Hoxton and on the course of that walk I am called out to twice. Once from a car, and I can’t hear what is said. Probably not even aimed at me, maybe nothing, probably someone I know except that nobody I know in London drives a car. Once it’s a man walking towards me, who I see coming from nearly 100 metres away, hands deep in his pockets, and that slow careful walk. If it were dark, I’d cross the road, but it’s 1:30pm and the streets are full of people clutching Columbia Road flowers. As he gets closer I tense up and wait for it, I look away to my left, at trash and daffodils and graffiti.
“Nice tits”. I am wearing: jeans, white sneakers, a white t-shirt, a leather jacket and a big thick scarf. He can see: my cheeks, my nose, my chin and parts of my wrists.
I go home with a huge bunch of cream roses. It’s not the same woman to my right, but it might as well be, with her hair swept up with that style of hair clip that I’ve never mastered, folding in on itself like a shell, holding hands with her partner, thick glasses.
“Lovely,” she says to my flowers. I smile and say, yes, they are.