Warning: This post contains things children shouldn’t read.
Public transport is mostly boring, but occasionally it gets disturbing.
A long journey with strangers usually implies staring at a book or not breathing near the person who smells of sick. Since this incident, though, the words that cross my mind when someone gets too close are “please don’t wank on me.”
It happened on a dark night on my way home from an intern position at a London magazine. That’s fancy talk for making tea and photo-copying whilst trying not to look frightened by each new assignment. I got on the train as usual and found it virtually empty. In my peripheral vision was the stubby figure of a man in dark clothes, a somewhat lonely looking middle aged sort who smiled hopefully at me as I sat down. He sat next to me. “Oh, God,” I thought, “I cannot be bothered with a conversation, I’m going to move.” So I did. I got up and moved clear across the carriage onto one of those two-seaters that nobody wants to share if they can help it. I gazed out the window and sighed with relief. He followed me. “Odd,” I thought, but because I’d somehow decided moving again would seem rude (!) I stayed where I was.
The carriage filled up and, sitting on some seats within vision of us, was a mother with an eleven year old girl. That fact will continue to disturb me. While we set off on our journey I passed the time by looking at some photos I had in my bag (remember those days, when everything we owned had a physical presence? We live in the future now). “Are they of your holiday?” asked the man next to me.
“No,” I said quickly. I knew I was in a situation I had to get out of, though it didn’t dawn on me until later that he’d asked because he was probably thinking of my friends and I in bikinis. I hid my pictures from him and turned my face nearer to the window. He began making a strange rocking motion, nudging an arm into me again and again. I stayed put and stared at the reassuring images in front of me like they were a gateway to a safe happy place. Like someone in a horror film I just didn’t want to take that final peek at the monster behind me. Still he shuffled about and, tensing myself, I looked.
I could try to sugar coat this but I feel it would detract from my experience. What I saw sent a scream running silently throughout my body. He’d placed his blue jumper over his front but it had slipped down, revealing a paltry scrap of meat held between his fingers. I was no longer present in myself. I simply reacted by jumping up, kicking his legs when he wouldn’t move out of the way quick enough and running further down the train. All the while he mumbled “Sorry, sorry,” and, as I ran, I caught the eyes of several shocked and confused passengers, including the young girl who would then have looked right at him.
I ran to the last of the carriages, all the while thinking: ‘My God, you are so dramatic. Wouldn’t most people have just told him off and moved quietly elsewhere?’ But no, not me. I flung myself breathlessly down on a seat and blurted out to a group of old ladies, “a man just showed me his willy!”
“Oh, that’s terrible,” they clucked.
“Are you in trouble?” one lady kept asking me. I believe now she had meant ‘can you get home alright’ or some such thing, but at the time I was just trying to figure out when ‘a man showed me his willy’ had become code for ‘I just murdered someone and stole their bag, you’ll never take me alive copper.’
“Erm, no,” I replied, and she seemed satisfied with this. My stop came and they watched as I staggered off nervously. I actually had to ask my friends at the station if they thought I was over-reacting (answer: No! Phone the transport police!) I’m 100 per cent sure he was caught with this fantastic description: “He looked normal…and had a blue jumper.” Dammit, why didn’t I take a good look at something other than the penis that was thrust into my eyes?
So it was over, and the event became another string in a rich tapestry of Odd Things That Have Happened. I considered getting angry with him but I couldn’t, I even said to the police at the time that I thought he seemed a bit simple. When it comes down to it I suppose I got off fairly lightly compared to what happens to some girls, and really it must suck to be him, at least I don’t have that daily struggle to worry about. So the only thing to do was move on and continue as normal but, of course, I’m always aware of that instinctive voice that says, “Please don’t wank on me.”