Dear Stuart Part.1
I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say that the reason you did this was because somehow, somewhere, a woman had responded well to being bothered on public transport by you before. I don’t think you’re necessarily a bad person (apart from your music taste, which myself and the rest of the train carriage got a lovely snippet of, blasting from your Bose speakers), I just think that you could use some advice on how to approach women on public transport; or rather, that you shouldn’t.
The day is November 8th 2018: I am cold, in an unreserved seat on a Northern Rail train from Edinburgh to Manchester Airport. I am surrounded by a bag fortress personally crafted in order to keep people far away from what can only be described as the world’s most chaotic stress bubble. I’d decided to head home after minor deadline related stress; I won’t go into too much detail about the breakdown itself because it isn’t all that important now, but I will say that there may have been a bowl of soup, some may have spilt and I may have screamed and cried at it.
The point is, if someone is far gone enough to scream at a bowl of soup as though it was sentient, you really shouldn’t bother them on a train- man or woman, child or adult. After a rough week I was heading home to a place of security and warmth, to a place where blankets were rife, electricity was free and there was always a free meal waiting; there wouldn’t be a single person to bother me. My barriers were shrinking on that Northern Rail service, and I really wasn’t prepared for any sort of human interaction.
I’ve done that route a thousand times, and one thing I will say is that I have noticed a pattern; I always get bothered at Preston. I tend to take later trains, which means the service reaches Preston late at night; this might be why drunk boys always come on to me there- or perhaps it’s because that’s where I’m meant to meet my soulmate, who is to say? Anyway, that is where I had the joy of encountering you.
You came on with three friends and you smelt like Vodka and cigarettes - if you hadn’t first asked me to move out of my seat so you could sit together, I probably wouldn’t be judging you on this. Then your friend, a chivalrous six-foot-something man with swollen knuckles insisted I stay in my little corner whilst you all sat around me; I actually quite liked him until he kept asking everyone in the carriage which of his friends they thought “looked gayest”. It started off a fun little homophobic chant between your group and made me want to crawl inside my own brain and hide there for a long, long time.
You ignored me for most of the journey to talk to the girls on the table opposite; they were dressed up for going out and to be honest I got quite excited for them; they had been making their way down slowly from London for a night out in Canal Street and looked fantastic. You and your pals obviously thought so too, because you kept pestering them. It might have just been because they had a bottle of Pinot that they were too scared to refuse when you asked for it, but you spent a good half hour bothering them instead of me; I feel quite guilty for being grateful.
I’ve had my head in a book for this whole time, reading one line again and again- I’ll do anything to stop you from talking to me when I feel like this. And then I hear it- no, not an Example song from five years ago pulsing out of your speakers like no tomorrow, but you. You asked me what I was reading for, and I said my uni course, which you laughed at because apparently reading on public transport is the equivalent of cracking an egg on your head.
It goes on like this for half an hour or so, you switching from me to the other girls to the homophobic chants that rile your mates up so much; I can feel the next stop getting closer and closer, with each lurk the train takes; you smell very strongly of vodka and I want to leave.
You notice I’m left handed, which still attracts a lot of attention for so mundane a trait; you say I write oddly and I laugh in a way that says I have very little air in my lungs to do so because I’m actually very nervous. You then ask if you can have a go.
That’s when you tried to write your number on the Early Modern Tragedy textbook that cost me around 28 pounds.
I don’t think even a drunk man with swollen knuckles would dare try to sully that book, because when I say I’d knock them clean out with it I am only partially joking.
Of course, refusing you that book came with a sacrifice; I had to let you write your name and number on a far less important notebook I had stowed next to me. The “xxx”, for the record, didn’t make me feel any more warmed.
So, Dear Stuart, xxx- I don’t really know why you did it. Considering the fact that I was red in the face after many an anxiety attack and really not doing my best on the stress-spots front, I’m going to categorise you writing your number in my book as a joke. Hey, maybe it wasn’t, and you just fancy panic-ridden girls who haven’t slept in two days; either way, it’s not okay.
Girls don’t like to be bothered on public transport, period. People don’t like to be bothered on public transport, period. I don’t care about your music taste, how much you like boxing, which one of your mates you think “looks the gayest” or what your grafting technique is. All I care about is my personal space being respected according to my own terms.
I hope you don’t take too much offence to this - maybe you’re a completely different, respectful human being in the cold light of day. Still, the night doesn’t mask what you do, Stuart- or who you upset. You probably don’t even remember me, but I’ve been thinking about the level of discomfort and unease I felt that evening for quite some time.