I don’t live in London.
I like to work in London in glittering cabaret shows, bedecked in sequins and crystals then I gather up my bags and trudge home, make up flaking, at the end of an evening. I take the late night train home, a train regularly character filled. I use those fifty five or so minutes as my decompression chamber. I take my make up off, I listen to audio books or I chat to friends on various social media platforms. It’s nice, it’s relaxing and by the time I step off the train by the seaside, I’m chilled and ready to starfish my way into tomorrow.
Tonight, my routine was interrupted by several gentlemen. Allow me to set the scene…
I stepped on to the train and assumed my usual corner seat, the one right at the front with a little table. Within a minute or so, five chaps of a rather burly description with shaved heads and assorted football wear, had claimed the seats around me.
They tried to strike up conversation but I’m rather taciturn on my homeward journey so I fended off the questions. However, now I feel bad about that, it was bad manners to not want to talk about myself to gents I’d never met, so I thought I might remedy my error and answer them right here.
Where have I been? I’ve been to work.
“You’re beautiful.” Thanks. I wasn’t looking for a late night affirmation from five men I’ve never met. I’m not sure any lone woman would welcome this sort of attention over and over again. Whilst you stare at them in a rather obsessive way. But, you know, thanks.
“Your eyes are blue. I like blue eyes. Blue is my favourite eye colour.”
And a few more times, just in case I hadn’t heard. Not creepy at all.
“Are you naked under your coat?” No. No I’m not. It’s winter. Who wants to travel home on a train at 11pm wearing nothing but a coat in winter. And you can see my blue dress under my coat. So I’m not sure why you’d ask this question.
Am I a ghost? No. If I were a ghost, I’d certainly haunt somewhere more salubrious than a train.
“Stuck up cunt.” I’m not. I just don’t want to a) fuck you b) make inane conversation with five drunk men I’ve never met before. Who’ve already asked me if I’m naked under my coat.
Am I foreign? No. Would it make all this ok if I was? BTW, your faux-talian accent is dreadful, almost bordering on xenophobically bad.
You want to cum on my face. That’s nice. Really nice. Such a kind offer but, you know, I’m on my way home from work. I’ve done a show this evening, my serotonin and adrenaline have been absorbed by those glorious, happy faces, so I’m kind of tired. It was a Christmas show, so wrangling the audience and persuading them to my will took a lot of energy.
Also, we’ve never met.
Oh, you touched my foot. It’s ok, I can move my foot over here, closer to my other foot and further away from your feet. I’d hate for you to get the wrong idea, like I’m enjoying the taunts, jibes and come-ons from all five of you. I mean, I obviously am, right? You chaps are having a huge giggle. And me? Well, I’m stony silent, staring at my phone with my headphones on (FYI, noise cancelling doesn’t mean total noise blocking), shrinking into the corner whilst you mime something that appears to be me gargling, no not gargling, gobbling your man seed. I wouldn’t go down the mime road, if I were you chaps. Though, it was utterly clear to me so maybe it could be a career path for you once you stop hassling women on trains.
Finally, after 15 minutes of your repeated incursions into my airspace, I feel it is time for me to go and you to go down. I get up. I speak up. I tell you all what I think of you and how ashamed of you I am.
Some of you have the decency to look sheepish, some of you tell me that you were “Only havin’ a laugh, innit”. I suppress the urge to correct your English, I gather my things and stalk up the train.
It’s only when I find safe haven that I notice how much my hands are shaking.
It might not have been me tonight. It might have been someone younger, less assertive, someone who was actually from another country. Someone for whom sexual assault is not just words. Someone for whom it could have been a deeply traumatic experience.
I am someone’s daughter. I am someone’s wife. I am someone’s mother.
If those chaps had stopped for just one second to consider that, maybe they would have stopped, or not even started.
I have the right to travel home in silence.
I have the right to travel home alone.
I have the right to not make small talk with drunk men I’ve never met.
I have the right to not be intimidated
I have the right. Women have the right. Every single woman has the right.
Just take your words and your looks and your, frankly awful, mimes and just go to fucking hell, you pieces of shit.
You are not taking my right to feel safe away from me. I am woman and have the right to exist in space without the fear of unwanted, unasked for attentions.
I was worried. I was scared and I was shaken.
As I left the train, my car keys slipped between my fingers, an older gentleman, his hair in long greying braids, assured me in a lilting Jamaican accent that I had nothing to fear from him. I half smiled, it was a glimpse of something better, something positive.
I got home safely. I called the British Transport Police. I reported it.
Now my hands have stopped shaking but I blaze with a white hot rage that those ‘men’ (and I use that word loosely because there is nothing manly about their behaviour) would dare to insinuate themselves into my personal space.
They are not worth my fear. They are not worth a thing.