The working, and perhaps more appropriate, title for this was “Public Transport Creep”.
(Overground from Crouch Hill to Barking) You were on the very delayed overground train from Gospel Oak to Barking, Sunday the 1st of September. I didn’t notice you until we were nearing Woodgrange park, I stared unashamedly and you didn’t look away. They weren’t lustful or angry looks we exchanged, just unwavering eye contact, a s/he-who-blinks loses kind of affair, or maybe you were staring into space. You were as tall as a skyscraper and as thin as a promise, with dark brown hair in a bit of a TinTin swirl at the front. You wore a black baggy sweater, green trousers, and stripy socks. Your backpack had a little yellow paper cutout of a man attached to it. Have my babies. Have my super tall, super skinny babies. I’m going to get rich just so I can build us a big old log cabin with ceilings that reach the sky, your head will still skim them I bet. I’ll get a custom bathtub built to fit the full length of your bony body in it and I’ll sit between your legs while you wash my hair. If you read the rest of this list I want you to know that I’m not always mean, judgemental, or thirsty, it’s something that public transport brings out in me. I am however always bothered by jarring noises, hypocritical, generally creepy (observant) and unhealthily obsessed with physical beauty. I’m a work in progress Stripy-sock-man, but let’s not forget I am offering to build you a house.
(London Victoria to Dorking train) You were the old man chewing loudly on the last train of the night – the toothless lip-smacking sounds you made were so gross I had to literally stick my fingers in my ears. My general feeling towards the police is of disdain, but at times like this I wish there was such a thing as a noise police. I could perform a citizen’s arrest on you, fine you an unreasonable amount and spend the money on getting myself noise-cancelling headphones.
(London Victoria to Dorking train) I was eating Mcdonalds. I’m sorry. I was on my way home from LA 3 weeks earlier than I was meant to be because my chinless boyfriend had met his future wife and dumped me. He drove me to the airport without saying a word and then vomited from crying so much when we got there. I took some diazepam and drank a little red wine and squeezed myself between two sleeping women who spilled over into my space on the plane, when we landed in grey England I got the tube to Victoria Station. I was dazed and confused, dejected and very hungry. I would have missed my train and waited another hour if I ate that cheap, unethical, delicious cheeseburger in a more appropriate setting. You huffed and you puffed and pouted and then got up and moved. I channelled all my anger at my sock suspender wearing ex-boyfriend on to you in my head. How dare you huff and puff and pout at me when I was I feeling mental anguish? I get it now, it’s a very strong and unpleasant smell. And I’m sorry. When someone eats Mcdonalds or KFC on a train I’m on now and the smell makes me feel nausannoyed (that’s a handy portmanteau I just made, TM) I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and think they might be heartbroken and eating to feel a little heartburn in their chest instead of agonising hollowness. Mostly I just pout and tsk and move though.
(Overground from Barking and Crouch Hill) You wore camouflage trousers, a grey Slazenger hoodie, and plasters on your fingers. Your knees awkwardly pointed inwards. You had a beautiful ruddy complexion, impossibly big lips, and I could almost feel the texture of your short hair from looking at it. You were texting someone, and from the way you were smiling at your phone, I’d bet good money that it was someone you’ve just started dating. I want someone to make me look at my phone that way.
(northern line tube) You were wearing what looked designer Harry Potter glasses and you had two birthmarks above and below your left eye. You were slouched in your seat with a sulky lower lip stuck out. There were deep bags under your hazel eyes and your greasy salt and pepper hair was visibly receding under your yarmulke. I watched you fall in and out of sleep and wanted to lay your head on my lap, stroke your sad little face, and whisper soothing things.
(Northern line tube) You had dark brown eyes, no makeup, long dark hair and big Beats by Dre headphones. You were carrying an instrument but I don’t know what kind, they’re all a mystery to me once you put them inside a black box. You wore paisley trousers that stopped before your ankles, a tartan lined jacket, black socks and dirty white converse. There was a gorgeous kink in your nose. You were so beautiful that it hurt a little to look at you. I don’t know if I wanted to be you or be with you or both, incest twins?
(northern line tube). You were wearing a Hollister hoodie, maroon jeans and you had a backpack and a red suitcase with you. You were kind of Spanish looking with hair like a feral ten-year-old. I loved watching you laughing and raising your eyebrows on the last few pages of the book you were reading.
(Overground between Gospel Oak and Barking) Thank you to the woman who told off the kid with the whistling lolly because her dad wouldn’t. It was relentless and tuneless and it made me want to Van Gogh myself but take all auditory function with me. You were very polite about it and asked the dad to make her stop. “I can’t stop her,” he replied, like a sack of wet corn, so you spoke to her directly. I don’t know what magic words you used but she put down her weapon. I still don’t know if my feelings about this thing were leaning towards grincherly (I remember how fun those lollies were when I was a kid) but if that was a torture method and I was a spy I would have given up all my secrets about five minutes in.
(overground between Finsbury Park and East Croydon) You were wearing a blancmange pink polo top and had a tory face with scarily pale blue eyes and thinning hair in various shades of grey. Your blonde wife resembled an ageing magician’s assistant, she wore a pearl bracelet and had a top and blazer in the same shade of pudding pink as your top. Her and your daughter both had their shoes up on the seat, you’re not meant to do that.
(northern line tube) You had freshly cut hair and wonky lower teeth. I’m weak for boys with abnormally small, wonky lower teeth. The first boy I loved had teeth like that, a little overcrowded graveyard in his mouth. Your cheekbones were high set and you had a small scar next to your mouth. You had on shoes that matched your belt and your wristwatch strap. You were flitting between reading your Histoire L’art book and looking at the Financial Times website on your phone. Is your whole family like you? Did you grow up discussing important world events at the breakfast table? How do you get to be that way? Is it just by virtue of being French? I assumed you were French from the book but maybe you’re the kind of man who reads big books in a second language while standing on a lurching train and never loses balance. I don’t remember what I was wearing or reading but I can take a guess that there would have been chipped nail varnish and frayed shoelaces involved, and a jacket with holes on the cuff. You are the opposite of me in so many ways, and I think I was observing you as though you were some kind of exotic animal at the zoo (a big handsome giraffe maybe), but I felt some kinship with you when I noticed you had a little mole on your hand between your thumb and index finger, just like mine.
(overground between Gospel Oak and Barking) I found out recently you guys aren’t meant to look women in the eye, maybe there’s no rule against the nipple though? I don’t think the woman breastfeeding her kid even noticed you, but I did. You were too busy staring at her tit and the baby suckling on it to notice me. You seemed a little angry, a little titillated, but mostly confused. You got off the train a couple of times and got back on again looking flustered.
(district line) Notting Hill carnival weekend. I don’t remember what station you all got on at, but suddenly the carriage was filled with the smells of booze and sweat and trust funds. Your friends yanked the alarm and the train lurched forward and people fell into each other. A wan boy pushed his way through the crowded tube, “DOCTOR, DOCTOR. IS ANYONE A DOCTOR?”. No doctors, no nurses, no paramedics, you had to settle for a sober first aider. You were still fitting on the ground when she got to you, surrounded by a small crowd of panic-stricken crying girls. I think there may have even been some screaming, it was like being in a coop of drunk headless chickens. It’s weird to think that there was all this drama around you and about you, advice being shouted out by strangers (“give her water” “don’t put anything into her mouth” “carry her off the train”) and opinions (dehydrated, drank too much booze, had too many drugs, had the wrong drugs) being exchanged, and you were out for all of it.
(overground between Barking and Gospel Oak) I loved your glittering headwrap, rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses, bejewelled bangles, and sparkly dress and shoes.
(93 bus -Dorking to Capel) Your posture was akin to that of a tortoise trying to stand upright, your eyelashes reminded me of a newborn piglet and when I saw you smile sometimes it would make me want to scrub myself clean after. You’re a spunk stain on the mattress of life. Last time I saw you you were trying to impress underage girls at the back of the bus by boasting about the birthday weekend you spent with your dad “Sniffin cocaine, smoking weed and going to stripper bars”
(Hammersmith and City Line) Your boyfriend had skin the colour of fresh printer paper, teeth like a rabbit, sparkly eyes and a sweet smile. He looked like a young Paul Daniels, if Paul Daniels was anaemic. He wore an ugly straw hair, and the collar from his polo shirt stood up stiffly behind his neck. You were beautiful with brown skin and bouncy hair. You looked a little annoyed at his hand sitting possessively on your thigh, all his blue veins visible. I feel guilty for the thoughts I have when I see a couple like you, the woman a million times more beautiful than the man. Because I should be pleased shouldn’t I, that there are people in this world that can see beyond the surface? I’m not though. It makes me panic first, I think if men like this can get women as beautiful as that, and beautiful men get beautiful women, what are us average looking women left with? Do I need to settle for a potato with a face drawn on it dressed head to ankle in Ed Hardy and wearing flip flops?
(93 bus from Capel to Dorking). You had strong tan lines and scarred arms. You briefly put your hand on my thigh and I fantasized that if you did it again I would pour my small tub of cottage cheese on your head.
(overground from Barking to Gospel Oak) You were the hot Hasidic jew on the last train home, the Miss Universe of St Kildas road. You had the face of a quietly misogynistic singer-songwriter, not one in particular but the face of a million men with drinking problems, Madonna-whore complexes, and a love for minor chords. That kind of face has a much stronger appeal for me when it’s sat under a big sexy shtreimel. Am I fetishizing a religious group? I can’t deny that there is something inherently thrilling to me in knowing that you’re not meant to look at me, but I think it’s 10% that and 90% that I think your outfits are the sexiest clothes a man could wear. I’m being sincere here, which people sometimes doubt when I tell them about my love for the big hats and tunics. I don’t think it’s dissimilar to having a thing for nuns. Was it my lustful ogling that had you get up and switch seats or if it was only so you could charge one of your two mobile phones at the USB port? I want to kneel at your feet, pull your long black socks down and kiss your skinny ankles. I’m projecting what I want on to you of course but you look like you’d be dirty in bed, spindly but strong arms, no giggling or gurning. In my head you are perfect in bed, even in my unattainable fantasies I can’t take fucking another man who apologizes after he comes.
(Northern line) You had veiny leathery hands and nicotine-stained yellow nails. I watched you tapping out a tune on the armrest and turn your hands into dancing spiders.
(Budapest to Belgrade train) You were a big guy, in both directions and your giant arms had a few fading stick-and-poke tattoos of what might have been eagles. You were emanating a strong metallic sweat stink that mingled with the smell of the garlicky soup you were eating from an old ice cream tub. You were dipping great hunks of bread into the soup. You took up so much space in every way possible, your presence alone was bigger than the rest of the packed carriage put together. Your travelling companion was an impish little boy who I assume was your son. He was eating strawberries and comically recoiling every time he put one in his mouth, he shared them with the little girl sat opposite him. At one point he also took your phone, pretended it was a machine gun and shot everyone else on the train. I projected a lot on to you and your son, imagined what your home life was like, made up stories in my head about you both, decided your tattoos were prison or biker gang or both. I was on the cusp of being annoyed by the smell, as well as the turbo-folk noises blasting from someone’s phone, but I looked around and other people were laughing and chatting with strangers or humming along to the music and I figured maybe the Balkan way is just to chill the fuck out and accept it, so I decided to do the same.
(Overground between Gospel Oak and Barking) You were the two little kids with blue plastic bags full of corn on the cob, making silly faces at each other but being as quiet as church mice. Your mum had sad eyes and a cheap wig. I hope you’re okay.
(late night Northern line) You were dressed all in black, casual smart with a small handbag and a ballet dancer’s body. You had pallid skin, deep sunken eyes that I think were grey, low cheekbones, a tiny little nose, a small pouty mouth, Lucifer’s eyebrows, and Satan’s eyes. You unsettled me. I wonder if other people remark on it to your face, that you look kind of like the Princess of Darkness, the Lady of The Underworld, Beelzebabe herself. That must get tiresome fast, or maybe you kind of like it? Maybe after you steal some of your housemates olive oil or hoover up a spider you go and look at that face in the mirror and think ‘well I couldn’t really help it could I?’
(northern line) It’s probably as risky as staring at the sun, looking at a man as handsome as you. The babeliest inhabitant of babetown. Very tall. Perfect hair. Cheekbones I could slit my wrists on. Big pouty lips. You kept touching your perfect hair. I was the woman staring, jaw on the floor, may have been weeping a tiny bit. I don’t want to be your girlfriend (not that that was on the table), people would think I had paid a mad scientist to genetically engineer you. I just want to look at you and cry. I want to rub up against you and get the stink of beauty on me. Or maybe I could stare at you for long enough that beauty would lose its power over me, that I could stop thinking about the way I look, about the way everyone looks, about the way I look in comparison to the way other people look. Come back, let me look at you some more.
(Barking to Gospel Oak) Little lips, gross shoes, nose piercing, dumb glasses. “Spurs spurs spurs”. Who watches videos of football chanting ever, let alone in public? Put your fucking headphones in.
(Stockholm to London, Ryanair) I get it in retrospect, you don’t want to spend a 2 and a half hour flight counselling a stranger. And if you had asked me why I was crying I would have told you and we would have either been locked into an awkward silence or an oversharing conversation for the whole flight. You couldn’t have done anything to make me feel better probably but I undoubtedly would have made you feel worse. But you shouldn’t have said anything at all really. I was genuinely angry at the time, but it makes me laugh now, the bounciness in your voice when you asked if I had a cold, then the sheer terror in your voice when you said “oh god, you’re crying” and turned away from me for the rest of the flight.
(bus – Budapest) Did I write SATAN RULEZ on my forehead in menstrual blood and forget to wipe it off again? I can’t understand why you’re looking at me that way if not.
(Dorking to Ockley train) The police reviewed the cctv footage and were confident that you had followed me from Dorking to Ockley station, that you’d made some kind of decision before I even boarded the train. You caught the next train going back in the opposite direction. I know this because my elderly (bigoted) neighbour sat in his car with the retired fireman from a few doors down, they watched you then reported back to me before the police arrived. But how could you know I was going to get off at the station in the middle of nowhere and not the busy town at the end of the line? How could you have known nobody would be at the other end to pick me up? And you would have had to have known what a quiet little country road that was. Maybe you just lucked out. I can’t remember what happened really, it’s sharp either side – me thinking about a John Irving book I was reading, walking too slowly in a black miniskirt and an oversized men’s shirt. I think it was just a quick pussy grab, but really it’s blur blur blur. Then I remember me screaming, you smiling, me running into the road.
(all tubes) Put your legs together mate, tone the cologne down, get your stupid gym arms out of my space, and put your goddamned fucking headphones in.