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To the man on the train platform,
I have come down the stairs to wait for my train. I am excited to be out of the house for a bit, to see my friend who lives a few stops over. My headphones are on. I’m listening to music. My head is down. I’m reading a book on my phone.
I am minding my own business, enjoying my time out in the world alone. My arms are crossed across my body. Nothing about my posture says, “Come talk to me.” I don’t want you to talk to me. I want to quietly make my way a few stops down to see my friend.
But you don’t listen to my body language. You stand up from your seat and walk 50 feet over to me. (I know you were there because I saw you when I came down the stairs. Like me, you stand out here. Unlike me, you are not conditioned to check out your surroundings before you enter a new space.) Just because we both stand out is not an excuse, or a reason, to come talk to me.
When you walk up to me, I reluctantly respond to your questions. Maybe you’re going to ask me for directions. Maybe you’re also a traveler, wanting to know a good spot to grab some food. But I am wrong. You ask my name. I try to ignore the question, but you ask again. I give you a fake name.
I wasn’t raised to be rude, but I’m hoping my quick responses will prompt you to move on. But you don’t. Instead, you seem to think I want you to board the train with me, stand next to me, and continue to talk to me. You say I’m beautiful, ask if I’m married. I say yes, because I am. Throughout the ride, you ask me a few more times. Maybe you didn’t believe me. Maybe I should have shown you my wedding ring. I shouldn’t have to. That shouldn’t matter. You say we should be friends, that you live near here, do I? I say no. I lie.
You ask me where I’m going. I respond vaguely. Maybe I’m sending you mixed signals by continuing to respond. Maybe I should have just stopped talking altogether. But you are not taking my cues—my lack of eye contact, my one earbud still firmly in place. You can see the book open on my phone, and yet you still don’t leave.
You ask for my number multiple times, and I continue to turn you down. You tell me you’re going to the same stop I am. So I lie and say I’m getting off a stop early. I’ll wait for another train altogether.
I should not have to reroute my path to get away from you.
Technically, you’re not doing anything “wrong.” You’re not touching me. You’re standing closer to me than I’d like. I’m uncomfortable. But I keep talking to you because deep down, I am afraid of you. I am afraid that telling you to buzz off will hurt your ego and you will hurt my body.
So, I try my best to show you that I’m not interested. At 32 years old, I have not yet learned how to tell you that I am going to stand over here and you should stay where you are. That I do not want to talk to you. That I am uncomfortable.
As I’m getting off at “my stop,” you’re still asking for my number. No. I walk up the stairs, waiting by the turnstiles long after the train has pulled away. On the creep scale, you’re reading low. But there’s no point in testing my luck. Up here, there are people. I wait until just before the new train comes, until more people are waiting on the platform below.
I’ll admit, I let my guard down recently. In a lot of ways, this country is safer than the last one we were staying in. And, when you look different, few people bother you. Why try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak the language? But that does not give you the okay to approach me. That does not make it okay that you try and continue a conversation with me that I don’t want to have. Because you took it upon yourself to come up to me and ignore my “I don’t want to talk” cues, I changed my plans and detoured to get away from you and feel safer.
To the guy on the train platform: next time, it will be different. Next time, I will tell you, “I don’t want to talk, please leave me alone.” Next time, if you continue talking to me, I will raise my voice just slightly, to draw the attention of people around me, even though most don’t know what I’m saying.
You are not the first. And I guarantee you won’t be the last. It’s exhausting always being ready for you, always watching for you to come into my periphery. So please, instead, just don’t.
I woke up this morning still thinking about you. Why are you taking up space in my brain? Maybe it’s because you were unexpected. It’s been quite a while since a stranger has come up to me and not left.
Maybe, if I’m honest, it’s because I’m ashamed. Ashamed at how I handled, or didn’t handle, your attempts at conversation. Ashamed that I cried on my husband’s shoulder when he got home from work. Ashamed that I’m not better at this by now.
I am ashamed of my shame.