I see him on the platform as the train pulls into the station. I wished the train didn’t stop here. Still there he is, shaved head caught in the morning lights. It’s still dark outside. Why this morning? I am tired. He gets on the train, sees me, makes his way this way and not that way. He sits on the seats across the aisle from me.
Tattoos, hair cut so close to the skin it’s barely there, the over done muscles, track pants, the whole package. I make myself smaller. I want to be invisible. He carries an air of menace with him, as if he’s wearing it as a coat. It pervades the carriage-look at me. Look how tough I am. He might as well be sitting on every seat. Entitlement mixed with resentment and disappointment at life. We all know how that turns out. And there is just him and me in this carriage.
I look at my bag-on the seat next to me, my gloves beside it. It’s cold. I pick up my gloves. I do it to soothe myself. I toy with them The gloves are a gift from my mother. They are pastel pink. They aren’t quite proper gloves. They have no fingers, I’m sure that has a name.
He stares. For the first time I think he really notices me. He is looking at my legs. Unnerving. He looks at my bag. It is expensive. I don’t mind if he takes my bag. It’s everything else I am worried about. My stomach churns. I feel the soft fur of my gloves. Soothing me. A contrast to the harshness of his eyes, his whole demeanour.
He is much bigger than I am. He is taking up more space than me. He is just staring at me. At my shoes. My legs. I put my gloves on. A further act of reassurance. He looks away. Looks back again. At me. I want to scream, stop looking, you don’t have the right to just look every time you want. I try to look bigger now, more confident.
Oddly then he looks away. A victory for me but also a flash of something else there, something I didn’t get.
I toy with my gloves nervously. They are pale pink, did I say that already? Fringed with fluffy fur and a tassel to tighten or loosen them. It doesn’t actually do either. They don’t exactly scream-‘martial arts expert who could whip your butt in a fight.’ On the other hand that is not me so they are honest. I have no idea why my mother sent them to me, they are not really ‘me’ in any event. I am somewhere in between the pom-pom lover with scented candles in the bath and the martial arts expert. I’m not exactly sure where on that spectrum though. I let other people judge that by looking at my hand bag. But I do love these gloves.
He is looking out the window now. Having devoured me with his eyes he is now looking away. I hope he is embarrassed. He isn’t. I know he isn’t. There is something else there though. Something I didn’t catch. What is he thinking? He can’t be thinking I could put up much resistance. I tell myself I could, but I know I couldn’t.
I look at my phone, wonder if I should call someone. I go through my bag for my keys. All the time he is taking quick glances back at me. I start to worry even more. I can’t read the situation. There is something else going on. I mustn’t panic. I try and keep my hands still, sit them calmly in my lap.
Its then I clock it. He is not. Not completely looking at me. His phone rings. He grunts into it, some macho bullshit conversation and all the time he is staring into my lap. But not at me. I move my hands. I move them again. The tassel tie flipping about as I put my hands through my hair. Dear god why did I do that? Am I trying to tell him I am interested? Dear God I am terrified. That was stupid. My hands are just fidgeting now, trying to stop the shake and all the time he is watching them. My hands, but not my hands.
I am not mistaken.
I am not mistaken.
I repeat the words in my head. It is not me that he is looking at. Not me that he is interested in.
He is looking at the gloves.
He is looking at the gloves.
I repeat the thought, calmly. Panic dissipates. Confusion. I take them off. I put them on the seat beside my bag. He is still looking at them. He is leaning back taking up more space but he keeps glancing at my gloves.
His call ends. Mr ‘he-man’ hang up his phone. Our eyes catch. Lock. Its momentary. I see it then. The something else. The unspoken something else. I look at the gloves. I love those gloves. I mean my Mum-I love them for that reason alone. Still he looks at them. Then at me. At my eyes, into my eyes. Pleading.
I try and look righteous. I have no idea why. I love these gloves. A man like that, no matter how much he wants them, can never buy these gloves, can never own these gloves. Not even for his girlfriend. He can’t do that. These gloves, these beautiful gloves are out of his reach. I am trying to think it through. It’s my stop next. These are my gloves but those eyes, that plea. He could never wear them, they wouldn’t fit. But he can never own them either. This is his only chance. A world utterly forbidden, pastel pink, fur and tassels.
I stand. I pick up my bag. I leave them. I just leave the gloves there. On the seat. I can see the seat. I can see them on the seat. My mother would understand I tell myself.
I see him reach out. I look away. I look back. They are gone. He has gone to the other end of the carriage to get off.
I don’t look. I get off the train and walk straight ahead.
My hands are cold. I am warmed.