Don't worry, everything's fine. I've come out unscathed because I chose flight over fight.
On my way home last night, a young white man possibly in his 20s, walked towards me from one end of the tube carriage to where I was standing. I was looking outside, with my earphones plugged, marvelling at how slowly the afternoons are getting darker. I looked up and caught his eyes. They were seething. And glued at mine. I quickly looked down, which London commuters are somehow trained to do. When I looked up again, he was right in front of me with his right arm extended towards me at chest level, seemingly attempting to either peel the earphones off me, or worse, punch me. Either way, he missed. I quickly removed my earphones and shoved it to my bag. While I darted past him, he shouted 'fuck off!'.
Which I did.
Unlike trains in other countries where one can move from one carriage to another by opening the access doors, London Underground trains have enclosed carriages. I was trapped.
I can hear my mother telling me to walk away. Don't be stupid. There is a place and time to be brave and last night wasn't one of those days. If anything, bravery meant prepping up my legs for a sprint exit.
I was scared. I recalled an incident when a schoolgirl was randomly stabbed in the heart on her way to school by a man with a mental health problem. I thought of what this man could be carrying with him. A knife? A gun perhaps? Acid? A steel-toe-capped work boots to kick my head? With his blatant public display of arrogance, what would stop him from beating me up amidst the other passengers? My mind was racing. I sat close to the door. I was clutching on the hope that the train won't be held mid-track (which often happens before my stop) while waiting for the green signal.
I'm a paranoid commuter. I always look over my shoulder when I get off the bus to make sure no one's behind me or following me. He caught me when I was most unguarded, which is usually the case when attacks happen.
A few years back, a group of teenage girls bullied me on the bus. I was smartly dressed, had my long dark brown straight hair neatly hanging down my back, I was wrapped in a red coat, and wearing my solitaire engagement ring then. They were sitting behind me. I felt a tug at my hair. I ignored it. Then someone poked the crown of my head. All the while I could hear them commenting about how I looked, and my diamond ring. They were taunting me, and asking amongst themselves who I think I was dressed the way (at the time I was working at the eveningwear section of a famous luxury Central London department store, thus the effort to look immaculate) I did. At this point, I turned around, and asked the obvious gang leader, "Do you have a problem?". She matter-of-factly snapped back at me, "Yeah, you're my problem." I knew then that a confrontation was a mistake. In that brief moment I saw her face, I realised she and her mates were minors. They were half my age. Should an altercation have ensued, I probably would've been the one having a brush with the law instead of them, despite being the one attacked.
As soon as the train door opened, I bolted. I breezed through the crowd. I was feeling vulnerable as the bus bullying experience has left me aware that the public will stay away as much as they can. If that young man was intending to hurt me, my thoughts were about ensuring that I don't give him the satisfaction.
In London, we're used to travelling with eccentrics on public transportation. We're also used to seeing altercations and similar incidents. Unfortunately, we're also used to detaching ourselves and pretending we're not witnessing it. Can't blame the public. We do not get involved as the attention of the attacker can be directed to us, or that we end up physically hurting the aggressor who provoked a reaction from us. We don't realise how much anger and aggression we can unleash when we are placed at the receiving end.
In case you find yourself in a similar situation, these may help:
1. As soon as you get the opportunity to walk away, do so. Better yet, run. This advice comes from a friend who's a martial arts expert. If you're not equipped, that bravado is not worth it.
2. If there's some person of authority in the vicinity to report it to and you feel it's safe to do so, report the incident.
3. If you're shaken, take shelter in a safe area and get yourself collected by a family member or a friend.
4. Resist the urge to fight back or retaliate. Think as much if you can of the worst scenario. It can save you in the long run.
Last year, while waiting for a bus to get the station, I felt a hard object hit the back of my leg. I looked over and saw this woman, probably in her 70s, muttering slurs at me to move out of her way (I wasn't blocking her in any way). I immediately thought she may have mental health issues. I kept my distance, but she was still coming for me. I'm much younger and most likely stronger. I was quick to think that had I ended up confronting her, I could have hurt her, she could have ended up knocking her head off the pavement. Should she survive, she could turn around the story and make out that I physically assaulted her. I looked and there was no one else around. I would't have witnesses. This is what I meant by THINK. Always place yourself at an advantage should there be a legal battle.
On the way home by bus after the incident, I thought of all the women, men and children who've been through assaults much worse than what I experienced. If mine left me shaken overnight and paranoid on the way to work this morning, they must be in hell. Have they ever felt safe after?
I'm writing this to give a nudge to all women to be extra aware of their surroundings when travelling by themselves. Sometimes, however you avoid trouble, it seeks you. Be alert.
Among at least 20 passengers with and around me yesterday, there was only one person who looked me straight in the eye to bravely mouth silently across the seat from me, "Are you ok?" I said bravely as the bully could have seen him and hit him.
The man had blondish-brown hair, probably wearing glasses, reading a book, not directly sitting across me, perhaps four seats to my right. I'm sorry I wasn't able to thank you. If this ever gets viral, you may remember this incident which happened on 28 September at around 6:30pm, on Piccadilly Line bound for Uxbridge. I got off Rayners Lane. If I don't get to see you in person again, please accept my gratitude through this post. You made me feel settled a bit. It was comforting to know that not everyone turned a blind eye.