Underground Initiation

The Northern Line has become my line. Every day I board in Earls’ Court, where I live, and ride its cranky elevators deep into the earth. Then I follow the black Northern Line signs and take my train. I stand swaying with the masses of other commuters until the train whirls into Russel Square where I emerge for a brisk, I think cleansing, walk to our office in Bedford Square. Sometimes the crowds throw me back five years to the time when I was a nineteen-year-old student riding this same line. Only then things were very different. On that occasion, it was night. I rode from Earl’s Court where I had been at a late-night get-together to Russel Square the closest station to my student digs on Bedford Way. As I doze off in my wedged upright stance, I relive every moment of that ride………

It is late, there are no standing room only crowds, indeed, my coach is empty except for me and a noisy threesome of young men. I select a seat a reasonable distance away from them and am pleased that they exit at South Kensington. I am now alone rattling through space. He boards at Hyde Park, the next stop. I am surprised when he selects to sit in the seat beside me even though he has the choice of the whole empty coach. I am penned in with a seat in front and this man on my right.

I pretend that he isn’t there. I can feel the warmth of his body as his presence rubs my right shoulder. I smell his body odors, smoke mixed with unwashed human, sweat. He grunts, and I quiver. Green Park passes we are still alone as we run through Piccadilly. His body odor becomes more oppressive. I consider trying to get off. At each station I hope that someone, anyone will board. No-one does, we continue to be alone. He is fidgeting with something in his lap, I turn and see what I have never seen before. I react with a quiver and start shaking; Leicester Square, Covent Gard, Holborn, the stations take an eternity to pass. I stare and try to turn away. I make a futile attempt to ignore what he is doing. As we roll into Russel Square, I stand and say,

“Excuse me, this is my stop.”

“Mine too” he gives a toothy grin.

He lets me pass, my body rubs against his. He touches me with his hands but I wriggle and am free. I run down the platform and vault up the escalator. I think that I can hear him behind me, but I’m not sure. I am too terrified to turn and look as this might slow me down. At the top, I am thankful to see that the ticket booth is still manned. I rush up and whisper,

“Help! A man! He exposed himself to me,” I turn “he’s…….” but he wasn’t – he had disappeared.

The ticket clerk jumps up and opens his door. He invites me inside. He tells me to sit down while he calls his station manager. The manager arrives. He is an elderly, old enough to be my father. He puts a kindly hand on my right shoulder I try to make it erase the memory of the touch during my ride, but it doesn’t. He and another man usher me into a very warm inner office. They offer me tea. It arrives hot and strong. I warm my trembling hands on the surface of the mug. Although I never add sugar, I do so now as the brew is strong. They want me to make a police report. I am calmer now. I let the glow of the tea permeate my body. Once we have got past the easy questions, name, age, residence et cetera we get down to specifics. I am so flustered that I can’t describe him. His smell maybe and his noises but these men are not interested in this information, they want specifics.

“Circumcised or not?”

“I don’t know”

“Did he ejaculate?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well,” they shrug,” describe the size. Describe what you did see.”

I look at their anxious faces, and notice their leaning-in body language. I realize that they are deriving as much pleasure in this debrief as he took in sitting next to me. I stand and thank them. I say that I must go now; maybe another time. Yes, I’ll complete the report tomorrow. I rush out and, with a renewed spate of energy, run home to my apartment. I lock the door.

The incident still haunts, even though I am beyond that fear. I handle things differently. Recently I rode a late tube home and found myself in an empty car with a man wearing an expensive Burberry raincoat. Like the other, he sits next to me. I know the routine, he starts fiddling and opens his coat to reveal his goods. I turn to him and remark, in a bored, matter-of-fact voice of irony,

“Put that thing away. I am not interested.”

He does just that. He gets off at the next station.

10 thoughts on “Underground Initiation

  1. It felt real, Jane. I shuddered and then applauded your wisdom and character, when you rebuffed the man later on. I also read Eric and Ian’s comment and have to agree. There is a disconnect in our society, where people are objects and humanity is being lost. Love and respect flowing to you all, with hugs. Xxx 😘 💗

    • Perhaps one does gain some wisdom as one grows older! Many say that our society is degenerating. But I think of the terrible times like the inquisition or Hitler’s purge of the Jews. I do wonder whether the violence in most of today’s movies contributes to some of modern misfunctioning.
      Thank you for your loving visit!

  2. Hello Jane,

    That must have been scary, to say the least, for any woman.

    Well imagined and written, if it were pure fiction. But I think the flash (no pun intended) draws on real-life events that occur all too often.

    Not quite the same but somewhat related:

    In the early 1980s, one late night my brother was riding the London tube. He was in university on a company scholarship and had his young wife with him.

    A group of young men – thuggish – came on board and started to harass him.

    There was a woman – a Caucasian lady – in the coach and she stood up for the young couple. The thugs got into an argument with the woman.

    ‘What is he to you?’ One man demanded. Yes, I recall the exact words which my brother related.

    Fortunately, when the train pulled up at the next station, my brother, sister-in-law and the kind woman got off.

    The thugs were undecided whether or not to follow. By the time their slow brains picked up speed, the doors shut. As the train pulled away, the thugs pressed their faces to the glass and made faces and flashed fingers. Yeah. Real macho.

    Interesting, how one story triggers another.

    All good wishes,

    • Yes, you are right the story is drawn from one of my life experiences. Once one of our preachers remarked, about a reported vision of the Virgin Mary, that “All stories are true, some actually happened.”

      Your sequel is an interesting, and sad, reflection on racial prejudice, thank you for sharing

      The best take-away from this is that the tube stations are so close together, with only a few minutes between stops. I also note that now the London population is so great that here is seldom a time when the coaches are empty or near empty.

    • Eric there was a time when that kind of behavior would have been confined to the seedy part of town where only the discards of society dwelled. Unfortunately in todays world it is becoming more prevalent. It’s not just a racial thing but whites attack whites and blacks attack blacks as well. I believe our societies are devolving rather than evolving and our country and religious leaders have let us down by not providing a moral compass. Gibbins “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” comes to mind. The Barbarians are at the door!

  3. It would be nice if men did listen in to a woman’s firm command under those circumstances. Unfortunately and sadly the majority of cases don’t end that way. Our society is sick.

    • You are right there is much sickness in our society – see Eric’s comment above. I wonder if it is getting better as these incidents are not new. I agree that it is a sad reality that sexual exploitation and racial intolerance have plagued society for time immortal. I recon that the flasher is a mild symptom.

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