The Unkindness Of Strangers


Sadly, I am not often overwhelmed with the kindness of strangers which is a crying shame if you ask me. Whenever a stranger shows me kindness, whether that be an act or spoken words, it always stays with me. I love strangers, the concept of connecting with people unknown and firmly believe the most interesting people are those you would otherwise pass by. Now, I know this isn't always wise and sometimes leads to some really awful experiences. However, I am a big, firm believer in karma.

A few weeks ago when I went up to London with my friend for our annual trip, I had possibly the worst train ride of my entire life simply because I was being nice to a stranger. An elderly man sat next to me and began to politely chit chat with me, so not to be rude, even though all I wanted to do was read my book and listen to music for the next 7 hours, I engaged with him. I figured that he was lonely and perhaps didn't get the opportunity to get out much or socialize but most of all, I thought of him being no different to my grandparents. A few times, he made some comments that made me wince or feel uncomfortable but I pushed past my gut reaction and based it off him being old and perhaps not realizing what's acceptable. Looking back this is so typical of me giving everyone the benefit of the doubt even when I know deep down it's not the case.


As the train ride progressed, I was really starting to get uncomfortable sitting with this man and was planning on getting up to move carriages. A couple of middle aged women who were in the aisle opposite kept shooting me looks whenever he made an inappropriate comment or pried too far into my life. He suddenly announced he was hungry and was going to the food carriage but not before asking if I would like anything. I quickly declined and saw this as my opportunity to move as did the women sitting opposite me. Leaving all of his stuff over the seat and asking me to keep an eye on it, he strode off towards the food carriage. The kind women leaned over to ask if I was okay and I told them honestly that I was about to move because I didn't want to sit there anymore which was a relief that other people thought the situation was weird and that it wasn't all in my head. I had just moved my overnight bag into the next carriage and as I returned to my seat to get my handbag, coat and other few bits to find he had returned to the seat. Knowing that I was getting off at Paddington I couldn't exactly feign my station was coming up so with a gritted smile I sat back down and this is where I wish I had run for the hills, middle finger in the air.


He immediately launched into how little choice they had in the food carriage and how expensive it was so instead...he bought wine. Wine. For 'us'. Seeing my alarmed face, he put his hand on my knee and said he bought it for us and told me to relax, to live a little, how many men have bought me drinks before? I sputtered out that I didn't drink, which I do just not with old men I met on a train 3 hours ago, to which he snarled I was a liar, of course all young people drink. He had already poured two glasses and tried to hand one of them to me when I tried to stutter out sorry but I really didn't want it. He then became all huffy that he had bought this expensive wine and I was being rude for not drinking it which made me then apologize. I apologized to this creepy old man for buying me wine. He seemed satisfied with my apology and winked at me whilst downing my glass of wine and continued talking like nothing strange had happened. I shot the women in the aisle a terrified look to find the seats empty. Somehow, during the wine incident, we had approached a station and they had left without me even realizing. I spent the next few hours sat as far into the window as I could and tried to joke it off every time he put his hand on my thigh or touched my hair. 


In massive hindsight, I should have just got up and moved seats and come up with any bullshit excuse I could muster. That's what I should have done. But...I was scared. Honestly, I had never been close to a situation like that before and didn't know what to do. I know it could have been a lot worse and for many reading this, it probably doesn't seem worthy of note but it truly spooked me. Even when I arrived at Paddington I stayed on the platform for as long as possible just to make sure he had gone and to calm down. 


Not even an hour later, significantly calmer and fueled up on starbucks, my best friend and I were queuing to buy underground tickets when a middle aged business man tapped me on the shoulder and gave me his day travelcard. I was truly touched by his genuine kindness and expressed this to him, which he shrugged off, but it really made my day and put my faith back into strangers. 


Just because I had one horrid experience doesn't mean I should ignore the next person to sit next to me on the train. I shouldn't let that man muddy my view of strangers or the cool opportunities that can come of talking to them. All it's done is to remind me to listen to my gut reaction and to never be too afraid to stand up for myself. That, and to never sit next to old men.