The Incident on the Bus

On a recent visit to Rome, I found myself squashed between two strangers on a very busy, very sweaty bus journey at around one in the afternoon. Anybody who uses public transport will know how bad the conditions on trains and buses can get at peak time, especially during those summer months. In Rome, it seems to be peak time all day long and the heat, (it peaked at 33 degrees on this particular day), only made the journey seem more cramped.
I had managed to procure a spot next to a handrail which I clung to for dear life as the bus careered around corners and over bumps, causing all of us standing passengers to jostle against each other. I really value my personal space and imagine that others do too, so for that reason I was putting a lot of effort into trying to remain stationary and not barge into those standing within close proximity. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the man who was stood behind me. Whilst everyone else was at least attempting to hold on and remain rigidly upright, he seemed quite happy to be flung around the bus and brush against me at every single turn on those windy roads.
I have this weird thing about being touched, basically I hate it, especially if it’s by a stranger on public transport. So you can imagine my lack of enthusiasm about the situation I was in. After a couple of minutes I was beginning to get a little fed up of him barging into me so I tried to edge forwards in an attempt to escape him. The bus was extremely busy so I could only manage to shuffle a couple of inches but I thought it should be enough to distance myself from Sir Barge-a-lot who had stationed himself behind me. My plan was successful for all of four seconds before he realised surplus space had become available and stepped into the gap that I had just left behind.
To my dismay, I was left even more cramped than I had been in to start with. I told myself that, as there wasn’t very much I could do about it, I was just going to have to get on with it and ignore him as best I could. I instead tried to focus on not sweating on the two French women in the seats I was now pinned against. I stared out of the window and managed to get lost in my thoughts for a few minutes before being brought back to the present moment by the realisation that the irregular brushes against my backside had become more regular. In fact, there seemed to have become a rhythm to them. Rather than being innocently elbowed by a somewhat careless fellow passenger, it now felt as though I was being purposely rubbed in one particular area.
Again, I tried to edge forwards and again, the man behind me followed. I regularly commute to and from work on busy trains so I am used to strangers barging into me accidentally, however, this had begun to feel intentional. My suspicions got the better of me and I managed to twist my upper body around to see what was going on. I was met by the sight of a scruffy looking man with frazzled grey hair and a look of fierce concentration on his face as he focused all his energy on rubbing his erect, but thankfully still clothed, penis against me.
I always thought that if I ever found myself in that kind of situation, I would have stood up for myself somehow, maybe call him a creepy pervert and threaten to rip his dick off, maybe even go so far as to punch him in the face. I don’t know, just anything to make it clear that what he was doing was not okay. However, my mind went blank and I couldn’t find any words to say to this man who was essentially sexually assaulting me. My ‘fight or flight’ response kicked in and to my surprise my body picked ‘flight’. All I could think about was how I had to get myself as far away from this creep as was physically possible.
Unfortunately for me, that was easier said than done as I was still on a very crowded bus and my options regarding where I could move to were somewhat limited. I edged forward again so that I was almost between the two French women I mentioned earlier, and again this guy attempted to follow me. The desperation must have shown on my face because one of the women suddenly beckoned me towards her. I assumed she just thought I needed more space and was trying to be courteous, however, when she moved her handbag to the floor and motioned for me to sit on her knee, it dawned on me that she had seen what this man was doing and had decided to step in. Never have I been so grateful towards anyone. This woman could easily have pretended not to notice anything untoward, yet she instead chose to let a complete stranger sit on her knee on a very hot and sweaty bus. In spite of the language barrier, we managed to get talking and we both tried to laugh the situation off, however, there was a serious undertone to our light hearted comments and we both breathed a sigh of relief when he got off the bus a few stops later.
I feel incredibly thankful towards that woman and very lucky that help was offered before the situation escalated. What I experienced is a minor incident in comparison to what others are forced to endure at the hands of sexual predators similar to the man I encountered on the bus. The type of people we read and watch films about but don’t associate with real life. Until we meet them ourselves that is. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same set of ideals about what classifies as socially acceptable behaviour. That day, I learnt from experience that there are people in this world who go out with the intention of preying on unsuspecting people who have done nothing to warrant this treatment. However, I also learnt that there are people in this world who are truly good. Those people who will go the extra mile and perform selfless acts out of sheer kindness, people who see something that they know is wrong and decide to do something about it. I urge you to be the person who steps in. We can’t always help the things that happen to ourselves, but we can always help the things happening to the people around us.

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