It was on the Metro around 9pm when it happened.
On the Frankston line, speeding towards warmth and the promise of a soft bed.
Everyone had their heads bowed, worshipping their phones, their books, their trashy MX’s. I would have been no different except my phone was dead. With no book in hand and no discarded MX to pick up, I did what all sensible public transporters do – the soulless vacant stare. Avoid eye-contact at all cost. Act like any connection with another soul in a public space can only lead to mutual mortification.
Being a part of the horde of zombies glued to their screens, my eyes naturally hungered for a bright square to stare at. It was as instinctive as searching for brains.
Hey babe, I’m at Mordiallac. Pick me up in 10 mins?
Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Instagram, Facebook, tumblr….
Oh my goodness Georgia, you’re doing it again. I had qualms about breaching others’ privacy; the constant struggle to balance the addiction of screens versus respect for others.
But then my eyes shifted to the guy sitting opposite me to my right, and all qualms about privacy dissipated.
If anyone opened Tinder in public, their privacy was fair game.
I had uninstalled Tinder a few months ago. For me, Tinder was the wing-man whose promise of instant physical gratification and eligible bachelors fell flat. Disastrously so. Maybe it was my own doing too, but at this brash point in my life I refuse to admit anything is truly my fault.
I watched in voyeuristic curiosity as he swiped left and swiped right. Occasionally he would tap into the girls’ profiles, eye a few pictures, then swipe right. He rarely paused to consider the movement of his thumb. It became obvious after five minutes that his ‘type’ was the party girl whose cleavage was readily exposed for perusal. But he also surprised me a few times by swiping right to the cute librarians; the prim and proper yuppies.
Then I couldn’t help but suck in breath sharply. My profile was on his screen. Georgia Lee, 25, I love to chill in bed to a good tv series or movie. Swipe right if you’re a couch potato too! The inane fibs we tell the internet.
At that point my whole being was poised like a rattlesnake ready to strike. It was obvious to all onlookers that I was blatantly staring at the guy’s screen, but I no longer cared. What would he do? My hypothetical fate was resting at the tip of his right thumb. He paused. He tapped into my profile, swiping through the pictures taken on my birthday, in a silver gown; in the park with Tess, my chihuahua; chilling out with my best gal pals.
He swiped left.
A sour tang rose in the back of my throat. Of course I do not care for a stranger, let alone his approval, but the left flick of a thumb felt like a cold slap on my face. It felt worse than being told straight to my face that I was ugly or undesirable. Did he even know I was sitting opposite him?
I finally looked at the guy. Who was this supercilious bastard flicking me away like a fly without a second thought? Medium tanned skin, short height, bulky build – not a good bulky, as his shortness made him seem like an underdeveloped bull. A scraggly beard clung to his neck and chin. The hairs were gnarly and curled, as if trying to escape from their follicles. Scraped sneakers and a gym bag.
Vitriolic glee congealed within. I was determined to get his attention.
I coughed quietly, holding my hand over my mouth. It was more to hide my smirk than to be courteous. His eyes did not move from his screen. I coughed louder, a hacking phlegm cough I learned from my grandfather. Still, the underdeveloped bull did not stir. Others were raising their eyebrows above their phones and magazines. A couple stopped their saccharine eye-sex and turned towards me, quizzical.
Now arriving at Mordiallac.
The guy stood up (confirming my assessment of his height). He had mastered the art of the vacant stare – the ability to see everyone on the train but not see them altogether. Shuffling past the person on his right to get out onto the aisle and to the door. I had to act fast. Without thinking, I dumped my bag onto the aisle as his sneakers reached it.
His shoe caught the strap, and before anyone could catch him, the bulky bull planted his face on the sticky floor. A few people were half-standing, their mouths a gaping O. Silence reigned. It was the freeze before everyone snapped to their senses, activating their humanity.
The doors were beeping and closing. The guy got up slowly, his own disbelief surpassing all onlookers’. A strand of grey grass clung to his left cheek. Indignance was beginning to form on his face. The bull metaphor really worked with this side of him. He turned and began to see everyone’s faces for the first time. Searching, scanning, trying to comprehend how it happened. Hot, red threads were gathering at the corners of his eyes.
His eyes met mine. Half-formed swear words were collected at the tip of his tongue. But then something clicked in his mind. His eyes brightened, the red threads disappearing. A cauldron of comprehension, guilt, embarrassment, disbelief whirled in his black irises.
The train jolted a little and began wheezing forward again.
I should have been sorry, but a sardonic grin formed on my face instead.
‘You wanna get coffee?’ I asked as the train picked up speed.