I notice a man on the platform at Liverpool Street Station because he looks at me in that way that certain men look at certain women. He either finds me attractive, or he’s a bit of a letch (or both), storing up snapshots of women he sees in public places for his Wank Bank back home. He’s tall, 50ish, with grey hair, slightly balding, and baggy eyes. He wears wide-legged jeans, non-specific leather shoes and a black mac.
He sits opposite me on the tube, where I conclude he belongs to the latter category, as I watch his eye rove, from woman to woman, lingering on some for longer than others. The tube, this morning, feels a little like a single’s bar with the amount of eyeing-up going on, only it’s eight o’clock in the morning and everyone is seemingly sober. Then Ms Stripper gets on. I call her Ms Stripper, only because she wears black plastic pants. I say pants, because she has that immaculate look of the Californian hills, Hollywood Movies. She is petite, with a beautiful eyebrow line, a prominent straight nose, the perfect T framing bright blue eyes. Her hair is long, brown, thick and straight. She is beautiful.
The man notices her and looks away but not for long, his eyes wandering back to her every few seconds. He is perhaps a little overwhelmed by seeing this woman on the tube this morning, and tries to control himself by yawning, studying something on the ceiling, reading the advertisements on the walls. But nothing works. He shifts in his seat, he reddens. A number of women also find her beguiling, only while he is perhaps experiencing a certain amount of pleasure, I suspect they are finding reason to hate her.
I wonder if she notices the eyes on her, if she likes being a peacock, every part of her scrutinised, from her arched eyebrow down to her black, leopard-print trainers.
A seat becomes free beside the man and she takes it, settling beside him. I think to myself he will stop looking now, content to have her in such close proximity. But he doesn’t. His eye settles on her knee, her shiny black knee, the slick and stretch of fabric showing off the contours of her cute quail’s egg kneecap. Are her pants leather, or plastic, or indeed rubber? His eye drifts from her knee to her shoulder and her hair. What does her hair smell like? What is her scent? She keeps to herself, checks her mobile phone, occasionally looks around.
I become increasingly uncomfortable with the situation, with his attention, indeed the attention of the whole carriage, on this woman, simply because of her beauty. We all make assumptions about her personality, and even her life: what she does for a living, how she spends her evening, even. I wonder, am I also guilty of making the same assumptions about him? No, because he is the one in power. He is invading her space and her privacy with his roving eye, however uncontrollable it appears to be. He is making her feel uneasy. Then she surprised me.
Despite sitting within inches of this man, she turns and looks directly at him, just at the moment that he looks at her. They meet each other face-to-face. But rather than glance away, further embarrassed, she confronts him: ‘Can I help you?’ she asks plainly, clearly, and he falters, laughs like a fool, turning a dark crimson. The women avert their gaze, repressing smiles – bet they feel more sisterly now – while the young woman in the sexy trousers gets back to the business of her day.