I got chatting to another stranger on the train today. He was a nice man, but whenever he said a word that was particularly sibilant, he would spit at me. The first time he did this, a rather sizeable globule of spit landed on my face, between my eyes. It hit me with quite an impressive amount of force, so much so that it caused me to make an exclamation of shock. I didn’t want to make the man feel uncomfortable, and didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that he’d just spat on me. So to avoid the embarrassment, I quickly adapted my noise of surprise, and tried to manoeuvre it into a sound that might be more akin to a noise denoting great interest in what he was saying.
I’m not sure I pulled it off very effectively, given that what he was saying didn’t really warrant such an enthusiastic noise. He was telling me that he was heading to see his sister in Surrey, hence the sibilance. Then he spat on me and I shouted out in shock and then tried to change it into a noise of enthusiasm. I would have to invent a reason that would justify my effusive exclamation.
“Woe! My sister is also in Surrey. What a coincidence.” I’m not sure whether this really warranted such a passionate noise of excitement, but it was the first thing that came to mind, so it would have to do. Of course, he then asked me which part of Surrey she came from. Michael’s family live in Redhill in Reigate, so I plucked for that. It turned out that this is also where his sister happened to live, and so he asked me for her name, saying that he might know her. I decided to go for a name that didn’t contain any P’s T’s or S’s, in case he should use it in our conversation, and rain down more spit upon me. I went for Mary; a safe choice, I thought.
He asked me where she worked. I’d hoped that my invention of a sibling would have just been an expedient way of vindicating my weird enthusiastic noise, but it was requiring more and more elaboration.
“In a florists,” I said, and immediately regretted my choice of shop: florists has both an S and a T in it. I braced myself for the spit to hit.
“A florists?” he said, and sure enough, the spit came and landed on my forehead, joining its predecessors. But this time I was ready for it, and so fortunately I didn’t make a weird noise. I didn’t want to have to invent any more siblings. One was proving quite enough.
“Flowers 77?” He asked. Trust him to know a bloody florists in Redhill, and how bloody typical that the name of the florists in Redhill has three S’s and a T in it. Another spit globule met my forehead. I pretended not to remember the name of the place she worked at. Knowing my luck I’d say “yes,” only to find that his sister is the boss of the florists.
“My sister lives within spitting distance,” he said. I started to wonder whether he was doing this on purpose. Maybe he gets a kick from spitting at people, and watching them be too British and awkward to say anything. Maybe the “spitting distance” line is him toying with me, spitting at me while he says the word “spitting,” sort of goading me.
He was talking but my concentration had lapsed, as I could feel his spit on my face, and it was uncomfortable, wet and itchy. I was wondering whether I could wipe it off without him noticing and it becoming embarrassing. He’d clearly just asked me a question. I could tell by the fact that his voice had risen at the end of the sentence, but I had no idea what the question was. I had to ask him to repeat what he’d just said, which was an annoyance, because whatever it was he had said involved quite a bit of spitting, and now I was inviting more spit to come my way.
“So, to where are you bound?” he asked. NO, he didn’t, that was a little in-joke for the Dollop regulars. He actually said, “So where are you off to?” At that moment, the man on the PA announced the next stop. I took this as my get-out opportunity, and pretended that this was my stop.
As I pulled my coat over my head, I took the opportunity to wipe away the spit, given that he couldn’t see me. I said goodbye to the man, and made a prompt exit, just in case he opted for a “ta ta,” and drench me once more in spit.
I scurried down the carriage, hoping that I could get lost in the mass of people heading for the door. I tucked myself in front of a rather tall man, hoping that this would block my view from the spitter, and darted into the other cariage, hoping that he didn’t see me. I then spent the rest of the journey huddled low down in my seat, fearing that he might walk through the carriage on the way to the toilet, and spot me still on the train. All this palaver because I was too polite and embarrassed to draw the man’s attention to the fact that he was spitting at me. Manners cost nothing? They bloody do. I was a nervous wreck on that train, huddled in my seat, dreading being seen.