Something deeply unsettling happened last night.
After a long and busy day in the office I gathered my bags and headed home to cook a romantic 3 course meal to celebrate Valentines Day. As I slumped into my seat on the train, my mind still buzzing with work, two teenage lads got on the train. They sat down opposite me with their uniform tracksuit trousers and hooded tops and started chatting to each other in a foreign language I didn't recognise. About 5 minutes into the journey they started to play some loud rap music from their mobile phones disturbing the whole carriage.
Now I am like most people and don't really talk on the train and on the occasions when my colleague travels in the same direction as me she delights in loud conversation on totally bizarre topics just because she knows it makes me cringe! However I am also no shrinking violet and when on a recent journey on the tube, two punks in their 20s or 30s decided to have a cigarette on the train whilst we were being held in a tunnel, I piped up and told them to put it out. On that occasion I was the only person who spoke up and fellow travellers buried their noses in their papers and books but there was no way I was going to sit back and let two idiots put my life at risk!
But did I say anything to these two annoying lads last night? Did anyone? No we all sat there pretending to be deaf to their noise. And why? Well I can't speak for the whole train but I sat there petrified that if I said anything they'd either verbally or physically attack me with no intervention from other passengers. Or they'd follow me off the train. Or they'd do something else - the sort of things you read about it newspapers after other brave people have stood up to anti-social teenagers. I was actually running scenarios through my head, none of which had a positive outcome and all threatened the perfect picture I had in my head of the evening I was about to enjoy. I looked at one of them once and he stared back so hard that I looked away quickly. Not once did I think if I said "excuse me would you mind not playing your music through the speakers of your mobile phone so all of us can hear it" that they'd actually turn it off and apologise.
So I didn't say anything and instead had to endure their rap. I resorted to pretending to like it and tapped my fingers and feet in time and in hope that they'd think "oh my god a white girl likes our music, we must be so uncool that we shall turn it off immediately" - it didn't work.
I came off the train feeling angry and disappointed with myself. Why did I not say something? Because I was scared. How pathetic - they were two kids with a mobile phone. But then maybe I have succumbed to the culture of fear that we all read about - and that makes me feel sad and ashamed.