Friends of Gleeko, it’s a new year! And you know what that means? More wonderfully troubling stories and observations of human inconsistency, indecency and insecurity! And as often the case, much of this behavioural mayhem plays out on the ongoing social experiment that is public transportation.

Today, I have a doozy for you. I’m not sure if it will translate as amusingly in print as it did when it unfolded perfectly before my incredulous eyes and ears, but I’ll give it a shot.

Visualise a crowded train (surely no imagination is necessary). An elderly woman is seated by a window seat. The seats that immediately surround her are all occupied as are all the other seats in the carriage. A number of people, including me, are standing in the small aisle. To my right stands a woman of child bearing age, with a surly face, and ample girth. She’s breathing heavily and generally appears to be displeased. Let’s call her ‘Evelyn’ because I feel that Evelyn is a name that lends itself to surly, grumpy women (apologies to any Evelyn’s out there who do not fit my unflattering generalisation).

I notice the elderly woman’s gaze bounce around the carriage before pausing to carefully assess Evelyn.  The old woman is sharp but kind, fumes of social justice emanating from the very pores of her skin.   She squints slightly and takes another look around the carriage but this time she is frowning, obviously put out by something.  Again, she glances at Evelyn. This time her face is flushed and she looks equally vexed and concerned. I know something is about to happen but at this time I still haven’t figured out what this something is going to be. And then the old woman clears her throat.

“Do you want to sit down?” She is apparently addressing Evelyn. The interruption has penetrated the deepest repose and roused commuters from their moments of mindfulness. Evelyn too looks up, puzzled and startled to find that the old woman is speaking to her. Before Evelyn has a chance to mumble a reply, the old woman continues, “I don’t see anyone else offering you a seat” she says with scorn and subdued outrage as she gestures to a bunch of strangers who don’t realise they’ve done anything wrong. “I can get up and you can have mine if you like. You probably need it more than I do.” The implication here folks is that Evelyn was pregnant and needed to sit down so as not to be knocked about by the erratically moving train. But here’s the thing, Evelyn, as we all know, was a woman with a surly face and considerable girth and this said girth did not enclose another human. Enough said.

And then something unusual happened.  Evelyn declined, saying she didn’t mind standing up, that she’d been sitting all day.  What?  I was confused. It  sounded like Evelyn was feeding the mistaken fact by failing to contradict it.  Evelyn wasn’t pregnant. I knew it, she knew it, and everyone BUT the elderly woman seemed to know it.  I wanted to protest. To set everyone straight.  And then I realised that this was the best possible reply to what arguably could have been a deeply mortifying encounter.  I had to hand it to them both for preserving their delicate social interchange rather than shattering the dignity of its innocence.  This way, Evelyn could pretend that she was unaware of any insinuation made about her and continue on her journey relatively unscathed, and the elderly woman would never know that she had confused tummy fat for a pregnant belly and deeply offended the woman she was willing to stand up for (quite literally).

With the relationship between the elderly woman and Evelyn intact, we can now turn to our cast of observers.  And all I’ll say is that we observers enjoyed a mighty performance on that ride home.

May good times be yours,

Gleeko 🙂


swb · January 21, 2016 at 7:03 pm

Omg! I had the same problem! I spent the entire journey debating whether to offer a seat to a pregnant / not pregnant lady. Which moral outrage do I avoid (she didn’t offer seat to pregnant lady v Ms thing thinks I’m so fat I’m pregnant)?? I even asked my (pregnant) friend via sms what to do. I finally decided a) I’m never sitting on a side seat again because you are more likely to be confronted by this issue and b) pregnant women please for the love of God speak up and ask! No one is gonna get offended and you can’t assume we know.

Tram travel = such a minefield!

    admin · January 21, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    I’m of the “‘always offer” school of thought. I’d rather someone be peeved off with me for offering than someone missing out on a seat because they are too shy/uncomfortable with asking. I like your idea of steering clear of the side seats. And totally agree that it is tricky all around. People are such hard work!

Anonymous · February 15, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Great story Gleeko. I stood up for a woman once, at least I think she was a woman.

Louie · February 15, 2016 at 5:21 pm

Great story Gleeko. I stood up for a woman once, at least I think she was a woman.

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