It’s a harmless curiosity, but that’s not how you’ll see it. You will recoil and glare, perhaps blurt some epithet to quickly define your discomfort with the situation, and I’ll immediately be on the defensive despite my harmless intentions. It’s understandable that you would jump to conclusions, this being a public bus and me being a stranger, which I will grant is true despite that fact that we’ve ridden the same bus line for what seems like years. But we’ve never spoken, and that silence defines us as strangers.
Like most seasoned public transit riders, I expect you have “the unexpected” in the back of your mind, even during the most mundane commutes. That “unexpected” is a simple idea, a mild and purely hypothetical discomfort until something actually happens and suddenly it’s bottomless, a black hole of increasingly worse-case scenarios instantly playing in your mind. And you’re plunging descent into that psychic abyss will not be slowed by my hurried explanation, so every word of my defense will seem like a lie to cover the freakish proclivities you now imagine I possess.
I could do it and pretend it was an accident, or claim I thought you were someone else, but you won’t believe me. You will awkwardly switch seats, and I’ll be left alone to whither in the suspicious glares of nearby riders. I’ll explain to them that I wasn’t hitting on you, that it’s not like I touched your skin, because that would be weird. But they won’t nod sympathetically or assure me that it’s something they wanted to do themselves. They’ll just start mentally composing the monologues that they will soon recite to their spouses and roommates, exaggerated versions of how this creep on the #35 reached out and stroked this woman’s pony tail. Just reached up and touched a stranger’s hair.
Their stories won’t mention how impossibly soft the hair appeared to be. They won’t mention that, considering we ride every day with shoulders and thighs pressed against strangers, making momentary contact with a person’s hair isn’t an offense on par with a grope or an overt cleavage stare. They’ll paint me as a predator, a fetishist, and word will soon spread among the regulars. I’ll be that guy, the stuff of #35 lore. The hair toucher.
I don’t want to be that guy. So I sit with my hands clutching my backpack, staring at the beautiful brown hair spilling gracefully from beneath the leather barrette and over the back of the bus seat in front of me — wondering if it could possibly be as soft as it looks.
(This post first appeared on the splendid TrimetDiaries.com)