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avoid at all costs

2012 October 17
by Romy

You know those people who, as soon as they get on a train/sit down at the doctor’s office/queue up at a registers, start chatting to the nearest stranger?

I am the opposite of those people. I will never strike up a conversation with a stranger, even if I really like the book they’re reading or the shoes they’re wearing. On the tram I avoid eye contact at all costs, and only occasionally look up to see if there are any pregnant women or old people who need my seat.

A few weeks ago, as I got on the tram, one of these chatty women tried to snare me in her trap as I sat down next to me. I made a polite joke in reply to what she said, and immediately put in my earphones. Crisis averted.

But now I felt guilty. All this woman wanted was some contact with another human being, something to break up the monotony of the trip home. Could I not spare ten minutes to talk to her? By that point it was too late to strike up a conversation again, but I resolved to make a change: make more eye contact with strangers, smile at them, and not go out of my way to avoid talking to them.

I put that into practice the following day, when I was again on a tram into the city. It was fairly packed, though not yet at sardine-level, and the tram driver did something I’ve never seen a tram driver do: she drove by a stop where some 5-6 people were waiting to get on the tram, because she realized that this tram was full — normally they stop anyway and let those would-be passengers try to squeeze themselves into someone else’s personal space. As I noticed what was happening, I looked up in amazement and caught the eye of the man standing next to me. And then I smiled at him as we shared this moment of confoundment. And he smiled back! This felt good!

That afternoon I was walking home when I saw a man walking in my direction. He said something to me which I couldn’t understand, so in my newfound openness I stopped and said “Sorry?”

Big mistake. I looked at him and noticed that he had a frazzled expression and was holding a small radio to his ear the entire time. The man repeated what he’d said to me: “Did you hear about that girl who got stabbed? Yes it just happened, I just heard it on the radio! She got stabbed and they set her house on fire. And just last week there was that girl here on Sydney Road who got raped and killed! You know what they should do? They should bring back hanging! If they bring back hanging then they will be too scared to do things like this!”

I hurried off, once more validated in my old belief that contact with strangers should be avoided at all costs.

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