You can quickly tell if a conversation with a stranger is going to become inappropriate when they ask your age. Once you answer that, you’ve given them licence to ask you any number of direct personal questions and they’ll expect an answer.
This is why when the American waiting on the platform with me asks, “How old are you?” I try to fob him off with a not too smooth sounding, “That’s a very personal question to be asking a lady her age, is it not?”
I was quite happy to chat about the lateness of the train and the lightness of the evening but I draw the line there at impersonal pleasantries. Unfortunately, he does not get the concept of ‘the line’ and my answer prompts him to make a variety of wild (and frankly offensive) guesses as to what age I could be.
I respond indignantly by telling him how old I actually am. This is a mistake. A barrage of questions is unleashed: “Where do you live? What do you do? Do you have a boyfriend?” I try to be vague but when he presses I tell some lies. So I am a rocket scientist and I have a fiancé and five boyfriends and am certainly far too busy to be taking on any more.
“What do you think of my hair?” he asks and turns so that I can see the letters ‘ASU’ shaved onto the side of his head.
“It says ‘asu’.”
“Damn. Someone else told me that too. It’s supposed to say USA but the guy doing it was crazy. He’s written backwards.”
He has blatantly shaved the letters into his hair himself while looking in the mirror. I am amazed that he managed to get the ‘S’ the right way round.
“If you can think of a word ending with ‘asu’ you could turn it into that instead,” I suggest.
After a lengthy pause during which we both fail to come up with an appropriate word for the head slogan, he asks, “Where are you going anyway?”
I tell him about my screenwriting course.
“Screenwriting? You know I have some contacts in Hollywood. I’m sure I could get a job for a nice girl like you.”
This from the guy with ‘ASU’ shaved onto his head.
I stare expectantly into the distance, the humming of the tracks suggesting that the train is about to round the corner. Sure enough it does, and as it squeals to a stop, the asu-guy gets to his feet and leans on my shoulder.
“Oh, sorry! Is this making you uncomfortable?” he asks.
“Well yes, it is,” I say and sidestep away from him.
“Where are you going?”
“To get into a carriage as far away from you as possible,” I say and turn swiftly on my heel. Unfortunately, my dramatic exit is dampened by the squelchy crunch as a snail, making a break from the stone wall, falls victim to my heel-turn-manoeuvre. I look over my shoulder and see a bemused smile tug at the corners of the asu-guy’s mouth. I really hope he is not a Hollywood producer.