The woman sitting opposite me is sobbing and I didn’t even notice for the first half of my journey. Hunched over her phone she’s in a text conversation with someone and, while she waits for a reply, she dabs her nose with damp tissue and absently wipes tears from her cheeks.
The other passengers in the carriage are staring everywhere but at her.
I move forward, gently patting her knee and she looks up at me with dark ringed, bloodshot eyes. I offer an expression that says, ‘I don’t know what the problem is but it’ll be ok.’ She half smiles as I hand over the tissues I’ve managed to pull from the bottom of my bag. She mouths ‘Thank you’, before returning to her phone.
I move forward and rest my hand on her knee but she flinches and shoots me a look that shouts, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’. I snatch my hand back as she looks to the people around us for help but they’re all cocooned in their own private worlds. I smile awkwardly, trying my best not to look like a sex offender and hold out the tissues I’ve retrieve from my bag as a peace offering. She glares at them and leaves my hand hanging in the space between us. The train carriage closes in around me.
For the remainder of the journey she types furiously on her phone. At one point she tilts the back of her phone up towards me to take my picture. I’m fairly sure I’m now the topic of conversation on social media.
I think about tapping her knee to get her attention. I could catch her eye and smile, maybe tell her that it will be ok. I could give her the packet of tissues from the bottom of my bag and ask if there’s anything I can do. I do none of it. Social acceptance forces me to do nothing and, along with everyone else in the train carriage, I hope that she gets off soon because feigning ignorance is harder to maintain on the longer journeys.