We all know buses are strange places, where strange things happen. No matter what city you live in, this seems to hold water (at least, my experience in life has taught me this, unless of course it’s raining really hard. I’ve been in leaky busses…) I also love using the bus – I find it a lot nicer than hurling through a dark tunnel in a stuffy underground carriage. For city commuters, there is an unwritten code of behaviour (don’t lean against the poles, don’t put your bags in an empty seat, let the pregnant lady or elderly man with gout sit down) but somehow manterrupting hasn’t made it into the rule book.
I spent last night at the cinema with my close friend and flatmate Emma. We’ve lived together almost two years, and know a lot about each other’s lives. We share things – from the deeply emotional to politics to what we had for breakfast. Last night, our bus ride home was passed by talking about our lives – our relationships, my visa, her job, how we enjoyed the film (Legend, by the way). We nattered the whole bus ride home. Two stops before ours, a man prepared to get off. Emma was mid sentence when he descended the steps in front of us and said, “thanks for a half hour of your bullshit.”
My jaw dropped. “Fuck off!” Emma quickly retorted, she’s much better at that than I am. But I began to seethe. And the rest of our journey home was spent talking about the disbelief we felt. We came up with this list:
- We were astounded that he had the gall to interrupt us, total strangers, to offer an unsolicited and unwarranted opinion on our conversation.
- That it was absurd because we weren’t talking about The Only Way Is Essex, or Big Brother… so our conversation was hardly about bullshit. And:
- …even if we were talking about those, it shouldn’t matter. It was our conversation and:
- …we weren’t shouting, and if he was so bothered by our conversation he could’ve gone downstairs (cheers London double decker busses) or put in headphones, as I do when I’m annoyed by anyone.
- If we had been two men, he probably wouldn’t have said anything (we can only assume).
I felt really angry. I felt angry because I was in a conversation with my friend that he had no right to interrupt, or to dominate. If we’d been at a restaurant, would he have leant over and asked us to change what we were talking about? Or demand to be reseated? If we’d been talking about the current refugee crises, or Jeremy Corbyn’s election, would it still have been a bullshit conversation? And at what point did he decide that it was his right to tell us how we should be talking? That our conversation must live up to some strange standard? How dare we hold a conversation in a public space.
What sheer cheek of us, to think it’s okay to express our opinions on our own lives and relationships with the world! We certainly need a man to tell us what we should and should not be talking about, between ourselves. Us two, sitting next to each other, not shouting, or involving him at all. It was staggering to me, to feel that such a meaningful conversation I was having with my friend was suddenly subjected to the wanton opinions of a man I have never met.
No matter how inane of a conversation I overhear (and, as someone who rides the bus, I hear a lot of weird ones) I would never presume to tell anyone to their face that their conversation, their lives, their thoughts and feelings, were bullshit (re: rubbish, crap, nonsense).
In the end, all I can think to say is: how dare he? But the answer is quite simple – public space is still a space for men. Until women are free to exist in that space, without men feeling it is their right to dictate upon what terms, the question of ‘how dare he’ is, sadly, laughable. But I’m not laughing.