On the subway I sat down next to a guy who was remarkably good looking. Tall and well set up, he sat at his ease, one leg crossed over the other and his knee splayed. I glanced sideways at him as I got my work out of my bag: Mmm, cute! Well dressed, too, in an unfussy way. Ah well.
Next moment a movement had made me look up. There was his index finger, earnestly engaged in a twirling wiping motion, sunk in the nostril nearest to me down to its second joint. He wasn’t just foraging around in there, either: he was after something specific. He found that something and drew it out and rolled it. I felt myself stiffen and flinch. Was this man about to engage the public flick? I was right in his path. He had not glanced up, he was reading. Oh god. Then he did something far worse – and unconscious, and clearly habitual – he stuck his hand under the raised seat of his trousers and wiped his fingers onto the cloth under his thigh.
Without planning to I had cried out, “No!” I gathered my stuff and struggled to stand. The train had taken off and was rattling through the old tunnels so fast it was hard to get past the vortex of our own movement. Gathering my long umbrella, gloves, hat, scarf, notebook, and pen I got clear of the long bench and began to walk in comical slow motion away from this beast, this monster, this person who behaves as though we none of us exist around him and he is disporting himself in the playground of his own world alone. I was crying with laughter and disgust. The train seemed to grow more crowded as I plunged slowly down, curled forward with effort, swaying at every corner, and I found a ‘sit place’ as Germans call it between a Turkish woman shrouded in her scarf and a young African man sprawled around his phone. Both of them contracted themselves very slightly, out of habit, to make way for the arrival of a fresh human. Thank you, Germany.