This is a first and—as with most firsts—I had no idea what to do.
I never even knew it would happen today. And today started out just like it usually does. I was at the first station, dreading each passing minute because I had this awful feeling that I’d be late. Not that that was new but I still don’t like being tardy.
Got on the train the usual way with the Tuesday crowd. A push from the back, a shove from the front, blasphemies from the left, and a sexual harassment suit in the making from the right. Look closer at the people and you’ll see bruised arms, dirty shoes, and a broken nose. Nothing out of the ordinary.
By the fourth station, I could sense that the tension had gone down and everyone was in a more or less comfortable position. So I took out my copy of Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero and began reading.
For the record, I have been reading on trains for about five years now, with great emphasis from the last three years since that was when I began reading The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. And reading on trains—like the brawls and curses of the other passengers—has always completed my train-riding experience.
Just two pages into the book and my reading was greatly and strangely interrupted.
“Pre, wag ka na munang mag-basa. Ang sikip-sikip na eh.”
(Rough translation: “Dude, don’t read for now. It’s already crowded.”)
Claiming that it’s crowded in the train is an understatement. But for a passenger to ask another passenger to STOP READING—where in the world did that come from? Seriously.
Rarely have I been asked not to read. But all those times, it was because of disapproval to the book I was currently reading. And my parents made those demands! This was entirely new.
I immediately looked back to check who said that. He was probably a six-footer. He had acne, highlights, and was wearing an orange checkered button-down shirt. Since he’s a stranger, I’ll refer to him in this article as The Guy.
Let me say that again: a complete stranger who was standing behind just told me to stop reading because the train is packed.
Knowing how easily train passengers get ticked off, I did stop reading. But I didn’t close my book. For a while, I tried looking at the situation. I wanted to know what merited that demand. And here is how it was earlier today.
- I was standing in the middle part of the train car.
- Clearly taller and burly men mostly surrounded me; my ten and eight positions had ladies who were shorter than me but weren’t standing as close.
- My reading position: standing up without leaning on anyone (and especially not on The Guy) or anything, feet painfully close to each other and surely not standing on anyone’s feet, my bag in front of me, and my book practically in my face.
- My movements: very minimal. I am very sure that I wasn’t in anyone’s personal space (or at least what space was left for the passengers).
- My noise: breathing, flipping a page, and the usual grunt when the train makes a turn or a stop.
How did I get my book out of my bag? Quietly, with little and quick movements—but at least I made it obvious enough that what I was taking out was a book from my own bag and I intend to read that book while on the train. (People usually look at me when I take out a book from my bag. But that’s expected. They’re suspicious.)
Even with my assessment, I still couldn’t get why The Guy would ask me to stop reading.
Anyone in that situation would likely ask why. I sure didn’t, even if I really wanted to. Too close for comfort and something about it just told me not to. I could sense so much tension emanating from him.
By the fifth station, I double-checked my situation. No noise. No big movements. No interruptions to anyone. So I began reading again. The Guy did say for now. It was after for now.
Unexpectedly, The Guy brought to his front his big backpack. Maybe it was on the floor, between his legs, or on his back. I don’t know, never noticed where it was originally. I felt it annoyingly scratching my back, pressing me against the guy closest to me, and making it more difficult to stand. The rest of the trip until he got off at Carriedo station in a word: uncomfortable.
Why he did that? Your guess is as good as mine.
All this made me care less about being late. I knew that even before I got off the train. What I didn’t know was why The Guy demanded I stop reading.
But I have been thinking, wondering, asking. Was reading in silence while on packed train really that bothersome? Does bringing out—quickly and in all quiet—a book that is 8×5.5 with a thickness of 1.5 take up a whole lot of space in a train car? Is the sound of flipping a page louder and lasts longer than the blast of rock music from some kid’s phone? Or did something happen to him before today, something that was triggered by my reading a book on the train?
I don’t know. But I want to know. Until then, it’ll be an unasked question.