As I sat down I looked up and saw a man looking slightly out-of-breath, as one would look after climbing up a short flight of stairs. I realised he had rushed toward my seat, looking to get there before I did. I had half the mind to give up my seat to him, but seeing him looking neither old nor pregnant, decided not to.
I had not noticed who I sat down next to, but whoever it was smelled good. I glanced to my right and pretended to be looking down the train aisle, while observing my unknowing fragrant subject through the sides of my eyes.
She was an attractive young woman about my age, maybe in her late teens or early twenties.
I looked down the other aisle on my left for balance’s sake — I did not want to be seen just looking in her direction; I needed to appear naturally curious: “Never mind me, I’m just looking down random aisles…” was the message I was trying to put across.
Before I knew it, the crowded train had become rather sparse and empty. We had passed by a couple of the more popular stations, and almost everyone had gotten off already — except me and her.
Now, that left me with a problem. What had been socially acceptable behavior early on, the taking of a seat next to her since it was the only available seat, has now become not so acceptable: since there were so many other seats available, why was I still sitting right next to her?
What was going on in my mind was that anyone who entered the train at this point would think that we were a couple. I thought that rather amusing, and wondered about all the other times I sat on trains and thought people were couples when they really weren’t.
I considered taking a seat further away from her, but wondered if that might cause her to wonder if there was anything wrong with her. Yet staying meant that I had to contend with my thinking that she was thinking, “why is this creep still sitting next to me when there’s a thousand other seats available?”
Trains provide lots of times for us to ponder about socially acceptable etiquette. They really should teach us all this in school.
See also How Do I Stand?, an article professing the awkwardness of one’s redundant hands.