Train Incident

Saturday, 29 August 2009 21:15 Written by  Priya A. Shah

Thanks to Helen Gebregiorgis for inspiration.

You always hear about women being harassed on the train or bus at random times on random days. Your grandmother always tells you to carry pepper spray, and not take night classes. And you know to be aware of your surroundings, but you always think, no matter where you are, as long you’re in public and if there are people around, you’ll be safe. You think.



Class is dismissed.

The red lights blinked on and off as a loud siren sprung, while the drivers pulled over to let the ambulance pass by and save whomever was in danger, whether it’s a person bleeding to death or a cat stuck in a tree. The snow slowly glided down to earth, glistening with all its magic, as I follow a few classmates to the train station in this 20 to 30 degree Chicago weather. I bounced up and down wishing I wore thicker jeans or at least leggings underneath.

Drunken bums slept on the benches, rats crawled near the train tracks, students plugged in their ear buds, and businessmen talked on their cell phones. I waited, patiently, next to Kyle from my history class, whom I developed a slight crush on. I smiled, and he smiled back.  He was the typical dark, tall and handsome boy with beauty and brains, judging by the way he debates in class. Though my face was nearly frozen, I managed to speak.

“It was a fun class,” I said.

“Professor Jiff is hilarious,” Kyle said. “Always cracks me up.”

The thunderous sound came upon the train’s arrival. Kyle and I hopped on the crowded train cart along with five other classmates of ours. Luckily I found a seat near the doors.  I put on my headphones, bobbing my head to old school Michael, and took out my history book, skimming the assigned chapter for next week. I glanced up to see that Kyle found a seat, and went back to my reading.

As I turned the page, I heard whispers and the aroma of alcohol coming my way. I looked up to see three young black men standing in front of my seat, all staring down at me. All three wore black, all three grinned at me, and all three reeked of alcohol.

Now you know they're everywhere. Idiots, perverts, cat-callers—whatever you want to call them. And sometimes it’s easy to piss them off, and other times, they succeed at making you feel uncomfortable. And when there’s more than one, they can make you feel defenseless.

“Yo baby, what ya reading?” said the one on the right.

I tried to ignore them by keeping my eyes on the pages of the book and listening to music.

“Hello?” the one on the right continued to speak.

“Yo, I don’t think she likes us,” said the one on the left.

“Yo  baby, yo baby, yo baby,” the one in the middle chanted. Their faces came closer to mine.

My nerves rose, and I began to feel scared. I glanced up for a moment and saw Kyle starring right at me. The train cart was packed with people--strangers, classmates, men, women and children. No one stepped up. No one said anything. No one came to my defense. I wasn’t sure if I was angry that I was being harassed by these three men or that no one on the train said anything to them.

This is the point where you think that Kyle will come to your rescue like some superman hero or something.  You know, do something similar to what you might see in a Jackie Chan movie, and show off his “karate” skills. This is where someone, anyone, maybe a women activist could say something, or push the men aside and offer me a seat next  to her on the train, or that gentlemen you always hear about that does something gentlemanly like say in a deep Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, “The lady does not want to be bothered.”  You would think. But this night, on this train, half the people didn’t even make eye contact with me.

“Yo baby, what your name is?” one of the three men said as I shifted my eyes back to the book.

“What’s the matter baby? Cat got your tongue?”

And they all laughed hysterically like hyenas in a jungle waiting for their next meal.

“Oh I know what’s the matter,” the one on the right said.

“Yo  baby, yo baby, yo baby,” the one in the middle chanted.

“She likes white boys! She likes white boys!” the one on the right shouted.

They all got off a couple stops later. Kyle was starring out the window.  He wasn’t so cute anymore.


*Photography by Billy Montgomery

Priya A. Shah

Priya A. Shah

Priya A. Shah lives in Chicago. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2010, where she studied magazine journalism and fiction writing. She has been a staff writer for GMO since 2007. She’s written and interned for various media outlets such as India Tribune, Today's Chicago Woman, Tribune Media Services, GlossMagazineOnline and Echo (the student produced magazine for Columbia College Chicago). She’s contributed to A Fresh Squeeze (, an online publication for green living in Chicago, and her school newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle.

Priya can be reached at or