Touch

Published July 17, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

A stranger on a train made me cry. They didn’t say anything to me, they didn’t look at me, they were probably completely unaware of my existence, yet they had a profound effect on me.

On a busy train to London the carriages filled up. I tend to avoid having someone sit next to me by letting my face drop into ‘resting mode’. My resting mode face is a serial killer/prison warder combo. Plus, it helps that I am large, not many people want to squeeze into a seat next to the fattest person in the carriage. Especially on a warm day. Anyway, this particular day all the seats had filled up so I stared into space out of the window as we pulled into Reading station, resigned to the fact that I would have to share my personal space for the final half hour of my journey. I hate having someone in the seat next to me as I usually get people with foul aromas that smell of fish, urine, garlic, rancid armpits, or a combination of those. Or people who eat. But not pleasant things like mints or lemon sherbets, I get people sitting next to me who eat egg sandwiches, and, I kid you not, some woman once ate pilchards next to me, heads and everything. I had to close my eyes and coat my nostrils in peach lip balm to avoid vomit rising.

On this occasion though the only odor that wafted my way, as a man sat down next to me, was a delicious aftershave.  Lap tray down, laptop out, head down, answering his emails. I don’t think he even gave me a first glance let alone a second. I was pleased I hadn’t been joined by a reeker, an eater, or indeed a reeky eater. I carried on watching the countryside whizz by. Then something strange happened.

I was suddenly aware of the warmth from the strangers’ arm. Our arms were touching, aligned. Nothing remarkable, nothing exceptional, just two people squished together on a busy train. To someone else that may have been the end of the experience. But I felt an emotional surge. Feeling the warmth from another human being was quite overwhelming.

I have been single for a long time and those closest to me (my mum and my daughter) are non-touchy feely people, no I love you’s, or hugs or affection. Which is fine for them, that is who they are. I however am a touchy feely person. But I have lived without physical human contact for such a long time that I’d actually forgotten how it felt. And I don’t mean in a sexual way, just in the sensory form of touch. Sat next to the man on the train, absorbing his body heat I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry because it felt good and I remembered the feeling of being physically close with a loved one. The random thought that went through my head was ‘if I was sat on a sofa with a partner this is what it would feel like’. (It’s irrelevant that I don’t have a sofa to go with a non-existent partner). I also wanted to cry because I thought of everyone else having someone they love to hold and touch, yet all I had was this random stranger on a train. I felt sorry for myself and I hated that.

The experience has passed. I’m now back to feeling fine with my unwritten no contact clause. It now doesn’t bother me again, just that one moment on the train. Obviously it made a difference that the man on the train was good looking and wore a wonderful aftershave, if it had been the lady in tweed from a few weeks earlier who smelled of onions and eels I don’t think I would have had the same experience.

So the moral of my tale is enjoy your human contact, be it on the sofa next to a loved one or sat next to a stranger on a train. But don’t go touching random people or holding hands with strangers, that might get you into trouble. Just be thankful.

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