Often at stations, there's a lot of people going one way and very few going the other. It's usually the case at Vauxhall Tube in the evening - many people arrive all at once on a train from North and Central London, and transfer to SouthWest trains to the suburbs. Meanwhile, the likes of me drift into the station in dribs and drabs and in much smaller numbers. In that situation, there are widely observed 'rules': those in the minority stay close to one side, and the flood of people in the opposite direction leave a narrow but clear path.
I entered the platform just as the crowd surged off the train. I could have crossed to the train, but only by ducking and weaving across a seven-wide stream of people on the platform. Anyway, I don't like standing in middle carriages; I prefer to walk down to the front and almost always get a seat.
I walk close to the wall and concentrate on people coming at me. One by one, they move slightly to my left, their right, so there are still six lanes of people leaving the platform, and one lane for me, and my followers, to enter. It's instinctive, automatic and efficient.
Until I encounter HER. One particular woman. I would say maybe late-40s-early-50s. And tall. Remarkably tall. Initially, I thought she was trans, because of the height and the slightly-overdone-not-quite-right parody of femininity. I expected her to move over. She expected me to. I couldn't really, because of the other five or six lanes of people pouring along the platform.
So I stopped.
She was aghast. She had to stop, too.
She glared at me, and moved her weight onto the front of her front foot, fully expecting me to step aside. I didn't.
So, from her lofty height, she looked down and laughed at me. With sheer utter contempt. At which point I realised she was almost certainly a woman. An actual woman parody of femininity. I stood my ground. She walked round me.
Afterwards I reviewed the events, trying to identify if there was something I should have done differently. There wasn't. From her point of view, I should have moved out of her direct route, but I would have been trampled by the person next to her, or the one next to them, and so on.
If she hadn't laughed, I would have shrugged it off, assumed she was in a daydream 'miles away'. But that laugh. She was affronted by my impertinence. How dare I not move out of her way! Especially me, a foot smaller than her, not an insecure fashion victim smothered in garish make-up, but quietly negotiating my way through a crowd.
A lot of people would have moved out of her way. Many don't stand up to bullies. I tried to fantasise in my head that she is universally loathed and thus unhappy, but it doesn't work that way. She'll have legions of like-minded friends who sit in suburban winebars sneering at their imagined inferiors, and having a good laugh together. I could pretend they're not really happy, but they are, because they don't even consider abstract concepts, and they can't empathise, so by believing they're happy, they are.
I must increasingly resemble the sort that won't fight back. A mixture of gender, my (lack of) height, and that I rarely travel in a group. Age is also a factor.
I want to end this on a triumphant note about how I stood up to a bully and won. But I didn't really, because she'll be picking on someone else soon enough, and I'll be picked on by another one just as soon. I can see why people give up and give in. It's upsetting, it does undermine one's self-esteem. It's easier to be passive and to stand aside. But that would depress me just as much.