"Don't travel on the subway!" I was warned, over and over again in New York. "Stay away from the subway, late at night!"
But it was all those years ago and I was young and indestructable, and too broke to take taxis. So I always travelled underground. I remembered the sensible advice: wait by the ticket booth, then get on the most crowded carriage. and I thought nothing of it.
So late one summer night I was coming home from a night of dancing in some forgotten club, all dressed up, with peacock feathers sprouting from a turban, lipstick a dark red smear, half lost from talking, black clothes sticky from night air. And I waited and waited, fanning myself with a folded flyer, then hopped into the carriage that was pretty much bursting with people. I grabbed the pole and looked around.
I was the only woman in the train carriage. I was the only one who was not a young hispanic male with a coloured bandana and a denim or leather jacket. All my nasty fears and impossible prejudices came flooding to my paling face. I looked steadily around and tried to work out how long till the next station. One guy near me regarded me carefully, then looked over at his mates. there was a flickering of soft speech, and I stiffened my all english upper lip.
He nodded at me, and started to count, "one...two...three.."
"Oh god, this is it," I thought, "I'm too young to die."
And then they all started to sing.
They sang, "who's that girl" and laughed themselves silly.
Very sweetly, they offered me an escort home, because they were worried I was travelling alone, at night, on the subway. Because the New York subway is a dangerous place.