I went out in town with a friend for dinner on Saturday night, taking the tram in, not wanting to either drive or pay for parking.
On the way in I thought about my options for getting home. How I was dressed didn't pass through my mind as on other occasions. Jeans, a long sleeved top, a cardigan for warmth and sturdy boots. Nothing to stand out here.
We had a lovely dinner down at Southbank. We had a glass of wine each. Nothing more, nothing less. We're both in our forties and neither of us drink much any more. If I was younger, I might think more about what I was drinking, or how that might be perceived by others.
At 11 pm, I wished my friend goodbye in the city and once again considered my options for getting home. Tram. Train. Cab. Uber.
The train would have been okay, but the ten minute walk past the council flats makes this an untenable option after dark. I live in an area with a known drug issues. You don't tempt fate walking the back streets alone late at night. It's okay if you're with somebody.
I've not joined the Uber cult as yet, more out of disinterest and lack of need than anything else.
I decided I would take a cab or the tram home which ever came first.
The tram won.
Stepping non the tram, I looked around the half-filled tram and listened to the others on board. Nobody being aggressive. No weirdos, for a change. There was a group of neat, tidy Asian students on board. I stood near them. I kept my eye on the unkempt fellow who didn't smell that good, surreptitiously ensuring he didn't come any closer. The young fellow dressed as a leather clad knight, reading Proust, was giggled at. You have to love Melbourne during Comi-Con.
The tram moved off. My face stared at the phone screen. I concentrated on the games of Words with Friends, my ears tuned in to what is going on about me. I don't wear headphones on public transport. I don't wear headphones after dark.
At subsequent stops, everybody who gets on the tram is given a brief once over. I'm sure others do the same. This is a tram in Melbourne at 11.15 pm on a Saturday night.
As the tram nears my stop I find my house keys.in my handbag and lace them between my fingers. I press the buzzer for my stop.
Alighting the tram, I watch to see who steps off with me. I'm gratified that a middle-aged couple wearing football scarves join me to cross the road. I feel more comfortable knowing they're walking in the same direction. If nobody is about I tend to walk in the middle of the road. If I'm walking alone at night and there's a group of men nearby, I will often walk down the road to the pub until the coast is clearer. My house keys don't leave my hand, ready to strike if needed.
It's a 300 metre walk from the tram stop to my front door. Entering my flat, I make sure the security door is locked. Then I text my friend to tell her I arrived home safe.
This is the realities of being a single woman taking public transport late on a Saturday night. Like most of my friends, I prefer not to be on public transport after 9 pm.
Over the years I've been taunted, teased, followed home, spat on, groped, intimidated, yelled at, chatted up and abused. My only crime, it seems, is that I'm a woman trying to walk along the street safely.
What irks me most about my behaviour on Saturday night, other than its familiar pattern, is that fear has become the default position.
And I question when was the last time a man texted his mates to say he arrived home safely?