It was a little before midnight on a week night and I was seated on the platform of a station headed for Central Station in Sydney. A number of business travelers from a delayed Melbourne flight stared desperately into their iPhones along the platform.
I chose my seat carefully and strategically. I sat next to a woman in an area with the largest crowd of people. I've been doing that for safety reasons since I was a teenager. A young woman walked onto the platform after me, assessed the crowd, and then appeared to make a beeline for our bench.
When the train pulled into the station I checked out the carriage ahead of me. There were a few young men in the ground-level seating area, my preferred section of a carriage if I am traveling alone due to its visibility. I noted the seat opposite them was empty and I headed for that carriage. The two women from my bench on the platform walked in closely behind me. The young woman sat down next to me so that there was no obvious space between us.
From the moment she stepped into the carriage the young men opposite sat upright and stared at her. They gave each other a sideways glance and then looked at her some more. The young woman looked anxious and kept her head down for the entire 20-minute ride to the city. I then became preoccupied with this behaviour.
It reminded me of my days as a teenager traveling by train between the city and my parents' home in the Blue Mountains. Day or night I often felt threatened - even if there was no obvious threat. Thirty years later and it appears nothing has changed for young women.
There are crazy people everywhere and CityRail has more than its fair share. Unhinged people make everyone uncomfortable and it won't surprise you to know that there were a couple roaming the platform that evening. Men and women averted their eyes in the same fashion that the young woman traveling next to me in the train felt compelled to.
But those people aside, a young woman traveling on public transport in a major city in 2013 should be able to do so without fear, surely. We tell women to be fearless and to reclaim the night. But the fear on the face of the young woman, who I started to feel responsible for, told a different reality.
When we reached our destination via train, we walked together towards the taxi rank. The young woman asked me if I was going in her direction. Thankfully I was so she was able to stick with me right up to her front gate. I felt an enormous sense of relief in getting her home safely.
It was a work night on a week night. Does that mean this was, in fact, typical?
What can we do to make women feel safer at night?