The Center of My Universe


I looked up to find her staring at my leg. Her smile revealed crowfeet, which made her thick dark eyebrows seem relaxed, although in fact, they did not move. I glanced at my leg and smiled in return.

Earlier that afternoon, the zip on my boot snagged my tights. When I stood, my dress rushed down to my knees and swallowed the tear, which was determined to run anyhow. After searching for clear nail varnish around the office, I finally found red nail polish with which to halt the run.

When I sat down in the train, my dress rode inches higher exposing the long gash on my tights. Three red dots, bright as blood, marked the spots where the nail polish had tried in vain to heal the tear. I was tired and my vanity had expired so I adjusted my bag to hide the split. My bag must have slipped because I woke up from my nap to find my torn tights in her line of sight.

I wanted to ask her, haven’t you ever done the same thing too? A smile can be an invitation to talk, but even with eye contact, urban solitude—that unwritten code, which prescribes polite distance in communal spaces—prevailed. Her gaze remained on my tights.

We were four seated in our corner, two sets of seats facing each other with enough distance to keep knees from brushing. Still, feet touched whenever legs were stretched, even a little, resulting in both stretcher and stretchee mumbling, “Oh sorry,” before retreating into urban solitude.

The people crammed in the aisle, shuffled grumpily at each station where more passengers entered the train than exited. A few weeks ago, the Metro ran a story about frustrated passengers who felt cheated because they had to stand their entire journey. The NS had explained that werk aan het spoor meant fewer trains with shorter carriages. I thought it was unfair that passengers suffered discomfort while the NS took the public for a ride and cashed in on full fares.

Complaint can start conversation, but even those standing dulled their inconvenience behind earphones and displayed their perseverance by texting or reading on their handheld devices as the train lurched and swayed, speeding from city to city.

The woman next to me had timed the previous passenger’s exit to perfection and so became the lucky winner of a vacant seat. She was watching a movie on her phone and her eyes didn’t wander from the screen once. Sitting directly opposite me was a girl whose head bobbed at intervals as though she was listening to music but she was sleeping. The white wires of her earphones peeked out from her black hijab. The woman adjacent her, who kept looking at my tights, wore shiny grey tights and black high heels.

This woman broke into a delicate laugh all of a sudden. Could hosiery induce such delight? A faint whimper diverted my attention. I followed the sound and peered down. A red leather collar; how could I have missed it? She had not been smiling at me. All this time, it was the puppy in the raffia tote, which the woman next to me straddled.

Sometimes the best reminders come in small packages—I am not the center of the universe, only mine.

They say before you assume anything, try this crazy method called asking. But I could not have asked her, could I?


Don’t acknowledge fellow passengers or sustain eye contact beyond two seconds. Please respect urban solitude. – unknown


©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


42 thoughts on “The Center of My Universe

  1. Ah, the fundamental attribution error.

    I recently did something similar. I was walking into a public restroom as another gentleman was walking out. As I pulled up to the stall, the lights in the restroom went off.

    “What a jerk,” I thought.

    Seriously, couldn’t he guess that I’d be needing the lights? Had he not seen me? I got into a mild, resentful little tiff and momentarily took notions of justice very seriously.

    Then, when I was almost out of the restroom I noticed a sensor on the wall next to the door. The lights were automatic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t travelled on subways much ever since my move to Canada. But I find them all so ‘cold.’ Not that I expect overtly friendly strangers on board, but still. Haha. Anyway I am gradually getting back to my blogging world. I miss it! Great to catch up on your post. And I like your blog’s new look too. Nice, clean and inviting:).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, the perils and tribulations of public transportation! I have had many such interesting encounters on New Jersey Transit on the way to New York. Very entertaining piece. Once again you slay me with you well wrought phrases, “When I stood, my dress rushed down to my knees and swallowed the tear..” I love this. Very visual and action oriented. I saw it in my mind’s eye and it gave me a bit of an emotional tug. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Timi,

    Lol @ “2 seconds”. I tried to relate the concept of urban solitude to everyday life in Lagos and I chuckled. People here feel entitled to a piece of everyone else, whether they like it or not.

    There is an unspoken communal ownership of human beings, and their respective universes eventually merge. Conflict over who deserves to be at the centre of this one big universe becomes another issue. 😀

    People-watching is an observer’s heaven, looking at people in a seemingly distant manner when one is really looking inside them and wondering about their back stories. I find that the hair salon is an excellent PW spot, church too, on the days that my mind is restless.

    “Could hosiery induce such delight? ” cracked me up, I wasn’t expecting the puppy.

    I agree, with the many distractions these days, people don’t really linger on those within their line of vision, especially when there’s bright and shiny online drama on social media. Real-time drama seems bland in comparison. This is convenient for some of us; we can wallow in our drama hidden in plain sight.

    Have a lovely rest-of-the-week.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hmmm does the sense of community really prevail in metropolitan Lagos, at rush hour, for example? I guess it depends. I know what you mean by ‘communal ownership of human beings’ aka busy bodi 😉

      Watching people can be great. If we initiate conversation who knows what we’ll unearth?

      Could hosiery induce such delight? Apparently not. I was the only one who was “fascinated”. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perhaps not so much in rush hour. Busi body captures it perfectly. XD

        Yes, who knows. I’ve learned that compliments are a great conversation starter during PW moments, it removes some of the awkwardness.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe I’ll keep an extra pair of tights in the office or leave clear nail varnish in my drawer 🙂 The red polish was somewhat hideous!

      Christy shared something in her comment that hit home for me:

      Dance like no one is watching, because they are not. They are busy with their phones.

      Quite true! Thanks Diahann.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love your ways with twists, Timi, and the moral of your story. We are all guilty of assuming. And sometimes asking is important but hard to do. At least if you are at all shy, like me. I’ve noted a bit of difference in country life now I no longer live in an urban area. People do seem much friendlier, and conversations seem to start easier. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    1. City life; the pace, the ‘suspicion’ of strangers, the pace – the train is merely a tube to take us from point A to B, not for human connection. We are close enough for our feet to collide but worlds apart. I also noticed that when I lived in a smaller town, people were friendlier than in the bigger cities.

      Assumptions, yeah. Some things seem so clear though … 🙂

      Thanks Curt.


    1. The dog looked adorable!

      Ah, urban solitude! When I’m on the train or metro, I’m usually too ‘busy’ reading or writing or thinking or sleeping or people watching to initiate conversation. But sometimes, there’s common ground- tights or a smile, although I hardly made eye contact with the lady in question as she was busy ‘puppy watching’ 🙂


    1. High up in the air where anything can happen, people are nicer? Lol 🙂

      Good observation. Maybe longer traveling time? Maybe the purpose of travel e.g. Leisure, so people are more relaxed? Maybe the nature of the medium inspires ‘trust’? What do you think?

      I’ve commuted by train daily for some months now and I can count on one hand the conversations I’ve had with fellow passengers. I’m also guilty of urban solitude. I dunno, there’s something about rush hour and the ‘escape’ a smart phone provides… But before smart phones, we had newspapers …


    1. Ah, urban solitude, an infectious disease prevalent in metropolitan cities- we used to distance ourselves with newspapers, now we use phones … maybe that’s what kept me from asking 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed travelling with me on the train. Thanks.


  6. Hahahahahahaah

    So funny and so true.

    Indeed, we are not the Centre of the universe, only ours.

    Some times, we are so worried about what others think about us that we forget they are too busy with their own worries!

    Like a picture I found on social me recently, it read;

    Dance like no one is watching, because they are not. They are busy with their phones.

    So true! Thank you Timi!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. “Dance like no one is watching, because they are not. They are busy with their phones.” XD Love it!

      @busy with their phones, I’m guilty of practicing ‘urban solitude’ … sometimes I marvel that we can be close and yet so far apart separated by our phones and devices…

      Thanks Christy!


  7. ‘Sometimes the best reminders come in small packages – I am not the center of the universe, only mine’. This is a good reminder especially when we worry too much about what other people are thinking about us. Nice one!

    Liked by 2 people

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