At 6:55 on Monday morning I was huddled in a bus shelter, wrapped up against the early autumn chill and drawing on the last dregs of the first cigarette of the day. I was dreading going into work, the usual weekday litany of oh dear christ another eight hours in front of the screen faking niceness to idiots, how long has it been now and when am I getting out, I fucking hate the tube and it's always raining in Canary Wharf and it's seven o'clock in the bastard morning and I've been tired for the last year and a half, for fuck's sake.
A lady came up and asked for a cigarette. She looked scared, tired, and about as keen on the idea of going to work as I was. I offered her a light. She thought I'd asked if she was alright. I don't want to project, to turn her into some stereotyped autovictim, but I got the impression that nobody had asked her that in a long time.
"I'm just, I've got caught in the wrong profession and I can't get out, and" - she leaned in closer, and whispered, "prostitution", with a wry smile. "That's why I'm up so early, and I - it's just a nightmare, thanks for the cigarette, you're a life-saver, your bus is here."
I touched her sleeve, and smiled, shakily. "Take care, love, okay?" Stupid, what does that even mean? The bus took me away, and I stumbled onto the tube, and I sat dumbstruck under the glaring strip lights and cried, because this is how much I dread going to work, and my job doesn't involve unwelcome dick getting stuck in me. Because we spend so much time theorising about people's lives and so little time talking to them. Because who does carry around contact details for prostitution exit services, just on the offchance? People who don't have the luxury of thinking that people like her live in a different world.