The title of this post is one of the scariest ghost stories ever written, which was told to me as a child and which still haunts me. The content of this post is less elegant: the story of my encounter with a thoroughly disagreeable person on my daily cycle to work.
I was reading yesterday about a troll’s response to someone whom he cruelly attacked by impersonating her dead father on Twitter (an act even more despicable than the foul remark that Julia Gillard’s father must have “died of shame”). He said that his reaction to her was not even about her feminist views; she just “seemed so happy in yourself, and I didn’t like that”.
My daily cycle route takes me along a cycle path for about 3km, then through a park for another 2km, on a very safe, wide road with a marked cycle path. Often I’m in a good mood: the sun is shining, the trees are green, I have a happy home life, and work is usually going well. On this occasion I was whistling to myself as I cycled along. At the lights, a cyclist in front of me (young-ish, dark haired, wearing one of those German infantry cycle helmets) turned around and gave me what I subsequently realized was a Hard Stare. I said “Good morning!” and thought no more of it. The lights changed, she cycled ahead and I continued to cycle along whistling to myself. At the next lights, however, she turned round and we had the following exchange:
Ms Malcontent (angrily): “Are you doing that deliberately just to be annoying? Because it’s really annoying”.
Me (surprised): “No – I was doing it because I was happy.”
Ms Malcontent (more angrily): “Well stop doing it because it’s really annoying”.
Me: “You must be very unhappy. I hope you don’t behave like this towards your work colleagues”.
Ms Malcontent (nastily): “Only the really annoying ones. Like YOU”.
Me: “When you get to work and tell your colleagues about this encounter, they’ll nod and smile and agree with you, but secretly they’ll be thinking ‘Oh My God, what’s wrong with her? She must be really unhappy.’ Because that’s what I think.”
Ms Malcontent: Nothing (already self-righteously cycling off).
I did examine my conscience after this encounter – was I whistling too loudly? Is it really annoying? But also asking myself: did this person have any right to say this to me so aggressively? I decided in the end not to take it personally; here I’d encountered someone very unhappy, with who knows what terrible things happening in her life, to the extent that she thought it was OK to be vilely rude to a stranger.