Yesterday, in the sub-freezing cold morning, I ventured out to catch a train to Paris to meet with a client.

Despite the early hour, the platform was packed with commuters bundled in their winter gear and hunkering low as they waited for transportation into town. And waited. Delay upon delay due to technical problems from the cold.

Finally, a train pulled in, already quite packed. There was a weary collective sigh from those waiting on the outside. When the doors opened, a few passengers straggled off and the crowds started climbing on. I did not hesitate to elbow my way inside. There was only standing room in the aisles and in the central boarding space.

I was in the middle of the stand-only area as more and more people packed themselves in rapidly until all the available space was filled up. Just when you think it wasn’t possible to admit one more person, several more bodies piled on. The door finally closed. There was not room to breathe, let alone to move a limb — so tightly were we packed in.

Just as the train pulled out of the station and my wits returned, I felt something strange and hard rub against my right fist that was clutching my handbag (my left hand was gripping the center pole for balance.) Then I realized what it was — and alarm shot through me.

I looked up my right shoulder to see a young man who blushed to his hair roots when I met his gaze.

Indeed, my fist was lodged right against his groin. I could not move my hand away because of my large handbag, and he could not shift his position due to a suitcase at his feet and carry-on bag at his side.

We both made a brave attempt to rectify the configuration but to no avail. Each time I moved my hand, I solicited an unwilling growing reaction from him. I muttered an awkward “sorry” (it came out in English – as it always does when I lose my faculties.) He said, “No, I’m sorry.”

We stood with bated breath as the train lurched into the next station. Nobody got off, but more tried to get on. Those initially trapped were still trapped. A few determined souls shoved themselves in nevertheless which exacerbated the situation.

I tried to make an abstraction of the bump against my fist, as he was valiantly wishing to be elsewhere. As the train moved, a surge of hysteria rose in my throat at the comedy of the situation. I tried to control the giggle so as not to break outright into laughter. But the moment we looked at each other, we both started laughing. People stared.

“Where are you stopping?” he asked.

“Port Royal. Important meeting.”

Our attempt at small talk eased the tension. We inspected each other in the confined space and decided that we were both quite respectable despite the perverseness of the scenario.

“Today isn’t a great day to fly,” I said. (The train was bound for Roissy airport after Paris.)

“Going to Dusseldorf for the weekend.”

“Really? Do you speak German?”

“Um… no.”

“Oh.” (We spoke in English. It didn’t occur to us that it was odd.)

Just then, an announcement over the PA informed passengers that due to mechanical difficulties, the train would stop indefinitely at the next station. Everyone would have to get off. There were groans of dismay but my neighbor and I were relieved.

As the doors opened and people alighted, I could finally dislodge my numb arm and extricate myself from the train. He picked up his luggage and followed suit.

Outside in the cold air, we breathed a sigh of relief. Amidst pushing and shoving strangers on the platform, we felt like comrades in arms bidding each other farewell.

“Have a good weekend,” I waved to him.

“Good luck with your meeting,” he said, and disappeared in the opposite direction.