Well, I did what I always swore I would not: I asked a woman when she was due. But she is not due; she was not pregnant. If there’s a baby on the way, then even she doesn’t know about it yet.
In my pathetic defence, she was wearing an ill-fitting dress of the sort women buy from the maternity section and then literally grow into over the course of nine months. She was also intermittently stroking her tummy in the manner of a proud mum-to-be.
Or maybe she was just bloated and painful with gas … Whatever, why did I not keep my big trap shut? We’d just been introduced, and it seemed rude not to mention her apparent state. Smiling, I waved my hand at her paunch and said something like “so when does all this happen?”
“What?” said she. My smile froze, my hand still wafting like a dying fairy in the general direction of her torso.
And then I witnessed the truth of what I’d said dawning in her eyes, although it was more like watching a light going out, a flame extinguished.
“This terrible dress …” she said. “It’s a nice dress,” I said, then ran away. I am still filled with self-loathing. I imagine so is she.
Yet, I know the rule: unless explicitly told someone is pregnant, say nothing. Not a word. This way you won’t go wrong, except – a fresh dilemma for me now – when in a public space with limited seating.
Naturally, seats should be given to the elderly, the disabled, and the pregnant, but I have friends who’ve had strangers nodding kindly at their girth, offering a chair when they’re not even a little bit pregnant.
Therefore, may I propose baby on board badges? After all, they’re used on public transport from New York to London to Dublin to Tokyo, handed out (on request) by the authorities.
If a woman is pregnant and exhausted and would appreciate strangers giving up a seat, or letting her jump ahead in a queue, or allowing her to use a staff bathroom, then she simply wears her baby on board badge.
Although perhaps she might consider wearing one anyway, regardless – if not for herself then for the sake of once-bitten idiots. Idiots like me.