There's a reason it's called Bookish Bloomsbury.
Peppered with colleges and libraries and bookstores, this little bit of London has a portion that is frequented by cyclists and students hurrying back and forth from college. So when I was crossing one of the main roads leading into an enclave of colleges including my own, I was startled by a loud, "Excuse me!"
I ignored it at first, but it repeated itself, so loud that it pierced through the neighbourhood quiet: "Excuse ME!"
Directions, I thought. Students often stop to direct tourists to the nearby British Museum or Russell Square tube stop.
A bunch of hooting guys were poking their heads out of their car - "Do you study around here?" asked the one in the passenger seat with a wide grin.
"No, I don't," I shouted back, "I'm a prostitute. Want to follow me?"
"A prostitute??" he said sounding taken aback. The car drove off.
The shout and the rejoinder hung disjointed and awkward around silent Bloomsbury.
I can't remember the last time I have said "prostitute" but it seemed to suit their aggression and a street dynamic I have come to cultivate which requires you to be rude and in your face, not look away or pretend not to notice.
In India people yell things at you and whistle as they pass you by. Here they yell out across streets, addressing questions at you, stopping you in your path with a mock exaggeration. Coyness, disregard, and looking downward don't work so well.
Recently I have begun to reply the buyont, "do you study around here?", the lip licking "hola, hola", the young boys surrounding you to ask directions, the "hello" with actual rejoinders - "I'm sorry, do I know you?" The conversation is always quick to be taken up, but the aggression in the response allows you to be participant in some skewed way in a street dialogue you did not initiate or want.
At Stoke, my friend is brushed against by a boy who could not be older than 12. "Asshole," she yells at him, and everyone at the bus stand turns. "Sorry," he mutters and his friend's smirk quickly shrinks away.
Men sipping coffee on Angel's Upper Street form their fingers into a camera shape and tilt their heads pretending to get the best "shot" of a friend's anatomy as she walks by. The girls that follow her stop to yell at them.
Neighbourhood gangs of boys are screamed at, fingers are shown, gangs of girls tease back loitering boys.
Looking back, talking sharp, packing punch, weaving wit and surprise into street talk... takes some doing especially when you're alone and sometimes embarrassed, but it seems better than being overwhelmed.