Last week appears to have been a week for testing my mettle.
The day after Bus Day, I was running an errand in my neighborhood in the middle of the morning. I walked from Shadwell station towards my house; in front of me a couple walked along the road together, laughing.
Suddenly he reached out, grabbing her around the waist and spinning her round to the other side in a gesture that seemed at my distance playful. But all was not right.
I could see her begin to cry. She crumpled over and moved crabwise, trying to avoid him.
I ran up. “Are you alright? Do you need help?”
“Keep him away from me, keep him away from me,” she sobbed, curling into herself. “Keep him away from me, he’s going to hit me again!”
Standing between them, I told him to stop. I told him to back up, to move away. He did not take kindly to this. I ignored him. I asked if she wanted me to call the police.
She said that she could do that herself. Then she walked around me and away, up the road in the direction they’d been heading before. That left me standing with the man, who remonstrated with me for a few minutes and then moved to follow her. I wanted to call the police anyway. But, scrabbling in my handbag, I realized I didn’t have my phone.
I wanted to know that she was going to get to a place of safety. I started to walk after them. The man, on realizing this, turned to face me. Seeming to realize that simply telling me she was his girlfriend, and this was none of my business, and she was just being dramatic, and that she was a right fiesty one who spit in his face sometimes wasn’t going to stop me from helping if that’s what she wanted, he then appealed to reason: “The last time she called the police on me, they didn’t do nothing anyway.”
I watched her figure getting smaller under the trees further down the street. The man decided I wasn’t worth wasting any further time on and turned to follow her.
I entreated another passerby who had been there the whole time. He didn’t want to get involved. “There would be repercussions for me.” Well of course, you dolt, I thought. That’s the thing about living in any kind of society. There are always, always repercussions for you.
I thought for a few minutes about what I should do. I realized that even if I had the means to hand, to call the police after she expressly made it clear that this was something she was quite capable of herself and implicitly didn’t want me to do would have undermined her self-determination. It would have been a patronizing and probably futile gesture. So I turned around and walked away.
But I left a part of myself there.