Friday, November 16, 2007

witness

I was going along in my merry, stroller-pushing, self-absorbed way when loud angry voices grabbed my attention from the blog post I was composing. A boy and girl were yelling at each other. The boy's face was all sharp angles, made sharper by his nasty rage, and the details of the girl's face were mostly obscured by her baseball cap pulled low. Still, it was obvious she was crying. They must have been fighting for a while, because the onlookers weren't even trying to camouflage their staring or pretend they hadn't noticed. Their fight looks like it's bordering on the physical, with her jabbing her face suddenly into his personal space and him raising his arm before she darts quickly back.

I start to walk away, when an elderly man speaks to me. His expression, of disbelieving yet concerned impotence, must mirror mine. "He punched that girl with his fist. He punched her." I don't know what to do with this information. I really want to be the brave badass who tells that punk off and breaks it up, but I can't. I can't put Swee'pea in that kind of danger. I'm also aware that to walk away without doing anything is to permit such behaviour, and I can't do that either. I look around for someone who can help, preferably a large sympathetic man in some kind of authoritarian uniform but there is no one. I start to walk away again.

The old man is still there and his watery blue eyes plead. "He punched her. He pushed her down and every time she tried to get up he punched her in the chest again and again." It's like he needs to confess, to unburden himself of the weight of the observer. I wonder about this man, what violence he's witnessed in his long life, if maybe when he was younger and stronger, he'd intervened in situations like this. Now though, wizened and frail, he's lost any authority he might have once imposed and he's as helpless as me.

The angry couple is still yelling. I still don't know what to do. I have my camera and consider making a photograph of the angry scene with the elderly man watching and upset, but I worry that it will look like the worst kind of callousness to lift the camera to my eye. In fact, it would be the opposite urge; if I can't change what's going on, if I can't help that girl, I can honour her experience by recording it. But I don't.

I look around again for someone to intervene. There is a city truck in the square and someone is working on the fountain just 15 feet from the fighters. I don't know how the worker can be oblivious. There are lots of kids around and I keep hoping one of them will intervene but I guess it's just a lovers' quarrel now, no blows anymore. Eventually, I move on.

* * *

Half a block down the street a cop car's coloured lights are strobing. A man is talking to its inhabitants through the windows, gesticulating. After a few minutes, the cop car's lights stop flashing, and the man walks away, still gesticulating and twitching, though no one's questioning him anymore.

* * *

A block further on, I see a girl coming towards us on a rattling green bike wearing a black and white striped toque. As she approaches, she raises a hand to wipe tears from her face, stroking first under one eye, then the other, her feet still pedaling. She smiles bravely as our eyes meet in the moment before she passes.

* * *

It's not even a full moon.

13 comments:

b*babbler said...

Oh, one of those days... Sometimes it is the burden of living in a city - too many people, too many problems, too much hurt, too much anger.

Mad Hatter said...

Oh shit. This post ripped my lungs out in light of the Vancouver airport story. There are no rules for this witness culture. There is no way to know how and when to act. It's all so deeply upsetting.

Bon said...

break my heart, you. especially the old man, and the counterpoint of you and Swe'epea, knowing you are as impotent as the older fellow because you cannot risk your child.

some days it's just all out there to see, isn't it?

thank you. for bearing witness.

crazymumma said...

Before I got to your last line I thought to myself 'it's a full moon tomorrow'.

flutter said...

This just hurt.

Lisa b said...

This is heartbreaking. I was hoping it would end with the police man intervening.
I find it more difficult to maneuver the city with my kids for these reasons.

jen said...

oh wow. a metaphor for everyone's helplessness, isn't it.

we are all just standing and watching.

Beck said...

One of my dad's friends got stabbed intervening in a fight like that, right in front of his kids.
He was all right. But still. I would have called the police from a nearby store, but yeah. It doesn't feel enough, like the right thing. What to do, right?

Christine said...

oh damn, girl.

what a terrible tough thing to witness. and i cannot image the horror the young woman felt living it.

you couldn't have stepped in, you had the baby with you. and that old man--oh my heart hurts for what he saw.

this was a beautiful piece of writing, by the way, even if the subject was hard.

Maddy said...

It's the human connection that counts........even if it doesn't count for much in some people's eyes.
Best wishes

Aliki2006 said...

It's so hard to figure out exactly what to do--probably call for help from the safety of another place. Who can tell?

Kyla said...

Some days are just sad and ugly, but even then there is some good in it. You, the old man, the smile the sad girl offered up to you. There is still good if you know how to look for it, sometimes even that is hard, though.

Jennifer said...

Oh, goodness. Not a day to feel good about the world. The picture you painted of that old man just gets me...