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.