Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Scenario #2: A street fight

Street fights are actually not an uncommon sight here. It's a passionate culture, and when an argument breaks out it's taken seriously. My favourite street fight story is of the time I saw one car cut another car off in heavy traffic. The driver of the victim-car calmly stopped his car, got out, walked to his trunk, opened it, and pulled out a crowbar. Then he started shouting and running toward the other car, waving the crowbar madly in the air. The two drivers had a bit of a shouting match while the traffic around them stopped and we all watched them argue. Then after about two minutes, the offender-car driver got back into his car, the victim-car driver put his crowbar away and got back into his car, and both men drove away. Traffic picked up again and we were all on our way.

Since street fights are not really all that noteworthy here, I didn't really stop to pay attention when I heard shouting and saw a crowd gathered across the street from me one afternoon. I ignored the fight and walked on toward my bus stop half a block down.

But it took several minutes for the bus to arrive and my attention was constantly diverted back to the shouting a bit down the road. Usually these fights end quickly when the men are shouted-out, or when someone intervenes to stop them. But this one wasn't slowing down, and everyone in the area was beginning to pay attention.

I finally walked back to check it out when I heard the most frightening sound possible in such a situation: a woman screaming. When it occurred to me that a woman might be in trouble, I started to get frightened and not a little bit concerned. So I walked back in the direction of the fight but kept from joining the throng of men crowding around. I couldn't see anything, but I could still hear the girl screaming, or maybe it was more like whimpering. Then I saw a teenage girl come out of the crowd and rush around the corner, along with a young man. I think she was the source of the screams. They huddled together in the entryway of a shop around the corner. But the action continued in the place where it started, as well. There was more shouting and thronging.

Then a man appeared from well down the street carrying a wire basket of some sort. He ran toward the crowd, through the crowd, around the corner, and toward the huddled couple. Then the girl's screams picked up again and it seems she started running away from the man.

At this point, traffic was ridiculously dangerous, due to the fact that no one was stopping but everyone was looking. It was clear that there were already too many bystanders for me to make any difference, and in fact the crowd might be aggravating the problem. So I walked back to the bus stop and my bus arrived quickly. I got on the bus amidst screams and stares, but no one around me could tell me what was going on.

So the questions in my mind... What happened? Was it a robbery? If so, it's amazing that a simple robbery caused a whole neighbourhood to shut down for a few minutes - I guess that is a good deterrent to future robberies. Or was the girl attacked? If so, maybe I should be thrilled that a whole neighbourhood came to her defense in one way or another - or disappointed that people just stared and that she wasn't pulled away from danger more quickly. Who else was stuck in the middle of the crowd, that I didn't see? Was that person ok? What in the world was the wire cage all about???? And, is there anything I could have done? At all?

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