I nearly got into a fight today.

There was a young Aboriginal man, early twenties, accompanied by two young Aboriginal women at Claisebrook train station. He was only wearing his boxers because his other clothes were wet and he felt only idiots wore wet clothes. The man swore a great deal and complained loudly about the train not having arrived yet (even though I assume they were running on schedule). He was frustrated that he had left his "drink" in the car- $75 worth of bottle, he later said. He kept coming back to how he wanted his drink and seemed to take it out on one of the women he was with, leaning over her and banging his hand on the wall behind her. I was worried he would hit her. She tried to reason with him (in an equally loud voice, but without the aggression) that it wasn’t her fault, but he was too angry to listen. The other woman didn’t speak at all.

During this, Mum called me to ask where I was. I told her I was at Claisebrook and would call her again when I needed to get picked up from Kenwick. When I hung up, the man turned to me and said if I needed to talk on the phone I could. I answered, Nah it’s all right mate. He threatened to smash my fucking glasses and break my big nose. He would fight me. I didn’t answer, just turned back to my book and pretended to read. From the moment he’d announced his presence on the platform, I was prepared to defend myself. He was shorter than me, though muscular, and from his obsession with his drink I speculated he might not be sober. I could defeat him easily. My problem was that if the two women defended him I probably couldn’t pursuade myself to hit them, as they had not given me any reason to consider them threats, other than accompanying him. As I pretended to read, all this flashed through my mind, and though I knew I could fight and I could win without fear of injury to myself, I didn’t want to. Part of it was fear, but I am inclined to think that the greater part of it was compassion. Even after he continued to swear and threaten other passengers and his own companion, I did not want to believe he was inherently evil, that he was incapable of any good action. I could not believe he was soulless. But he wasn’t giving me a lot to work with, and all I could think of to do was to pray that whatever was hurting him healed, and that his companions would not be hurt along the journey.

When we got on the train, the security guards walked right up to them and stood a few feet away, just staring at them. My initial thought was that they were being racist, picking on the man just because he was Indigenous without knowing if he’d done anything. But then I realised that even though they had no right to judge him without prior knowledge (though a man in his underwear is probably enough to warrant attention either way), I felt relieved that they were there. He sat down and stared at the floor, cursing occasionally and explaining his attire. When he got off, there were two more security guards to accompany him down the stairs, the girls he was with staring at their feet and moving quickly. When the doors shut, people started talking. One passenger slandered the man. Two middle-aged women discussed the events quietly. I just sat and left them to their thoughts.

No, it wasn’t much of a fight. And it wasn’t particularly dangerous. But if I had provoked him in the slightest, I’m sure he would have either continued to swear at me (which no one appreciates), or tried to engage me. It was hard to resist the instinct to defend myself, but I left him unprovoked as far as possible. If he had begun hitting the woman, I’m not sure what I would have done. I’d like to say I’d have stopped him, protected her, called security and been a hero. But the reality is much more complex. What if she had to go home to face his wrath alone? What if things only got worse thereafter?

There’s a lot of hurt in the world. And I’d like to do something about a lot of it. But in all honesty, a lot of the time I have no idea what I can do. At any rate, I got home unscathed to fight another day. Taekwondo reopens in a week. Peace.

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