Somewhere between Caulfield and Clayton a drunk whom the whole train watched brought his fist, without warning, down on top of the skull of a teenager sitting beside him. While the kid grabbed his head, the drunk turned towards the dumbfounded gentleman next to him and giggled that no other way existed to deal with an Asian.
At the blow, I stood at the other end of the carriage. It took me at least five seconds to barge in, plenty long enough for any of the onlookers to collect their wits and confront him. But no one did.
The drunk confined himself to threatening me before he stormed off to another carriage. At the station, as I scurried down to the intercom I had the chance to wonder why no one had done anything.
I’d found myself in a few of these situations in recent years. No one ever did anything, but I never had the impression that a lack of compassion had stopped them. I’d seen a whole bus stop of bystanders hear what sounded like a man hitting his wife without going to knock on the door, but I did not think anyone had said to himself or herself, “I should just mind my own business” or “I should stay put so I don’t get hurt.” On the contrary, my experience of the man on the street had left me with the impression of a compassionate creature, certain that if he sighted a sure injustice he should intervene to put it right. Instead, I ventured that each onlooker dithered because he found himself unsure. One can never hope for certainty in a situation like this. Nevertheless, I wondered if each onlooker just second-guessed himself for as long as it took for it to become too late, the whole time telling himself that he didn’t know for sure what had happened, that of course he’d act if he knew for sure, but he didn’t know for sure this time. Maybe he just busied himself weighing the chances for as long as it took for it to become too late.
I thumbed the intercom. A phone rang. No one answered. This would give the hoodlums a sporting chance to catch up in if I’d run there in danger.
I tried again, but still no answer. I could envision them closing in.
Still no answer.
Damn it! What point does this have if it doesn’t go anywhere?