What Can You Do, What Do You Do?

A man was angry and a woman was crying, by the bus stop at 12:15AM near Causeway Bay MTR. I walked right past them (almost didn’t see them, don’t stop don’t get involved) then turned around when I heard blows and realized that no one else was paying attention.

What I saw was this: an angry Chinese man in a suit restraining a slight Chinese woman in a dress by the arm. He was yelling, and then he was banging his head against the ad on the side of the bus shelter. She was crying and she was trying to pull away from him.

I did it, I turned around, walked back, got within a few meters, and said quietly and clearly, “you need to leave her alone.” And that was all I had. Then I just stood there.

He pulled her closer. Her back was to me. He wasn’t looking at me. He put his arms around her waist like he was keeping her from leaving. She pushed him away weakly with her hands on his chest. She pulled him in halfheartedly with an arm around his shoulders. He restrained her. He held her close and soothed her hair. She was crying. She was apologizing. She was actually in the wrong, or she wasn’t.

His eyes flicked up to see me still standing there, just watching, heart pounding, wondering if I was about to get punched. I had nothing. Calling 999 wouldn’t help. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. He was angry. He was shamed. She had cheated on him, or he had cheated and then he had made it about her. She was staying or she wanted to go. She stood as conflicted as I was confused. I stood very still and alert and watched with I do not know what expression on my face.

How long was I going to stand there, and why?

I wanted to say, “come with me.” I imagined calling the only stable Westerners I knew in Hong Kong, Jessica and her husband, a coffee-shop encounter and traded cards, I barely knew them. I imagined how I would lead her gently into a taxi and say to the driver, “Shuen Wan station, please,” and call to get the exact address, then the conversation as I explained the emergency to a mere acquaintance in front of a crying woman. I wanted to say: you don’t have to put up with this. I wanted to say, there is help. I don’t know where but Jessica is going to look up women’s shelters while you drink this tea. Or milk. Or whatever the hell comforts a weeping Chinese woman gone too far from the village.

“Are you alright?” I finally said.

She turned her teary face to me and said, “yes.” Weak smile. “Thank you.”

“Do you want to come with me?”

She did and she didn’t. Her body language said everything. “It’s okay. He’s my husband. Thank you.” Brave face.

But it wasn’t ok, and I didn’t and still don’t know how not OK, and I didn’t know what to say to her that would allow her to break free, if breaking free is what she needs, if breaking free can even exist for her. Unless of course everything actually really was OK. Unless of course I had just made it worse by shaming her husband in public.

I walked away, but it took some minutes for my heart to subside..

One thought on “What Can You Do, What Do You Do?”

  1. We have become a people who are so afraid of becoming involved that we stand around watch others be beat to death or otherwise abused, without as much as lifting a finger.

    It always impresses me to see someone who can put care for others ahead of themselves. Very well done for doing something!

    I believe that the worst thing one can do is nothing. Like you I have a really hard time with idly standing by when someone is being abused or mistreated.

    Like you I’ve end up with my heart in my throat once it was over. Having found that it’s too easy to speak up for the wrong party, or parties, I discovered that approaching the situation from the viewpoint that I was allying with them against the situation/problem. In other words it was a situation or problem, not the people in the wrong, I could get an appreciation from both without being a threat. Which is kind of important if you want cooperation.

    People easily attack you when they can’t deal with the situation, and you become the new target.

    I deal with companies the same way. When I have a problem with lets say my ISP, I can attack the person who answers, or I can ask them to ally up with me against the problem. I let them know I’m really unhappy, but not with them personally, and that I would like their help. They are used to being verbally abused by angry customers, and obviously hate it. When I let them know I’m upset, but not with them, they line up on my side to help me solve it.

    Nice write up too! One can easily identify with what you went through. You were really scared but did not sell your integrity which demanded that you help. It is not unlike stage fright which you overcome simply by familiarity with the stage.

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