I was waiting for a bus the other morning when a woman I know slightly approached. A sling encased her left arm. “What happened?” I asked. She proceeded to tell me about an experience that left her confused—and me, as well.
Two days earlier she took the bus home from work. Standing room only. A seat opened up. She sat. Then a burly man approached the double seat in front of my acquaintance. “Get up!” he barked at a middle-aged man and a young woman, seemingly unrelated. “These are my seats!” he bellowed. The man got up. The woman remained in place gazing out the window.
The burly man sprawled in his new seat. His arms and legs intruded on the space around him. He turned to the young woman. “Get up!” he shouted. “That’s my seat!” The young woman ignored him. Then, according to my acquaintance, the burly man punched the woman in the arm. “Stop that!” the woman yelled. “Get out of my seat!” the burly man returned. Again he punched the woman in the arm. Again the woman responded, “Stop that!”
“What about the other passengers?” I asked. “Didn’t anyone confront the man or at least complain? Didn’t the driver stop the bus?” No one, my acquaintance related, did any such thing. “People don’t like to get involved.” I asked, “What happened next?” It seems that the burly man, having been given quite a bit of leeway, punched the woman yet again. This time the woman said nothing. She simply turned and drove her fist into the man’s face. He rocked back. Tears flowed down his cheeks. Blood gushed from his nose. He left the woman undisturbed.
My acquaintance’s cheeks reddened. “I was appalled. Outraged,” she said. “At the man’s violent behavior?” I asked. “His behavior?” she retorted. “Her behavior! It constituted an affront to humanity. He had every right to sue that woman.” I said her reaction surprised me. “Why?” she asked. “The woman obviously escalated the situation. Hitting that man in the face and drawing blood… that was out of all proportion to what he did. That woman should be banned from MUNI. She was probably just slumming anyway, taking the bus until her BMW was repaired.”
I glanced at my acquaintance’s sling. “And your arm?” She heaved an audible sigh. It seems that my acquaintance took the same bus the next day. Again it was SRO. But she found a seat at the window. And who should appear but the burly man, his nose bandaged. A woman with a shopping bag sitting next to my acquaintance rose to get off. The burly man sat. “Get up!” he shouted at my acquaintance. “This is my seat!” My acquaintance looked at the man with disbelief. Hadn’t she empathized with him as the victim of a terrible wrong?
We stood in silence for a moment. “And your arm?” I asked. She grimaced. “The fracture should heal in a month.” She shook her head. “I don’t drive so I have to take that bus.” She bit her lip. “You don’t think he’d hit me again, do you?”
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