To Act or Not to Act: That is the Question
Fantasy was about to become reality.
It was about to go down.
Twins. That’s right: Twins.
I landed in London that morning, a short, 3-day vacation before going back to my English teaching job in Prague, where I taught Czech bankers the difference between saying “we work in a corrupt industry” vs. “we worked in a corrupt industry” vs. “we will work in a corrupt industry.”
It paid the bills.
The hostel where I holed up was on a street lined with cheap hotels, cheap B&B’s, more cheap hostels. It was the skid-row of youth travel and it was beautiful. Streets packed with young people, from a variety of cultures, speaking a variety of languages, pubs nearby to assist the transition that all travelers make of doing things on vacation that they’d never do back home.
It was in one of these pubs, somewhere around noon — still 4 a.m. back home, so it was acceptable — where I met Maja, a German flight attendant, on vacation with a sister who was nowhere to be seen. We sat at a table off to the side of the bar and hit it off, expedited like only traveling relationships can be.
“I’ll be right back,” she said in flawless English. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
She left, and out of nowhere, came right back and sat down.
“So what do you do for work?” she asked me.
Huh? We just had this discussion. What’s in that beer?
“Umm… I’m a teacher,” I said, confused.
“A teacher? So cool! I’m a flight attendant.”
Yeah, I know. Because you just told me yo… wait, what the hell? Did you change shirts?
“My name is Anja,” she said, holding out her hand. I just cocked my head to the side, the way a dog does when it’s totally confused.
Just then, Maja emerged, smiling. “Oh, you met my sister. Good! We are twins, as you see.” She just smiled.
Oh fuck yes.
Maja sat down to my left, Anja to my right, and the three of us talked for an hour about the things you talk about when you travel, presenting the person you think they want you to be while hiding the parts you wish to remain hidden.
“We must go check into our hotel. Our bags are in storage, but would you like to meet us tonight?” asked Anja, looking at Maja with a smile.
For a moment, my mind went blank. I just sat there. Eventually, the part of my brain that remembered watching German porn kicked in.
“Yeah, that sounds great,” is what finally came out of my mouth.
Standing up, each one gave me a hug and a light kiss on the lips.
Oh fuck yes.
I went back to my hostel to shower and fantasize. Digging out the one shirt in my backpack that I’d brought for such an occasion, I Febrezed the shit out of it and hung it up in the bathroom, letting the steam do the work that an iron would have done had I paid to stay in a classier establishment. Jeans were the only thing I had, so they’d have to suffice. When the time came, I walked down the flight of stairs leading to the outside and was on my way to meet The Twins.
I couldn’t stop fantasizing.
Stepping out of the doorway, it looked as if there was a parade on its way though. The streets were lined with people, every one of them focused on something that I was unable to see from where I was standing. From both sides of the street groups were yelling, all in different languages but all in the same tone of concern. A mixture of confusion and disbelief set the scene at whatever it was they were watching.
Stepping forward onto the pavement I looked to my right, in the same direction as the mass of people. I quickly realized why they were all in shock.
Standing in the middle of the street, a man had a woman by the hair while she screamed. She was on her knees. He was standing up. Blood was gushing from her nose while she looked straight down. He looked at the lined streets of people who watched as if he gained some sort of power from it. He liked being the center of attention.
I’d be lying if I said the thought of just walking away hadn’t crossed my mind.
Just keep walking Jason. Twins, man. Twins!
And then the other voice came into play.
If you walk away from this, you won’t be able to sleep tonight.
I walked behind the line of people on my side of the street, inching closer to the action.
This isn’t your problem, man. Don’t do it.
Bullshit. And you know that’s bullshit. You need to do something.
There were easily over 100 people watching all of this unfold, and the fact that they did nothing was perhaps more disturbing than the sight of a guy beating the living-shit out of a girl in the middle of the street.
As I got closer, I made my decision. I was going to just keep walking, 20 feet away from the scene, head down, trying to mentally block out what was going on. I didn’t want to deal with this. Not today. But something caught my ear:
“Cazzo, Davide. Basta!” weeped the female, a combination of screaming and crying, still on her knees and bleeding.
Shit. They’re Italian. I speak Italian. I need to do something.
He now had a name. Davide. It personalized the entire scene. It wasn’t some random guy from some random country on some random street. It was Davide, from Italy, beating who I assumed was his girlfriend. This changed things.
Making my way through the crowd lining the street, I stepped onto the pavement, about ten feet from Davide and his victim. Davide watched the throngs of people watching him, chest out, like some sort of gladiator who’d just won a fight in the coleseum, head full of hair in his blood-covered grip.
I walked toward him slowly which caught his attention.
“Cazzo vuoi?” he asked, looking at me, spitting as he spoke, asking me in Italian what in the fuck I wanted.
I began a dialogue, in Italian.
“Look, man, this isn’t going to end well. You need to let go of the girl.”
He was surprisingly small. Well built, but small. I’m 6’2 and was easily a half-foot taller than him.
“Fuck you,” he yelled in English, “I kill you. I kill you. I kill you.” With each “I kill you” he threw his chin my direction and spit.
This was more amusing than it was scary. I’m no psychologist but I know that men who beat up women tend to not want to scrap with other guys.
I also know that the louder one gets before a fight, the more scared they are. Like the creatures we’ve evolved from, they try to make themselves as big and scary as possible, subconsciously trying to avoid the fight.
I looked at him, eyes slightly squinted, head cocked just a bit.
This motherfucker is crazy.
I figured I’d really try and push the non-violent route. I put my arms out in front of me while I inched my way toward him and tried to reason with him.
“Look, just let her go,” I asked him calmly in Italian. “You need to relax. Just let her go.”
Hundreds of people watching, not one offered any sort of help. I was doing this on my own.
“Fuck you,” he said, again, in English. He let the girl’s hair go, and I relaxed just a bit. But then he reached into his pocket, about five feet from me, and produced a pocket knife in his right hand, which he proudly held out in front of him.
A pocket knife? Are you serious?
In my home-state of California, if someone brandishes a weapon during a fight, it’s a gun. I’d never been so proud to be an American. Outside of black and white movies, I’ve never seen someone pull a knife, let alone a knife with a little three-inch blade.
Freud would have had a field-day with this.
I opened my mouth and was about to say something to him when he stepped toward me holding his knife.
That was it. Everything went black. Pitch black.
The only thing I remember is the police officer pulling me off of him. Actually, it was two officers, one male, one female, each taking an arm. It was more of a lift than a pull.
I didn’t snap out of it until I was on my feet. They pushed me up against one of their cars and cuffed my hands behind my back.
I relaxed my arms so the cuffs wouldn’t tighten and stood there, leaning over the hood. Looking back I could see Davide. He was bleeding from his nose and the side of his head. His hair looked wet, but with blood. He laid on his side in the fetal position but was conscious. The girl, still bleeding and still nameless, tended to him like a nurse. She cussed me out in Italian while wiping the blood away from his nose and holding her hand against the gash on the side of his head.
Are you serious?
The crowds of people yelled at the cops, telling them they’d arrested the wrong guy. That the guy who just beat the shit out of his girlfriend was still laying there, uncuffed, while the guy who stepped in to try to help was cuffed against a squad-car.
The cops separated Davide and his girlfriend, while I stood there, now leaning back against the car but still cuffed. The cops were surprisingly gentle with me. Interviewing each one of them individually, an officer walked my direction with an apologetic look on his face.
“Are you ready to learn some British law?” he asked me.
“Pre or post Magna Carta?” I inquired, hoping to bring levity to the situation. It worked. We both laughed.
“I’m just going to give it to you straight and get it out of the way. You’re going to jail and he’s not.”
I wasn’t laughing anymore.
“Under British law, if an officer doesn’t witness the assault, the victim must identify the assailant. She won’t admit that he assaulted her, which is pretty typical in these situations. Unfortunately, we did witness you assaulting him.”
I wondered what The Twins were up to.
To their credit, the officers in England were nothing but nice. They took my cuffs off and placed me in the back of the small SUV. On the way to jail they stopped by Burger King.
“We can’t let you out, but we want to buy you dinner,” stated the officer, parked in front of the fast food joint.
I ordered a Whopper with no onions.
I don’t know my way around London, but I’m pretty sure we did not drive straight to jail after that. We drove around and talked, about life, terrorism, the weather in California, the girls in California, ridiculous domestic violence laws.
Were I not on my way to jail, it actually would have been quite pleasant.
The following morning they released me, with one of the officers offering to drive me back to my hostel. They dropped the charges.
“I’m really sorry about yesterday,” explained the officer, “but our hands were tied.”
“Nah, man, I get it. It’s a bad law, but it’s not your job to pick and choose which laws you enforce. I get it.”
“How did you sleep last night,” he asked while we sat in traffic.
“I’ve slept in worse places,” I said with a half-smile. “Worse jails.”
I suddenly realized I’d unwittingly become an international jail critic.
He dropped me off out front and of the hostel. He held out his hand and looked me directly in the eyes.
“Thank you for what you did. You did to that guy what we wish we could.”
“No problem, man. And no offense, but I’m hoping we don’t meet again,” I said. He laughed.
“At least not under these circumstances.”
I closed the door and walked upstairs to my room. I needed a cigarette. Grabbing a pack of Marlboro Reds out of my bag, I walked back outside. To the side of the doorway I knelt down, leaning back against the wall. I relaxed, took a deep breath, and started wondering what The Twins ended up doing.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. Twins, man. Twins.
Just then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a couple approaching, walking down the sidewalk. They were holding hands, arm-in-arm, all kissy-touchy-lovey. As they got closer I looked up to see their faces.
You have got to be shitting me.
Davide and his girlfriend, madly in love, with matching bruised faces, walked right past me, like the previous evening hadn’t even happened.
Like I wasn’t even there.
I watched as they walked off. All cuddly, like wasn’t shit wrong. They hadn’t even made eye-contact when they passed.
As I sat there, knelt down beside the doorway, I wondered:
Was it worth it?
To this day, I can’t honestly give an answer to that question.