Sometimes I am shocked by people, in both a good and a bad way.
Two Tuesday afternoons ago, I met a group of international friends to go together to class, Sociétés et Réligions Aujourd’hui, which was that day being held at the mosque. When the 8 or 10 of us were gathered, we all took the metro, and got off at the station closest to the mosque. As we walked up the escalator and onto the street, my friends stopped in horror.
There, weaving between my friends, was a bulky bully, surrounded his five friends (which comprised of three cheering tracksuited boys, the classic skinny, a hyper commentator bouncing around all over the place, and a fake-bake bottle blond with some skin issues), ruthlessly beating on a gawky boy, who was desperately clutching his schoolbag, with blood pouring out of his mouth. It couldn’t have been any more stereotypical.
At first, I didn’t immediately see what was going on but, when I did, I swiftly pulled my friend Saori out of the way of the bully. We all just stood there for a moment, totally repulsed and in awe of what we were witnessing. Then, suddenly, as if we all had the same idea at the same moment, we started to plan how we could save the boy.
Although I wanted to help the boy so badly, I knew that a group of international students was not likely to stop a big French bully. I looked around, trying to find someone to ask for help, and saw a man lounging by the metro smoking his cigarette. “Monsieur, est-ce que…” “Non.” I hadn’t even finished my sentence and he was already shaking his head and taking another puff of his cigarette. Jerk. I looked around again. No one. I knew that no one passing by would do anything. Maybe if we all linked arms and surrounded the poor boy in a circle (yes, this is my fantasy of a 3rd grade anti-bully strategy)? But this looked impossible too. Each time the boy wiggled out of the grip of the bully and tried to run, the gang would run after him and re-corner him.
Just as I was about to give up, my friend Basia diligently walked up to the group and told the bully he had to stop. I felt so honored to have such a friend who was brave enough to stand up to a bully. The kid just laughed, made fun of her (adorable) accent, and her to her “Fuck off bitch, this is not your problem.” (The kid said it in French but I’m not going to write what he really said here… it’s too terrible.)
I gave up. There was nothing to do. I walked away.
At my high school, lunch wasn’t lunch without a fight. I’ve seen so many altercations, so many people get the shit get kicked out of them. I’ve seen a kid get their ribs broken, another kid get smashed on the head with a chair, a girl get hit by her boyfriend, I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea. It’s sad to say, but sometimes I’m not even phased when I see teenagers fighting. Of course, I am upset, angry, frustrated, confused, stupefied, but sometimes you just cannot do anything and it’s best to let them work things out. Basia didn’t feel that way; I am amazed by her courage and bravery.
I’m sad that I’m not phased. I’m sad that I did not have more power to react and intervene. Or maybe I was smart that I didn’t get in the middle and get punched by accident. Maybe, sometimes, it’s best to let people duke it out and find their own solution?
Finally, I saw our professor, who is very tall and authoritative-looking, come out of the metro. I ran back to the scene and all of us asked him to please stop the fight. The professor was slightly effective, although the bully tried to keep beating on the kid while the professor was talking to them. About three minutes later, the police came and things were settled. The bully and his friends ran off and the poor kid, with his mouth bleeding, was trying to convince the police that everything was fine. Ah, life.
What would you have done?