The Heart of the Matter
The train ride to my first stop is about 45 minutes. It’s peak hour and it’s all stops. This is going to be a long but enjoyable ride, or so I thought.
Halfway through the first page, I heard a man belch loudly. I moved my face sideways, not quite looking at where the sound was coming from. A hint of annoyance could be read from that slight movement of my head.
Shortly after, I could hear someone murmuring from behind me. Deaf from the usual noise when reading a book, I ignored it. I first learned to read in English before I learned to read in my own language, but at this very moment, as I go through lines after lines of English words, I couldn’t read a word. I thought the book is hard to read, but those damn racist remarks won’t stop barging in my head.
I Turned Dyslexic and Everyone Became Deaf
I closed the book and sighed. Cruel words incessantly try and invade my hearing space. Something about Asians, Asians taking over their jobs, how they shouldn’t be in this country. Oh, here we go, I thought, and rolled my eyes. Not quite dark outside, I looked out the glass window as the train hisses past buildings and trees, but not really seeing anything.
The train was filled with all sorts of people. Everyone was minding their own business, busy with their own thoughts, their own reading and, like me, pretending they weren’t hearing anything.
I decided to continue ignoring this man’s ramblings about Asians to no one in particular. Maybe it will stop and he will tire of it, run out of words to say or reach his train station soon.
Leafing through another page, and on and on the man continued. I stole a quick glance over my shoulder, and I saw the man is standing on the aisle, holding a bottle of beer.
As I attempt to correct my sudden-onset dyslexia, it was becoming obvious the man talking loudly on the train had zeroed in on a ”lucky” someone. Slowly, it dawned on me, that someone was me! The man, the harasser, was talking to me all along.
Very Cheeky and Pushing It
Indirectly, he told me to vacate my seat because, he said, I didn’t deserve it. He wanted me to give up my seat to an elderly Anglo-Australian who I didn’t see was standing next to him. The elderly Anglo-Australian giggled and nodded in agreement to what the harasser said. Under a different circumstance, on my own accord, I would have offered my seat to any elderly person. The harasser explained to a non-Asian female passenger, who clearly looked scared, that he hated Asians because Asians took over jobs meant for Australians.
Encumbered with all the stuff I had with me, including a box of birthday cake, I restrained myself from engaging in a potentially messy, chocolate-mud-cake fight. For a while, I vacillitated between wasting A$20 (at that time) worth of cake to smash it across the man’s racist face or to just ignore him as best I could and not to stoop down to his level. In the end, I chose the latter.
Not content with throwing insults in my direction, the harasser blocked my way when I tried to get off the train. With my hands and arms full of stuff, I couldn’t shove him off so I could get out before the train moved. I missed my station as a result. As the train started to move, I screamed out loud to his face: ”YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE!”
No other words were necessary. I thought that was the heart of the matter—he was just being exactly as I described him. There was no need to explain or reason out to him, nor was there any need to expend any energy to try and enlighten him.
He shrugged his shoulder. ‘I hate Asians’, he said, and walked away.
For two months, I was paranoid. I would sit at the farthest back of the train thinking I’d rather have my enemy in front of me where I can see them, than behind me.
Questioning My Own Willingness to Help Others
Would I have helped if it was someone else who was being harassed instead of me? I’d like to think, if it was clear there was someone being victimised and this person appeared helpless, that I would have. My ”Beautiful Serpent”, as author, poet and blogger Ed Pilolla beautifully calls it, rears its ugly head from time to time, and can sometimes be a bit fearless.
I thought about it for a long time. None of the passengers in the crowded train uttered a word. No one bothered to report it to a train guard on my behalf. They were either indifferent or too scared to help. They say there is strength in numbers but, even against an averaged-built man, no one dared to raise their voice. I guess, if I wasn’t saying anything, why would they?
Later that night, as I took a bite of a piece of the chocolate cake that almost never was, I shudder at the thought that people’s deafening silence and pathetic lack of courage to come to my rescue was because they had the same deep-seated fear as the ignorant man.
If you were in my shoes, what would you have done?
If you were one of the passengers, would you have lifted a finger to help a stranger being harassed?
As always, I welcome and appreciate your comments.