She had the bicycle for five years, and that was a record. Usually her bikes were stolen about once a year. It got to the point where she was almost surprised when she returned to where she left it and found her bicycle still there. She didn’t have a driver’s license. Living in the heart of the city, it did not seem necessary. She could get where she wanted quicker on her bike.
She had biked to the home of her piano student and when she came out after the lesson, her bike was gone. There was no other option but to take the subway home. There she met a new challenge. Perhaps she was emboldened by the injustice of having to once again replace a stolen bike.
As she stepped into the subway car, she became aware of a tense situation. Three high school girls huddled together. Backing them against the wall were three young men in their late teens or early twenties. The most aggressive young man had been into the bottle, judging from the reek of his breath. His instability of focus raised questions about whether he was also high on drugs. She observed until the train pulled into the next station. Several people exited the car, moving swiftly unto the platform and then into the adjoining car.
She could take no more. Moving to the girls she asked, “Do you know this fellow?”
When the reply was negative, she turned to the young man who was harassing the girls and said simply, “This is not acceptable behavior. You have to stop.”
“Who are you to tell me to stop?” He turned on her. “You are just the girl in the brown coat.”
“I am the girl in the brown coat, who is telling you that what you are doing in unacceptable and you have to calm down and stop bothering these girls.” He seemed at a loss about what to do. He remained quiet for a minute and then began his harassment again.
Again she spoke up. She put her finger on the panic button, and warned him. “If you do not stop, I will have to push this button.” He began to move away from the girls. In a few minutes he was back again, accompanied by his two friends.
This time she turned to the friends. “You cannot just stand by and watch your friend,” she told them. “If he cannot calm down, you have a responsibility to help him. This cannot continue.”
His friends made an effort to get him away from the girls. They got him to the other end of the train car. As they did so, the train stopped and the police stepped into the car. Someone else had pushed the panic button.
He was questioned by the police, as were his friends. The girls gave their story to the police. She made sure that the police knew that this one man was the guilty one and his friends were not. Since all three were part of a visible minority, she wanted to be sure they were not treated unfairly.
After the culprits were removed from the train and order was restored the girls got back on the next train with her. She was distressed when a couple of women twice her age came up and told her how frightened they had been and how they respected her for speaking up. She reminded them that the only way these things can go on is if we fail to act when we can. Yes, there is risk, but perhaps there is greater risk in doing nothing.
As writers we too must be willing to take the risk of speaking up. Someone’s life may depend on it. Dare we?