I was riding the tram home from work today when I witnessed a man beating his girlfriend in public.
When this happened I was listening to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on my brand-non-specific portable listening device. "Wait, Wait..." is a show that not only keeps me smiling, it often gets me to laughing out loud. I take an extra bit of pleasure in listening to this show while riding BKV (Budapest Public Transit). It is uncommon to see a person over the age of twenty smiling while riding public transit in Budapest. The Hungarians are not a smiley people. So when Peter Sagal and the gang get me to laughing, I am reminded that while I have been living here for some time now, I still maintain some of the hope and optimism that history has robbed from so many Hungarians. I'm different from these people, and - at least in some ways - this is a good thing.
But when the raised voice of a twenty-something Gypsy intruded into my enjoyment of NPR's humorous news quiz, I was forced to face an uncomfortable truth. I wasn't looking when the first slap landed.
The woman stood next to me, but I took no notice until her boyfriend started yelling. He said something along the lines of, "Who the fuck do you think you are?" I looked up in time to see the follow through.
My blood started to boil.
Her grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to the nearest door. And as everyone on the tram waited for the next stop, he gave her two more open handed smacks.
I wanted to act. I had at least twelve centimeters on the guy. Even if he was strong, I had physics on my side. But I stood, and I waited for the uncomfortable violation of human decency to get off at the next stop.
I've been kicking myself all day, and while I can't blame anyone other than myself for my own inaction, I can't help but feel that my time in Hungary has left me less likely to act in such situations.
So many of the people here fail to see the point standing up against what’s clearly wrong. The idea that one person's fortitude can change the way of the world has been pissed on by both history and politics. This has left an atmosphere of apathy that is hard to overcome.
Now, I realize that if I had stepped in today on the tram, I wouldn't have made that man a better person. He wouldn't have seen the light simply because someone stayed his hand this one time. But I would have shown him that such behavior cannot be tollorated in public. I would have shown him that for so many people to live together is such a tiny space, we must draw a line. I just wish I wasn't writing this in the subjunctive. I hope that next time I will act in the moment.