Growing up my dad always told me that as a ginger I was fiery by nature; this entails not only being a passionate person but being fierce and quick to temper. And I have recognised this as part of my personality all my life. When I choose to do something I give it my all; why bother doing something otherwise? I have also noticed the other side of my fiery nature; on occasion I can have a wicked tongue and I say things I inevitably regret.
However, the other week I had an encounter on my way home from work that tested by beliefs about myself. I got on my usual bus home,sat down and took out my phone. Like every other passenger I was minding my own business; checking through emails, surfing Facebook and looking to see if any interesting job listings had been posted that day.
As the bus began to pull off there was some commotion to my left. I stopped to observe a man hounding and poking another man, shouting in his face about what I do not know. My first assumption was the pair must have known each other. But as the antagonist of this situation turned and started to verbally abuse another passenger, once again leaning over so his face would meet hers, I realised this man was just looking for anyone to abuse. This time I did hear what was pouring out of his mouth. The victim on this occasion happened to be an older woman of the Asia/Pacific region, she was happily chatting to a younger lady and their conversation was not impacting anyone on the bus. However, this man thought otherwise and he started to racially abuse this woman, telling her ‘how dare she be up in his country speaking her own language’. The woman paid no attention to him and he lost interest, but she didn’t continue her conversation.
The next person to get this man’s attention was me. I thought great, I’ll give him a piece of my mind, how dare he stand and shout racial abuse at an old lady. But as he opened his mouth and started bullying me in a way I had not experienced since school I froze. No quick witted, volatile responses came to me. And his abuse just kept coming, this man that I had never met and didn’t know me from Adam was hurling abuse at me in front everyone on this crowded bus and I was shrivelling away.
I ended up putting my headphones in and ignoring him but I could feel this rush of emotion coming and it took everything in me to stop myself from crying.
Eventually he lost his interest with me and he moved on. When we got to the next stop the driver shut the engine off but he didn’t move. The man kept toying with the idea of getting off but clearly he couldn’t resist bullying a few more people before his departure. A girl intervened. She started to scream at him and she continued to berate him until he got off the bus. Why couldn’t I do that? Where was my confidence to stand up for myself?
When I got in that evening I cried; my fiery nature had failed me.