On Friday afternoon I was on a bit of a high. I went with a friend to see a film, then went for a meal in a completely empty Indian restaurant. The lack of other customers somehow made the waiters slower, surlier and resentful.
At the end of the meal the card machine wasn’t working, so I walked off to find a bank. The weather had taken a turn for the chilly and I was regretting leaving my coat behind as I passed a sad man smoking a joint at the bus stop, and approached the bars and restaurants on the northern edge of the square. In the corner of my eye the door of a bar burst open, and someone stumbled out onto the pavement. It was a woman in her thirties, falling out at closing time and then picking herself up. But then a tall, broad man with a bomber jacket and a scarf followed her out, shoved her back to the ground, stepped back, and aimed a powerful kick at her stomach. And then another into her face.
Before I had realised what I was seeing, a shorter man with white hair came out of the bar, called to the man in the bomber jacket, and was shoved back at the bar window. He slipped, fell backwards, and bashed his head on the newspaper stand, then sat there dazed, holding his head.
My memory of what happened next is like a series of photos. I see the bar door, where someone is half-dragging the woman back inside. Her cheek is swollen and her nose is bleeding. The tall man is yelling, throwing off his bomber jacket to the ground. I am between him and the bar, my arms outstretched, pleading in English, ‘leave it, just stop’. His spittle flecks my cheek, his nose touches mine, he rages at me: ‘ne me fâche pas’. Panic deepens as he starts counting down from five. I weigh it up; is she back inside? I step aside and he spits into my face.
Altogether it has probably taken no more than twenty seconds. By the time I have wiped my eye, he’s inside the bar, with a lot of other drinkers standing around him, arguing. I don’t hang around. By the time I get back to the restaurant I am shaking. We pay for our meal, and after a few minutes our walk back to the bus stop takes us past the bar. Bomber Jacket has gone; the woman is sitting crying in a booth, talking to a policeman. I want to go home.
Image credit: Simon Blackley via Flickr