The rain is starting to fall in heavy drops, why did I choose today to wear my long black skirt? The hemline has practically absorbed half of the surface water in my immediate vicinity by now, so I dash in to the nearest metro at Saint Michel to take a connecting line at Chatelet.
Getting towards the end of peak hour, but still a bit squishy. As the door closes, I see the faces of a hesitant American family of 4 still waiting at the platform, clearly unsure about how to negotiate the surge of people that is the Parisien public transport system during peak hour(s).
Only a short trip, 2 stops, lost in random thought. Suddenly there is a commotion behind me and two men start wildly throwing punches. Some shouts and screams from surrounding passengers;
‘stop, STOP, you’re mad! Stop it!’
The train has (luckily) stopped at the next station, someone triggers the alarm, the doors have opened and curious passengers spill out onto the platform, while within our own carriage the fight continues, unheeding of any bystander that hasn’t got out of the way fast enough.
The conductor rushes to the scene, it’s a woman in her mid 30’s, blonde, quite attractive, probably not much over 40kg.
‘So they’ll stop’ I think
‘These guys aren’t going to keep throwing fists with such a petite lady in the middle’
I’m really worried for her. She’s so small and she has no chance to stop these guys apart from using her voice and physical presence to draw back the red curtain of rage that has clouded the vision of these two crazed commuters. What can I do? Should I try and help her? I don’t know the first thing about breaking up a fight between 2 grown men. Crap! Why isn’t anyone DOING anything? By anyone I really mean –anyone in the man department. I'm all for equality, I bash things with a hammer, and do simple plumbing jobs and ask my Dad to show me how I go about repairing bits of my car. But I don't kid myself that I can stop a fracas between 2 grown men.
I’m frozen by shock, my voice paralysed. Not because of the fight itself, having lived over a decade in a modern version of a frontier town, with redneck tendencies, truckies, beer, croc Dundee types, it’s not like I haven’t seen a few fights, and almost lost a couple of drinks along the way. What I have never seen though, is a woman, of any size, left to take care of it.
There is a guy in front of me, early 20’s, fit, plugged into his music, shifts his position slightly to face more of his back towards the problem, a look of irritation as he receives the effect of a wayward shove. I see a resolute look on the face of an older guy, maybe around 50, glasses, tragic choice in pullover fashion – short fellow but he manages to get one of the men in an effective headlock. The fight surges towards the platform. Finally, one girl has had enough. She’s been pushed around for the last 5 minutes, stuck in a bad corner with no real way to get out. One of her eyes looks a bit odd, I don’t know if she’s been struck at some point. A rebel ‘P!nk’ type, she starts verbally laying in to one of the men; ‘Where’s the respect? Are you crazy? You lack respect totally, what’s wrong with you?’
Respect seems to be the key word, this guy is cowering under her verbal lashing, and half runs, half staggers off into the crowd. P!nk girl now turns her anger to her fellow commuters.
‘No-one MOVED, you just looked, no one MOVED!’
‘Yes, well that’s the French mentality’ says the conductor as she rushes off to disactivate the alarms and get the metro moving as quickly as possible. She’s bleeding from the mouth, thanks to a wayward blow, but is more concerned with getting the train back in action. The departure alarm sounds, and everyone gets back in the train. The silence is more pronounced that usual, maybe thinking about the conductors last retort, maybe thinking about their dinner, I don't know - in general people don’t often talk in the metro, everyone just stares randomly, quickly pricking up their ears to listen in to any of the few conversations that might be taking place.
And what was the fight about? As far as I can tell it was because one of them had a cigarette.
Surgeon Generals Warning: Smoking can seriously affect the health of those around you, and make the trains run late