I love walking, and for many years I’ve had the unusual custom of going walking at night. There’s nothing creepy or vampiric in this habit; I just love the solutide and the absense of traffic noise. Nothing but me and my MP3 player. Usually I’ll head outdoors for an hour around 10.00 p.m., but occasionally as late as 11.00. Of course, night-time being what night-time is, you occasionally have an encounter that you wouldn’t normally experience in the daylight hours … like last night.
I was walking down Killicomaine Road. Bins had been placed outside most houses, ready to be emptied by the bin-men the following day – except the bin right in front of me had already been partially emptied … on the street. About forty metres further, I saw a gang of boys in their mid-to-late teens hanging around, making noise. And on the way up to them, every bin had been knocked over. (Thankfully, none but the first had spilled its contents.)
I proceeded to lift the first bin up onto its base. As I reached the second bin, I bent down and lifted it, too. Likewise with the third. Why? Because I care about the neighbourhood and because I don’t want to be spineless (which is what modern society teaches you to be).
By this stage, one of the guys saw what I was doing and started getting sarcastic: “Those wee rascals! The youth of today – what’s the world coming to?” That kind of stuff.
The boys were on the opposite side of the street. I didn’t once look over or even make eye-contact. But as soon as I raised the final bin, suddenly one of them (too drunk to notice what I had been up to until that moment) shouted angrily, “WHAT THE F*CK!”
Guys like that amaze me. They are on self-destruct without even knowing it. There I was, six-foot-three and built like a tank, with a intimidating goatee board, and this guy had no hesitation in speaking his mind. For all he knew, I could have been a knife-carrying psychopath on the prowl, rather than a gentle giant. The trouble with guys like him is that, sooner or later, they pick the wrong fight. About ten years ago, I was attacked by a similarly tempered teenage punk. Years later, he ended up getting murdered. (The answer to the question that’s in your mind is “no,” incidentally.)
Anyway, back to last night. I kept walking, and the only thing that pursued me was a string of verbal abuse. Mind you, the guy didn’t have much imagination; the best name he could come up with was “Speccy.”
I have a rule when someone tries to pick a fight with me (which doesn’t happen very often): I don’t engage and I don’t run. The reason I don’t engage is because I’ve never been a fighter (i.e. I have no practice and might end up hurt, or worse, humiliated). And the reason I don’t run is because I won’t be seen as a coward. However, I’ve made one exception to that rule. Once, I was out jogging (at night, of course), when some teenage guy I recognised came staggering along the street, singing his heart out. I remembered him as one of the kids I had gotten to know slightly a few years earlier, when I used to bring the Gospel to the neighbourhood (that’s another story!). He had always been a brat, poking fun at me as a Bible-carrying weirdo. But on that night, when he spotted me, he spoke to me with the kind of honesty that only drink can bring out in a person: “F*cking Christians! I’ll kill you! I’ll slit your throat!” (The Gospel was always like water off a duck’s back to this guy, but you’ve got to wonder what kind of an effect the Word of God is really having on a person, when they come out with words like these.) Anyway, when I encountered this guy, I was already running. So, heck, it didn’t seem like cowardice to keep on running.
But the worst thing about experiences like these is not the encounter itself, but the way your mind keeps wanting to replay what happened and to fantasise about differing outcomes. With the gang on Killicomaine Road, I just couldn’t keep myself from imagining something like this: I stop and turn to face the guy who had called me names. I remove my glasses. “There,” I say. “Not so speccy now. But you’re still a moron.” His face fills with rage and he strides across the road towards me. Unexpectedly, I deliver a swift kick between his legs. He doubles over and falls to his knees. I look angrily at his mates and shout, “Get this c*ck on a leash!”
I hate being like that. You have to really try hard to pull your mind away. I suppose it’s pride. Nobody likes to be seen to be a coward, even by a bunch of worthless teenage parasites. So, walking away rather than running is my compromise. But what if the guy had advanced on me without provocation. Would I stand or run? I think pride might force me to stand (or at least walk away without it turning into a power-walk), but maybe I should aspire to the standard that the Shaolin Master once set when speaking to Caine (David Carradine) in Kung Fu:
“As we prize peace and quiet above victory, there is a simple and preferred method [for dealing with force]… Run away.”