Next time... I'll duck!
Sometimes standing up for what's right means we sometimes have to stand alone and bear the consquences, writes Sharon Jones - like the day I asked a young man to turn down his music on the bus...
Let me set the scene for you...
It’s Monday evening, work's done and I’ve just arrived at home.
Open door. Run upstairs. Kick off shoes. Drop bag. Turn on laptop. Wash hands. Type password. Switch on TV. Grab drink. Collapse onto sofa and we’re in The Bay - Ebay that is.
YES! Another sale! This time a handbag – and it went for £20, which is more than I had hoped to get. (Who knew clearing out a cupboard could be so profitable) And what’s this? The buyer has already credited my account... It just keeps getting better!
A few minutes later and I’ve packaged the bag and addressed it. It’s ready for the post office tomorrow.
Cut to Tuesday…
So, it’s Tuesday, and I’m at work and it’s a beautiful sunny day. Not wanting to waste a rare summer day such as this, I decide to bring the package to the post office during my lunch break (instead of after work), which would just be a short three minute bus ride.
I’m the only one at the bus stop and I’m enjoying feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, the blue sky with a few puffy white clouds and watching people go by with smiling faces. It seems everyone’s decided to have their lunch break outdoors today. With such rare, lovely weather, who can blame them.
The sun’s piercing now and so I put my sunglasses on. Finally, I can see the bus approaching in the distance. As it gets closer, I hear the sound of extremely loud music thumping, which I thought must have been coming from the car behind the bus.
The bus arrives at my stop and the automatic doors open. When they do, out spills the loud music I was hearing. What’s this?! Have they now installed music systems on buses? Why on earth would West Midlands Travel want to go and do a silly thing like that!
I step onto the very crowded, single-decker bus, which has standing room only, and to my complete surprise and utter disgust, there at the front was a man with two 8”x 8” speaker boxes blaring music. I couldn’t believe it! All the passengers on the bus were silent with frowned faces and ‘dagger-eyes’ focused on him – almost as if they thought if they looked at him long enough they could will the music to stop or him to go away.
Well, it was bad enough that he would dare to play such loud (and lewd) music on public transport, but on such a beautiful day as well, when all we wanted was some peace and quiet to enjoy nature as it whizzed by.
Once I had recovered from the shock and had secured myself some floor space, which unfortunately was rationed and so ended up being directly opposite him (where the fold-up, push chair seats are), I composed myself and mustered up my sweetest, butter-could-melt-in-my-mouth-I-come-in-peace voice and said, 'Excuse me sir, would you mind turning down the music a bit please?'
All the passengers on the bus now shifted their gaze from him to me. He responded in a quiet, even tone... 'Who do you know that would make you think you can challenge me?' (Does that sound like the words of a man or ‘something’ else? You decide!)
Their eyes shift back to him. I say “God”. Their eyes back to me. Tone still even, he says 'God can (bleep bleep). Who do you know?' Their eyes back to him. (I was getting dizzy watching their heads go left, right, left, right) Again, I say “God”. He says 'God’s nothing, I’m the one you should be afraid of.' I say, 'Well I’m not afraid of you.' He says, 'Well you should be!'
(May I just interrupt this lengthy discourse to say that any ‘normal’ person would perhaps have ended the conversation at this juncture, but noooo, not me!) Sighhhhh, read on…
So I say (with my voice now a decibel higher) 'Well, I’m NOT!' He says (beckoning to his rucksack), 'I have a knife in here and I bet if I took it out and sliced you up, you’d be afraid of me!'
I say, 'No I wouldn’t!' He says, 'But if I took my gun and shot you, you’d be afraid then!' I say, 'You could kill me and I still wouldn’t be afraid of you.' He says, 'Why aren’t you afraid of me?'
I say (now absolutely defiant and on top of my voice), 'Because of the same God I spoke of. THAT’S why I’m not afraid of you and will NEVER be afraid of you! If you’re looking for someone to fear you, then I’m the WRONG PERSON!'
He took one step towards me (as I glared at him defiantly) and before I had a chance to say “Bob’s your uncle”, he had punched me square in the face.
The force of the blow threw my head backwards and then forwards while blood spewed all over me and the floor. I remember thinking ‘How on earth can so much blood come from my nose?’ (Ok, so I do have a big nose, but that’s not the point) Before I had time to recover from that blow, his foot was coming to kick me in the head. By God’s Grace, I managed to duck out of it just in time. The foot landed on my arm instead.
It appears that I had offended him by not allowing him the pleasure of kicking my head in, and so with eyes ablaze (which is an exaggerated assumption really, since I couldn’t see much after the first blow) he punched me in the face again, while simultaneously firing off another kick which landed on my thigh. All this happened in what must have been not more than 10 -15 seconds.
Well, naturally, not being made of iron, my body gave way at this point and I collapsed onto the now blood-soaked floor. It was all quite surreal – slow-motion-action-in-the-movies type of thing.
Now, having been brought to my knees (literally), he came after me again! Hadn’t he spilled enough blood?!! Or maybe he thought that given the size of my nose, there was more that could come out!
Thankfully, by this time, the bus driver had managed to safely manoeuvre and park the bus and had jumped out of his cab and screamed at the man to stop, as he was coming in for what I assume was ‘the kill’.
The driver radioed for police and locked the doors in an attempt to keep him there until the police came because, after all, it was a packed bus with at least 15 of the passengers being men. They would be able to overpower him until the police came right? Wrong! Oopsy! Did I fail to mention that all through the attack not a single passenger attempted to help or intervene? Neither did any of them shout or say anything to him in an attempt to get him to stop. There had been deafening silence throughout the ordeal. Nobody said anything and nobody moved.
And so naturally, him realizing that no one except the driver had made any attempt to stop him, thought I was fair game and came after me yet again! The bus driver realizing that this man was obviously much more dangerous than originally perceived, thought it best (and I agreed) to open the doors and let him out before he could cause any more harm to me or anyone else.
He, the assaulter, slowly slinked off the bus – making no attempt to run or hide - and made his way up the road, all the time looking behind at me in the bus.
It was now that the once seemingly immobilised passengers were able to move and speak. Many offered me tissues to mop up my blood stained face and suit and helped me up out of the pool of blood I was slouched in on the floor.
The police and ambulance were called and the passengers had to leave the bus. Each one filed past me as they disembarked and said how sorry they were for what had happened – hanging their heads and unable to make eye contact with me as they did so. One kind elderly Sikh woman came and cupped my blood-stained face in her hands and just kept saying how sorry she was as she wept. (I was sorry that the poor soul had to witness it) Another kind woman said that she would be willing to be a witness as I dazedly acknowledged and thanked her. The bus driver had the presence of mind to take her contact details. He was a real hero throughout it all – never once thinking of himself. After all, they are not supposed to leave their cab, but he never let the rules stop him.
I couldn’t see out of one eye because of the terrible swelling, but I could see enough to know that these were people who were indicative of a society that was so crippled by fear that even men could sit inches away from a woman being brutally beaten by one man - and feel powerless to do anything about it. For me that was gut-wrenching – not because no one helped ME, but because of how dejected they all looked and felt. They all wanted to do something about the man playing the loud music but no one was willing to stand and when I took a stand, there was none to stand with me.
Sadly, it’s a vicious cycle really. People witnessing what happened to me may become even more fearful to intervene or to stand up for what is right. As long as people continue to fear and shrink back, men such as my assailant will continue to be bold in their intimidation and assaults. At some point, something’s got to give. For me, it was a broken nose and now having to live with a nose that constantly feels blocked as a result of where it was broken. However, the doctor advised me that the very sturdy sunglasses that I had on (which I’ve had for about 12 years) may have saved me from much more serious damage than if the full force of the first blow had made full contact with my head. Praise God!
Standing up for what's right
I’ve been asked by many (including my very disapproving brothers) if I’ve ‘learnt my lesson’ and will think twice before ‘provoking’ anyone again on the bus. Oh yes, I’ve learnt my lesson alright. The next time someone steps towards me menacingly, I’ll duck!
However, I will never stop standing up for what is right. I was on a bus four days after that incident (still with some swelling to the face) and there was someone smoking marijuana behind me. I reminded them that it wasn’t allowed on the bus and politely asked them if they would put it out! Thank God, they complied without incident. My nose needed time to heal properly before any more potential episodes.
Just as in days gone by and at present when some have had to die for the sake of owning Christ and for peace and justice, so some of us will have to suffer or even die as we take our stand for Christ and for justice, and the right for everyone to live a life free of fear.
Later on the night that this incident took place, while nursing a splitting migraine and unable to see out of one eye because of the facial swelling and hardly able to see out of the other since I couldn’t put my glasses on, I sat down at my computer and wrote an email to all my friends, telling them my story.
However, my main focus was on the fact that God had revealed to me that my attacker, like me, was an innocent victim in all this and that the devil had spoken through him. God also reminded me that His word tells us that the days will come when we will be persecuted for claiming Him and standing up for what is right. He also told me that what I experienced is nothing compared to what we will have to endure in years to come, so we should make ourselves ready to stand when that day comes.
Within minutes of sending out emails to people across the globe, the sympathy calls and emails started pouring in. They expressed shock, heart felt pain, anguish and anger, but mostly they were wishing me a ‘speedy recovery’ and offering prayers. They were all very comforting and supportive notes, but my favourite one came from a friend of mine that I went to boarding school with and the following constitutes the email (with no salutation or closing) in its entirety:
"Sharon, ever since we were in high school, I always told you that one day somebody was going to BOX you! I’m just surprised it took so long!" ?
You can tell that I’ve always been like this! Standing up for what is right is hardly ever popular and doesn’t make us many friends and can actually make us many enemies, but it’s a great tonic for being able to sleep peacefully at night.
Different people will have different views about my experience and how I handled it, and each individual will have to make up their own mind about how they respond to each situation in the moment. May the Holy Spirit grant us infinite wisdom and grace when (not if) our time comes!
As an aside, never would I have imagined that a teenage wish I made some decades before would have been granted so late in life. When I was in high school and the Naomi Campbell’s of this world were on top of their game, like all the other girls, I used to want high cheekbones.
Trust me, this is NOT the way to go about getting them...
Four months later in October, that year, the 19 year old man eventually pled guilty and, sadly, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. I learned about it in the newspaper, and even the arresting officer wasn’t aware. It was not my desire for him to be sent to prison, but I often think of him and pray for him and ask God to make an intervention in his life so that when I get to heaven, he’ll be there too!
Sharon Jones is a member of Newbridge Baptist Church in Birmingham