by Anne Hill
Western Australia, Australia
Having just left my dentist’s office in mid-afternoon at age 17, I was walking towards a bus stop at the edge of the central business district. The nearly deserted street adjoined a park frequented by “street people”; a place that looks superficially safe but gives you an uneasy feeling.
Suddenly two middle-aged men stepped out from behind a bush and confronted me. One stood directly in front of me and the other stepped between me and the road, effectively boxing me in.
The man in front of me grinned — I smelled alcohol — and asked me to come into the park “for a talk”. I was uncomfortable, but, taught to be polite, explained I had to catch a bus home and my mother would worry if I was late. I tried to step around him, but he and his friend blocked me and moved closer.
I stepped back, and the second man moved behind me. Neither tried to touch me, but the first man kept urging me to “be friendly”. Terrified, I wondered whether I could move quickly enough to dodge around them and run back to the dentist’s office.
Then I heard a cheerful shout, “Hello, Sue!” and saw a young man crossing the road towards us. Since my name isn’t Sue, I thought he was hailing a friend and would ignore us. To my delirious relief, he headed straight towards us, speaking in a loud, friendly voice, “I thought it was you, how are you? Haven’t seen you in ages, what’re you doing now?” He gave my two tormentors a cheery smile, neatly stepped between them
and took my arm.
I finally found enough presence of mind to join in the charade, stammering “Hi, Chris” (my brother’s name) and smiling up in what I hoped was a natural manner. The two men gave a conciliatory wave and vanished into the park wordlessly.
My rescuer urged me down the street, as I gasped my thanks. “Sorry to intrude, but you looked like you needed help.” He tried to reassure me, saying they were probably harmless drunks who wouldn’t have dragged me away against my will, and wouldn’t have attacked me on the street in broad daylight.
I appreciated his efforts, but I couldn’t stop shaking. He introduced himself and stayed with me until my bus arrived, chattering about harmless topics, though I wasn’t in a state to be much of a conversationalist. He waved as the bus bore me away, then turned and crossed the street again, presumably to resume his own interrupted business.
This young man saw a girl in trouble and risked his own safety to help. He also was quick-witted enough to intervene in a way seemingly natural, and non-threatening to my tormentors — thus minimizing the risk the situation might turn violent.
“Chris”, if you’re reading, please know I’ve been grateful ever since, although I couldn’t express it well then. To this day, 30 years later, I vividly remember your common sense, courage and kindness.