I’ll set the scene: my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE was away on a 24hour duty at the hospital, so I had this great sunny day to spend entir ely with the girls. We took in every inch of the park beside our house, singing, making friends with ladybirds, drawing chalk in the ground, letting the blistering warmth wash over us. Total happiness and my daughters and I were as excited as bunnies in a carrot field. A good day. Right until two crazy men decided they had a problem with me.
I was sitting on the wall of the Soviet Cemetery, literally ten seconds from my house, praising Lilly for helping her sister, who had hurt her leg while climbing. I looked up when I heard the screams and saw the men coming. They stopped five metres short, close enough for me to see the veins on their necks standing out like ship ropes from the fury they were unloading at me.
Why? I don’t know. Even if I could speak Polish I don’t know if I’d be able to decipher their theories…
There’s nothing here for Poles to feel ashamed about. There are orcs like this in every city and their reasons for taking a dump on your day are often quite arbitrary. I’ve been bullied, I’ve been on the wrong end of a some bad vibes for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes you get lucky; I talked a guy out of mugging me in New York – sometimes you don’t; I got my nose broken trying to save a guy who was getting stomped by three hoodlums in my home town of Galway. We don’t deal the deck, we just play the cards we’re given.
With that in mind, there’s a good argument that I should have played my hand a little better. Rather than stand my ground, perhaps I should have taken my daughters out of there as fast as I could. But god-dammit, we were in our neighbourhood, our park, our place of fun and laughter and I’ve got to leave it because of two crazy guys? Look, this isn’t an excuse, it’s just an insight into my frame of mind, and who’s to say walking away would have made things better? My experience with raw, unprovoked aggression has told me that if you bend over once for these bastards, they’ll do their best to keep you from standing up straight again.
I believe in courage. I believe it’s how a man measures his value to society. Nothing ostentatious, just quiet tests of character. Courage. Are you born with it or do you acquire it? And if lost, can you ever recover it? Tell you what though, it’s hard to be a man without it.
This is why I moved my daughters behind me and chose to stare down the crazies. They were in their late twenties, roughly the same build as me. I let my eyes rest on a jagged rock an arm’s reach away. Am I going to pick it up and I fight dirty? Two guys going apeshit for no good reason and maybe high on something other than booze? You bet I’m going to pick it up. At that moment, the jagged rock was my friend.
There were a few other people in our general area but they kept out of it. The orcs started getting closer, throwing shapes, screaming louder, getting frustrated at my stonewall silence. Was I afraid? You bet I was, but the time for running was gone and judging by the lines of spit frothing from the orc’s mouths, the way their bloodshot eyes were bulging, I got the feeling they’d follow me wherever I went. The girls were holding on to my legs and I asked them if they were okay. Then, the biggest orc lunged forward –
I went for the rock – but suddenly an old man stepped between us. He must have been in his seventies. He went right up to the big orc, eyeball to eyeball and there ensued a fierce and frank discussion. I’m often critical of an older generation of Poles, but this man showed them no small degree of steel and bought me enough time to call my wife, who in turn called the cops, who came five minutes later.
The orcs were bundled into the back of a police car. The older man walked past me and I could see his hands were trembling. So were mine. Best cure for that is a handshake. We shook and my clear, defining thought was; ‘you old man, you are courage.’
I never got his name, but whoever he is – thanks a lot.