Sometimes I make good decisions. Usually not. Here’s another case of bad decision-making. Not too much harm was done. At least to me, luckily.
I found myself outside a wet market in Kuala Lumpur with a couple of friends, trying to find another who we believed to wandering around inside. We waited on a sidewalk beside a four-lane road that skirted the market. Stalls lined both the roadside and shopside of the sidewalk making the only access to the main street the occasional driveway or side road. We rested against a street-side stall selling medium-tech knick-knacks for your higher tech devices. On shop-side was parked a van, intact, for now. The nearest exit to the street was about 15 meters from us.
As we tried to figure out how we were going to meet up the fourth of our party, we noticed some commotion around 30 meters down from us. From my vantage point I saw a man and woman exchanging blows. From their relative positions it seemed like they were hitting each other over a table within a shop-side stall, with the woman positioned as the seller, the man on “customer-side”. From my angle, a likely scenario would be that she grabbed him as he was trying to snatch something. Fists were thrown but other scraps of metal became involved as it seemed nearby stalls were collapsing in the mayhem.
The physical conflict turned into a chase as the alleged thief began to run our direction hoping to access the outlet to the street beyond where we were standing. As he ran towards us, his “allegedness” wore off and he became an almost cartoonish version of the market thief. He wore a black motorcycle helmet. A man running with a motorcycle helmet, for me, calls upon Star Wars-esque imagery of the helmeted Empire soldiers who, with their faces and bodies armored to the max, never exuded more personality than that of a generic bad soldier guy. The front of his pants were filled with something. More than likely things that weren’t his to begin with. Otherwise that’s a strange place to keep stuff. The last thing our villain needed to fill out his costume was a big bag with a dollar sign on it slung over his shoulder. Even without the bag, though, any nuance that the battles between good and evil often had did not exist here. This was a bad guy.
He approached quickly and was all set to run past us as he had run past many other spectators. I had no time to think. With time to think, I would have watched him go by, been bummed out for the woman who got beaten on and lost her stuff, then found my friends and went home. I would have used the same logic that has kept me safe all these years. When faced with confrontation, I would run away, hide, cry, or push someone else in front of me to deal with the problem.
In this case I didn’t have the good sense not to get involved. As he tried to hustle down the sidewalk past my left shoulder, I lowered down a bit, turned my body counterclockwise and used my hip and right shoulder to send him flying into the car across from me and down to the ground. To be fair to him, he did not see it coming. Otherwise he may not have gone down so dramatically.
After having laid him out hard, my brain turned on a bit. I realized that my friendship potential was very low with the guy I knocked down. In fact, he might be angry with me. I ran. I fled away and onto the street, curling around to put the sidewalk stalls between me and the crowd that had caught up to the fallen bad guy and gathered to continue their market justice on the thief. I wondered out of eyeshot as I thought (ok, my brain wasn’t totally functioning perfectly) that if the guy escaped the mob he would come after me for revenge (as opposed to escaping). From a safe distance, I saw that the fight continued with fists and metal shards flying and then calm returned. It seemed that the bad guy had escaped and zipped off on a motorcycle. The original victim of the theft now had blood dripping from a cut near her left eye and still lost the merchandise that the thief made off with and had much of the rest of her stall and her goods in pieces all over the ground.
All that I had done was to increase the amount of violence at the market. The bad guy got away. The victim was left bloody and poorer than the day before. The license plate she was calling in (to the police I’m guessing) would not get her stuff back and would not heal her pain.
We grabbed a taxi and headed homewards. I was left to contemplate, for the first time with full brain activity, what I had done. Knowing what I know now, I would have done what I would tell everyone else to do in that situation. Stay the hell out of it. Even as clear as I was about the good and evil of the situation, there were and will always be histories, relationships, politics and ideas of justice that I don’t have access to. Especially in countries I am unfamiliar with as much as I am Malaysia. And it is likely that you will not help the situation, as I did not.
And some of us are fighters for good and need to get involved to fight crime. Some of us, our brains don’t work so fast though. And some of us have a knack for making bad decisions. I am the latter two.
Hopefully he isn’t looking for me. Better safe than sorry. I’m never going to Malaysia again.