I am not a hero. I can say that now with conviction – I’ve been in enough sticky situations and tight spots that my reactions can now be judged for their consistency – despite the diversity of danger I’ve experienced. In peril, I am quiet and pragmatic. My instinct is not to step forward and protect others, nor is it to scream and panic. I move myself away from danger, as quickly and quietly as possible.
Two days ago, I arrived home from work around 6pm. I turned the corner into my estate and paused at a gate to let a young man go before me. “So sorry about that” he said, from beneath his low-slung hood. I was pleased at his politeness such a shame that estates have such a bad name, I thought to myself, young people in hoodies are hardly animals.
I was about 5 meters from my door when I saw 3 men jump out of a car and attack a 4 with a flurry of fists, the only sound being the dull thudding of blows landing. I stopped walking – confused about whether I was watching an attack, or simply a playfight going a bit out of hand. When the young man started screaming, I knew what I was seeing.
“You’ve got the wrong man, bruv!” he screamed over and over again, his sentences muffled, his voice strained. When his pleading didn’t work he fell upon that one word we all instinctually use, and began screaming HELP HELP HELP HELP.
There was no one else in the parking lot, and I thought first: police. Then, flat. I walked calmly to my door, not wishing to draw attention to myself. My hands shook as I navigated first one lock, then the second. Once inside it took me 3 tries to dial 999, the calls for help still echoing in the street. I thought, you should never scream ‘help’, always scream ‘fire’.
I know I did nothing wrong. I did not attack that boy and it was not my responsibility to stop it – by doing so I could have put myself in danger. I called the police. But I can’t help but think that now I really know who I am “in danger”, and I’m not necessarily the person I imagined I would be. Whether it was when we ran into a bear while hiking and I said nothing, turned around and walked away, or when a crazy man started attacking people on the 43 bus, and I simply pulled the emergency exit latch and got off – I don’t make a fuss, I get out of the situation. I do so without conscious thought, decision making or reflection. In these moments I am a robot, and well, normally I’d imagine myself as outspoken and brave – but I am not. I am not a hero, and its good to know.