This morning as I walked to Shepherd's Bush tube from my Shepherd's Bush flat I witnessed an uncomfortable Shepherd's Bush scene. As I stood waiting for the "green man" at the traffic lights in front of West 12, I was distracted by some commotion to my right under the (forever present) scaffolding near Ladbrokes. A man and a woman were arguing. This is nothing unusual in W12 where residents are frequently visually and aurally exposed to domestic disputes outside our windows.
However, at the risk of sounding very judgmental of the usual Shepherd's Bush suspects, this did seem different. He was dressed in a smart overcoat and suit, wrapped up in a scarf and leather gloves against the freezing temperatures; she was dressed more casually in jeans and a warm jacket. I'm confident in saying that both were younger than me. As the red man stubbornly remained I continued to watch their animated argument (his hands were very "Italian" and she kept taking steps back or to the side of him, clearly trying to evade his verbal assault). I was then truly shocked to see this man strike the woman across her face with the back of his leather-gloved hand. There was enough force in this that she stumbled to one side. He seemed to have some magnetic pull to her as he followed and remained in her personal space. She then pushed him away and ran a few steps in my direction, retrieved a phone from her jacket pocket and seemed to be calling someone. He followed her with less pace, appearing to know that she wouldn't run away far, and he stood by her side outside HSBC watching her every move as she talked on the phone. I made a step in their direction. My instinctive reaction was to approach her to see if she needed any help. At the same time I contemplated calling the police. My brain then kicked into a different gear and questioned what I was potentially willing to get myself into at 7.30am on a Friday morning. I also asked myself who he would blame for an interruption; me or her?
Sharp beeping tore my eyes and thoughts away from this moral dilemma and the green man beckoned. I crossed the road in autopilot but looking back at the girl, crying, on the phone and the man now standing a metre away, calm and letting her finish her call. It was then I wondered why she hadn't completely ran away from him?
By the time I crossed at the other sight of traffic lights and reached the entrance to Shepherd's Bush tube and looked back, they had moved on and I couldn't see them.
I'll be honest, 10 minutes later I was sat on the tube reading my Sport magazine and trying to talk myself out of buying a cinnamon skinny latte on the way to work. But now I'm kind of itching with a lingering guilt. I'm wondering if my instinctive reaction, to intervene or call the police, was what I should have done. Why didn't I take action when I wax lyrical about being a moral citizen? Would I have prevented further injury by doing so? And was I genuinely right in being reluctant to interfere because I could have potentially worsened the situation? Or was I just being plain lazy, preferring to ignore?
I suppose I'll never know the answers to all of these questions as our reactions in these situations can never be as intelligently thought out as our analysis of them in hindsight. I find some faint reassurance in not knowing the couple's background and therefore being completely incapable of making a fully informed assessment (not that there is ANY excuse for violence). However, there is no comfort for me now as I sit at my desk (without that coffee) and realise that I will never know exactly what happened after they left my field of vision this morning...