This old man walked on the bus with really extreme bow legs. So bowed he could barely walk and needed a cane. He sat down on a seat by the door. Later, at a stop, a group of young men from the back of the bus got up to get off the bus. Suddenly, there was a commotion around the old man, around the exit. All eyes were focused downward, towards his legs, towards the floor. My first thought was that he had fallen or fainted and the young men were trying to help him. Then I saw a guy reach into the old man's back pocket and take his wallet. I said, hey! and grabbed the guy by his shirt. Nobody else said or did anything. I felt a moment of doubt. I let go of his shirt. I was trapped in my window seat by an old lady in the aisle seat next to me - I could not get out to be a very effective crimestopper; although I don't know if I was thinking of getting out. He slipped out of my grasp. I stared at him as he walked off the bus nonchalantly. I'm not sure what I was thinking. I had been thinking the old man was in trouble and the men in front were helping him but the story changed midway and I hadn't caught up. My reflexes were slow. Suddenly, all the guys were off the bus and the old man was sitting with his bow legs, humiliated and bereft of his wallet. What happened, what happened, the old ladies around us said. Now, the bus was united as we tried to reconstruct what was happening. But everyone was also looking for reasons why they could not be held responsible. "Oh you shouldn't carry so much money on you" "Were those guys Filipino?" "I didn't see anything, I didn't see anything" I wanted to scream and weep with frustration. I saw everything and couldn't do anything. Didn't do enough.
Once, David, responding to a woman screaming that her handbag had been snatched, dropped everything without stopping to think and chased after the robber down the dark alleys of the Vancouver Downtown East Side. I wanted to to be like David. Heroic. Fearless. Instead I was only me.
As I got off the bus, I gave the old man $100 ringgit to get himself home safely. But it felt like I was merely buying off my own guilt.