He was yelling so loudly that I actually pulled off my earphones to hear if he was OK. He was about a block ahead of me on the other side of the street, yelling and gesticulating wildly. I could hear him over my iPod, which was blaring The Lumineers on my walk to the train.
I scanned the scene ahead of me to figure out why he was dropping F-bombs as he stomped down a quiet residential street. At first, I thought he was reprimanding an especially recalcitrant dog. But I didn't see a dog.
I quickened my pace -- out of a mix of curiosity and fear -- and that's when I saw her. A young girl, definitely not yet a teenager and probably not yet a tween. She was walking about three yards behind him. She wore the plaid skirt and saddle shoes of the private school in the neighborhood. Her head was hunched down and her shoulders were rounded towards the ground.
When I realized that the little girl was absorbing the blows of this man's vitriol, I was torn. You're not really supposed to intervene in other families' dramas, right? But, I couldn't back away. I was scared for her and couldn't bring myself to leave her alone on the street with all that screaming.
Again, I quickened my pace, and I could hear the man's words perfectly. "You are an F-ing liar. That's why everyone hates you!" He was saying it over and over again. There were lots of F-bombs used to explain to this young girl why "no one trusts you!" With each explosive syllable, it was getting harder and harder to give him the benefit of the doubt. It reminded me of that famous celebrity who left a caustic message on his daughter's answering machine that was later leaked to the world.
The man, who I assume from the context of his rant was her father, was moving briskly, turning now and then to be sure she was keeping up with both his words and his steps. She, however, was falling farther behind him, and I was getting closer to her.
I wanted to do something for that little girl, even though it was presumptuous of me to stumble into a sliver of her life and assume she needed rescue. All I knew is that a very angry man was hurling F-bombs at her at the top of his lungs, and she looked dejected, walking as if shame was weighing down her every step.
It's not my place to butt in, I thought, trying to convince the parts of me that wanted to intervene that I didn't have enough information. But still, I was itching to do something. But what? What can you do in the face of something like this?
I saw the man up ahead unlock a car. "Get in!" he sneered at her, before slamming the door and starting the ignition. She hurried her pace and heaved her backpack off her shoulders so she could get into the backseat.
I knew I had one more second to interject myself into this scene before my chance was lost forever. I knew I would regret inaction, even if the action I chose was futile or misguided.
"You are a good girl. It's not going to be like this forever," I said to her as clearly as I could, and I looked her in the eye while I said it. Then, I shook my head affirmatively as if to show her that she had a witness -- at least for the block that I walked with her and that very angry man who was waiting for her to get into the car. I was trying to channel that scene in The Help where Aibileen, the loving nanny, tells the little girl, Mae Mobley: "You is kind. You is smart. You is important."
Maybe I should have taken the license plate number and called the authorities, even though it's not a crime to scream at your child on the street.
I think about them both often as I walk down the block where I saw them that morning. I wonder if the action I chose was enough. I have no idea. Was it even necessary? I will never know. All at once, it seems like too much and not enough.