Minding “my own”

A few weeks ago on a beautiful evening, I was just about to get to my apartment when I passed this lady in the hallway. Like the well-mannered girl I am, I said hello looking straight at her. I value greetings so much that I blame it on how I was raised. I will feel offended if I greet you and you don’t greet me back. I don’t get it when people disregard greetings. If you ignore me I’ll wonder who hurt you or what I did to not deserve a hello from you. I don’t like to harbor these kinds of feelings.

It’s unsettling that living in Vienna and my greetings having been ignored so many times I haven’t become accustomed to it. I don’t know if I ever will. Even when I expect someone not to return my greetings I will always find myself saying hi and regretting afterward. People can be so cold over here. Anyway, my point here is, greetings for me are very important. They are not only a conversation starter but also guide me to detect the kind of mood and energy you are in. This I do by weighing the amount of enthusiasm you put into your hello or hi. And also greetings are good.

Back to the lady. She was well dressed. A gorgeous, tall lady with a huge handbag. She had put her hair up and covered it with a colorful turban. She was kind enough to return my greetings. I caught the stare on her face and then the prolonged glare. It was a bit too much for me but before I could say anything else, she asked me if I lived in this building. I said yes. This is not an unusual question coz many people don’t want strangers in their building. I think this is the most frequently asked question that has been asked in hallways. At least in Vienna.

She then asked if I had a key. Without rolling my eyes I said I did. She asked how long I have lived in the building and I said two years. She asked me why she has never seen me. And now almost rolling my eyes I muttered the simple usual answer. I don’t know. I mean I don’t who even lives in my building. We are in Vienna Austria where you don’t know your neighbors. Everyone keeps to themselves and you’ll just coincidentally meet in the hallway, a few times in a year. It’s funny that in the time I have been in my building I have never shared the lift with anyone. And it’s not that they take the stairs.

At this point, I felt that the questions were too much and so I thought it fair to ask a few too. I asked her if she lived in the building which she didn’t answer. Just as I was about to dismiss this encounter and head straight to my apartment, she started yelling at me questioning my genuine and true answers. She didn’t believe I lived in this building.

You should have seen her sizing me up and down and then she noticed I was wearing a short. She went a notch higher this time asking me why I was skimpily dressed. Wow okay, we are gonna there now? Did she deserve an answer for my poor choice of dressing? It was getting loud and dramatic as she yelled at me lecturing me for things I honestly didn’t get.

Remember we are standing on the stairs. From there it was a few steps to my apartment. I could see my door. I took a few steps from her coz I sensed danger. I didn’t want to rush to my door because I didn’t want her to know my house. I thought to walk up another floor to confuse her and maybe she would leave me alone.

Some of my neighbors came out because this woman made a circus. She left speaking in a language I didn’t understand. It was as if she was waiting for someone to show up for her to leave.

I’m here asking my neighbors if they know her. I was in a state of confusion and shock because you never know what this kind of a situation would yield.

Apparently, my neighbors had encountered her a week before and it was a similar experience. Turns out she didn’t live in this building and how she got in we don’t know. As we were talking we heard her yelling in the back yard and went to peep what was going on. Other neighbors joined in and I told them she was harassing me a few minutes ago. She heard me and she came charging towards me with so much force and anger written on her face. I stepped back and we were on the verge of now calling the police.

My neighbors were convinced we should call the police to get her out of the premises since we had established she didn’t live here. I hesitated. You know why, with my knowledge from my work, I knew she was not okay. She was having an episode. Either she was schizophrenic or she was experiencing some psychotic issues.

Also, she was black. I know from the above you might have been having ideas leaning towards racism. Without disclosing her color I know your mind fantasized a bit. So this was a black woman probably having not the best moment in her life. Here I stood, a black woman with the option to call the police on her. All my white neighbors present looked at me waiting for me to make a decision.

First of all, at this moment she didn’t pose any physical danger. Not to herself and not to any of us present. Not to mean it wouldn’t have gone there had we not kept our distance. Yes she verbally attacked me and that shook me, but I felt compassionate enough not to call the authorities on her. It is a time where we all want to hate the police for the brutality some of them subject to the people. I didn’t want to dramatize this experience more and see her in cuffs and maybe this situation would have become worse if I did.

Would I have called the authorities were it this lady was a white woman? I don’t know. Was I biased on my decision not to do anything about it? Yes, I was. And I think it was more because she was black than she was ill. I honestly don’t know if I would have slept better that night had I called for help.

Not to say everything should go excused and that “my own”, my black community don’t attack or harass one another, however just study your situation and if you sense danger, act accordingly. Keep your distance and call whoever would minimize the danger. Mine was a horrible situation, in reality, that am not sure I painted it exactly the way it was in writing. But am at peace with how I handled it and am glad that it didn’t escalate to an unimaginable situation.

Have you let a situation slide to protect someone? Let me know your thoughts and how you would have handled the above situation if it were you experiencing it.


  • Omongepaul

    Ciru, as I grow older I have learnt many life lessons. For instance, in certain circumstances, like yours here, being right is always not really ‘right’. It is often best to see the human being first.

    I wish that we understand each other just like we understand the weaknesses of our own family members. You desperately pulled me into your story that I secretly wanted your protagonist to be mzungu. But hey, many people are fighting darker wars than we imagine – be they mzungu or not. Otherwise, wise call.

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