The streets erupted in violence and then everybody went back to their cappuccinos.
The title about says it all.
I was walking though a small sidewalk market near a metro stop on the north side of the Dnieper River in Kyiv. The sun was shining, it was the middle of the afternoon, ladies were out selling flowers, young couples were sipping cappuccinos around the coffee carts, vendors were hawking their cheap cutlery and other household wares.
Suddenly, the crowd abruptly parted and a heavy set fifty year old guy was struggling to get up from his knees from right below me. I initially thought he fell down on his own — maybe a heart attack or another sort of medical emergency. He rose and stumbled for a few steps, then anxiously turned to look behind him.
From around a corner a smallish man with his head covered in what appeared to be a white fishnet stocking was running towards us with a crowbar in his hand. The stocking only covered his head and neck, leaving his face exposed, kind of like a scuba diver’s hood. He ran straight for the old guy wobbling next to me and viciously struck him in the side with the crowbar. He yelled something. The old guy raised his fists as if to fend off the attack. The man with the crowbar struck him again, yelled something, and then proceeded to pummel him.
The crowded parted to watch. We winced as we heard the flat thump of metal against flesh and bone. The two fell back into a flower display, the old woman who ran it began screaming at them to take their beating elsewhere. Another man jumped in and began punching the old guy. The recipient of the blows eventually falling to the ground, whereupon the man with the crowbar thumped him over and over.
At that moment the realization arose that what I was watching was merely a beating. This wasn’t murder. The audience was not going to get a grand finale of brains. The blows from the crowbar purposefully landing on arms and torso rather than head. But this doesn’t mean that it wasn’t absolutely violent and didn’t give you that tight feeling in your gut that you get when watching something heinous.
Of course, as people, we watch these things. There was a crowd. Thump, thump, thump went the crowbar, the man beneath was fully subdued.
Then something inexplicable happened. The hooded enforcer rose up from his labor, held out his arms in a pose of dominance, and, out of the entire circle of spectators looked directly at me. Was it the look on my face? Did he never beat someone with a crowbar in front of a foreigner before? We made eye contact for a moment. I looked at the crowbar still firmly clenched in his hand. I felt a chill and the urge to flee.
But soon after laughed at myself — the guy wasn’t going to beat me just for watching him beat someone else. I walked back to see how the ordeal would end. The old guy was on his feet. A stream of blood was emanating from his face and covering the hand he was using to stem the flow. He was talking with the hooded man, who was now holding his weapon loosely by his side. They both then nodded and the victor swiftly led the man he bloodied down a side alley and into an obscure entrance of a nearby building.
It seemed to have been a dispute over money; a good chance mafia related — who else has the impunity to beat people in the streets in broad daylight with a crowbar?
Then, what is truly interesting here, is that the street instantly returned to its previously peaceful state. The women went back to selling their flowers, the couples returned to sipping their cappuccinos, the vendors went back to hawking as though people beating other people with crowbars here is something that happens as regularly as the passing of a warm summer day.