It was the peak of summer in Europe, and I was spending holidays back in my hometown, running away from Winter in New Zealand. One of the many excuses I had given myself to travel home was that the European Cup of Football was on, and, as a good patriot, I flew back there and took a month to myself.
On this particular summer night, my national team was on the final of the Championship for the second time in history (I still remember the defeat on the first one), and the capital was booming. I watched the game in the suburbs with my family, and as soon as the final whistle blew, with Portugal lifting its first-ever cup, we rushed downtown to indulge in celebration.
Everyone had rushed out onto the streets, in a party that I will never forget. Even tourists (and there was a fair bit of them) couldn’t help but rejoice and celebrate this achievement that brought so much happiness to literally millions in that city.
We made it to the main plaza in Lisbon, and after a few hours of celebration with my family, they decided it was time to head back home. With a moment like this in history, and with no chores or work in sight for the next week, I stayed back to enjoy it. I called my cousins and friends, who took roughly an hour to arrive, seeing that the town was in total chaos. During this hour of contemplation, I understood that wherever you are in the world, even if you are surrounded by thousands of people, there are always moments of loneliness. This gave me a feeling that I can’t really put into words, as if whatever the world threw at me, I would be ready to face it and cop it in the chin.
When I finally met with my cousins and friends, out in town we were, raising our glasses to the sweet taste of victory. Since this was unprecedented, and considering this is a country that doesn’t have reasons to celebrate too often, it was inevitable that the party turned sour.
Into the night we went, drunken with pride and amazed at the total chaos the city was in, when we noticed this group of teens sitting at a park bench, with a shirtless guy standing in front of them. As we were walking past, this big bloke started slapping and yelling at them, feeding on their fear. Dozens of people were walking past, simply pretending to ignore it, as this was a buff, angry, up-to-no-good guy. As I look back, I realize a night like that one can get people to try drugs they haven’t tried before, or to drink until they forget how miserable they feel about themselves.
Seeing this was a night for celebration, and watching the helpless look on the teenagers faces, I couldn’t help to intervene. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to let them be. As he was turning around to face me, I felt I was in one of those movies scenes where the big guy looks down with a sickening grin on the guy he is about to destroy. The look of relief on the teenager’s faces was immediately worth it, though. I told them to get out of there, and off they went, their night marked forever.
Soon I realized this gave me the bully’s undivided attention. I looked him in the eye and told him I wasn’t looking for trouble. Seeing the teens were gone, I started walking away, being showered by provocations. There were a couple of moments that I turned back, and we found ourselves within punching distance, with the anger in his eyes leading me to believe a fight was unavoidable. Somehow, I kept my calm (even though my heart was pumping out of my chest) and kept walking.
I have never been one for fighting, but once again I managed to talk my way out of it. I would say to avoid conflict, or at least injuries, one must stand tall, without being provocative in any way. After two long minutes that looked like an hour, the drugged-up bully finally came to his senses, and apologized, acknowledging respect.
I was utterly disgusted, not so much by this guy, who clearly had some issues, but at the dozens of people who just stood aside. We have all been those teenagers, one way or the other, feeling defenseless. It may sound like a cliché, but I can say this was a night of many victories, as there is nothing more satisfying than going out of your own way to help people in distress!