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I was on the train (traveling alone) returning from a trip to Melbourne.

As a country kid born and bred, I like my personal space, so I chose to sit in one of those areas that have four seats facing each other- it’s more spacious than the normal narrow pew. As it was a country line, there were very few people on the train anyway.

A few stops later a family with three young kids got on the train. I offered them my area so that they wouldn’t have to split the family into different rows. They seemed to appreciate that: the father particularly seemed a nice guy.

As I was sitting nearby I heard him answer his mobile phone. He became quite shocked and distressed. The only comment I heard clearly was “it was the heroin he was on wasn’t it?” Apparently one of his mates had been killed in some sort of accident or tragedy.

I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but I was only a few seats away so I heard the mother and father start to bicker over something. The kids were sitting right there, hearing every bitter word. The father even said something to the effect that “they aren’t my kids I never wanted them” or something like that.

Then I heard an ugly sound and caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.

He had slapped her.

Before I could react (or was just starting to wonder how to react) the conductor walked down quite quickly and had a quiet word with the man whispering that “such behaviour is not appropriate” and how it wasn’t allowed on the train etc. The man seemed very apologetic and accepted the conductor’s instructions- not that he apologised to her or anything.

Once the conductor walked away, they maintained a constant flow of snark at each other in a low tone, without any more physical violence. She was red-faced from crying.

There was still a while to go to my train stop. The conductor was no longer in the carriage and I was unsure what I should do if he slapped her again.  I am a weedy young adult with little physical presence or moral authority. I wasn’t sure how he’d react to seeing a whipper-snapper like me walk up to him and tell him to stop acting like a bully.

As it happened, he didn’t slap her again- at least not before I reached my stop. As I hopped off the train I told them “you have some beautiful children” in a (probably vain) attempt to give them (especially the mother) something nice to hold onto during the whole ugly affair.

To be honest, if he had slapped her again, I’m not sure what I would have done. I think I would have got up and told him to “please stop it” or “cut it out” or something. And considering how nice he was to the outside world, maybe he wouldn’t have done what I feared he would’ve done- step up and start punching me for interfering.

I’m trying to be honest. Writing about it now, it seems cowardly to say “I was worried about saying something because I thought he might punch me” but that’s what I thought. Supposing the dreaded situation had happened, what should I have done? Ran off for the conductor? Find a nice way to say “cut it out”? Accept that there was nothing that I could do? Would my interference have helped at all?

I think I would have stood up to him, but I’m not sure if that would have been the wise thing to do.

What should I have done?