I was enjoying the afternoon sun at a street cafe just outside the Nobel Peace center in Oslo. My husband was fetching coffee. It was peaceful, I shut my eyes and enjoyed the calm, the warmth of the sun, the luxury of a leisurely afternoon.
I woke up by someone swatting with a newspaper, I looked around, and saw a woman hitting another, a gypsy beggar, with a rolled up newspaper. The gypsy woman was standing close to a couple on a neighboring table, shaking a paper-cup, not saying anything. At first I thought the attacking lady was chasing a wasp or something away from the poor woman, then I heard her: “go away, we do not like the likes of you around here!”
Instantly the couple got up, left their coffee and started to leave the cafe. “Are you leaving then?”, the indignant, paper-wielding woman said. “Oh yes, “the man said, “we do not want to be seen near the likes of you.”
This rumpled the norwegian lady, she made some grumbling noises and left too.
It was all over in a couple of seconds. I could hardly believe it had happened. But the rolled up paper was still on her table.
It was all over in a couple of seconds, the shame of it has lived with me for a week. Not as much that a fellow citizen acted on her prejudices, but that I was not quick enough. That I was not brave enough, that my values had not propelled me into action, but into bewilderment and fear. The moment to say” no” had come and gone, and I had not said anything. This time, somebody else did. What if they had not?
Just up the street we passed the Gestapo headquarters during the 2nd world war. What happens when nobody dares to be the one to say no?