Older Romani woman recounts how security guards in Czech shop saved her from violent racist thug
Just about anybody who is Romani has experienced it in the Czech Republic from time to time. You walk into a shop and the salespeople follow your every move.
All you have to do is spend a slightly longer amount of time looking at the items on display and you are Suspect Number One. God forbid you take clothing into a changing room to try on!
For most retailers here, we Roma are not considered shoppers spending our money on what they have to offer, but first and foremost we are considered potential thieves. For that reason we prefer to shop regularly at retailers where the salespeople and the security guards know us.
My family and I live on the main street in town. The apartments here are more expensive, but that's the price of a good address.
We have a cinema, a library, a swimming pool, a bus station, and a big shopping mall with a ground-floor supermarket in our neighborhood. When my daughter and I began shopping there, we were spotted by each security team, but over time nobody suspected us of anything anymore and we felt fine shopping there.
My daughter and I used to buy something there practically every day, and sometimes we'd chat with the delicatessan saleswoman, sometimes with the cashier. Two Romani women were employed there as saleswomen.
Each time we came in they'd say hello, and sometimes they would even draw our attention to whatever was on sale. One day I began to feel unwell during my shopping trip there.
At the time I was almost 62 and I had already begun to have health problems. I wanted to get the shopping over with and go home to unwind.
I shuffled my way slowly to the shop, took a small shopping basket, and headed straight to the baked goods section. My head began to spin a bit, so I grabbed onto the counter.
After a brief moment one of the saleswomen came up to me. "What's wrong with you? Don't you feel well?" she asked with concern.
"Well... my head was spinning," I managed to say. "It's the air in here," the lady said, and ran to get me some water.
After a couple of sips I felt better and I was on my way to the drugstore section when I realized I hadn't bought any pastry yet. I turned around and standing in my way was an enormous guy with a shaved head, a long beard, a bloated figure and a face so red it looked like he had fallen asleep under the full sun.
"Well, well, you're not going to get one over on me...," he menacingly thundered while towering over me. I just stared at him.
Why was he speaking to me like that, for God's sake? I thought about it and I didn't want to give in to him.
"Well who do you think you are, get out of my way," I said and tried to get around him. He had a shopping cart in front of him and he slammed it into me with such force that I fell against the shelves behind me.
"Ow! Have you lost your mind?" I shouted.
The man laughed at me and took off into the next aisle. I was trembling all over like an aspen, but I collected myself.
There was nobody around to stand up for me. Back at the baked goods section tears blurted out of my eyes.
What was wrong with me? I must be getting old, because a couple of years ago I'd have used my purse to hit the guy on the head.
The saleswoman who had brought me water before came over again to ask "What's wrong?" I swallowed a gasp and told her what had just happened to me.
Her eyes widened and she went to inform the security guards. I joined the checkout line.
"Hey this cigna is stealing from my cart!" I heard behind me, and I understood, as he made his way to the basket in front of me, that my harasser was back. "Leave me alone! If my husband were here you wouldn't pretend to be such a big guy," I said angrily.
"What do you think, you black thieving mug? My taxes pay for your living, so I can say what I want to you, you stinking cigoška," he shouted at me, hatred flashing from his eyes.
"Leave that lady alone right now!" one of the saleswomen called out. "What do you think you're doing?" she continued and approached him.
I began to seriously fear for the saleswoman's safety. "This is a cigoška! I'll slap her right here if I want to!" he said, raising his hand.
I was so overwhelmed I couldn't defend myself. That's when it happened.
His swinging right hand was stopped by another, smaller hand. A young man twisted my harasser's arm behind his back and forced him to his knees.
"You won't do anything to our customers! You're never coming back here!" my rescuer shouted into the man's face.
Other guys from security ran up and pushed my harasser to the ground. I was so out of it that I didn't even realize at the time that the other people standing in line were beginning to applaud them.
The bearded guy was taken away by the police who had been called, and I finally could breathe again. I still couldn't comprehend what had just happened to me.
The young man from the security team snapped me out of my reverie. "I saw it on the security camera, when he ran into you with the cart. I ran down, but I lost him among the shelves," he said to me in the tone one would use with one's own grandmother or mother.
"Thank you so much for standing up for me," I said in a shaking voice, and I was genuinely grateful to him. "Any normal person would," he answered.
"Come, I'll walk you home. I told my boss I'd need a 10-minute break," he said with a smile, and offered me his arm in a gentlemanly way.
He walked me to the entrance of my building and I realized that what I'd just experienced would haunt me a while longer. On the other hand, I'd just met a good person who was not afraid to stand up for somebody who is weaker.
First published in Romano vod'i magazine (Czech only).
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