Customer Encounters #14 – The night I became a victim

Assault/Common assault – An unlawful infliction of force/violence, or a hostile act – for example, a threatening gesture – which causes another person to fear that immediate violence will occur.

When you’re working in a takeaway it is quite common to hear stories of assaults, violence, anti-social behaviour and so on being inflicted on businesses either nearby or who are similar to you. Indeed I heard of stories of altercations taking place at my takeaway, but I was never a victim of them until one evening a few weeks ago.

It is very common to get the odd juvenile trying to act like a smart arse and cause a nuisance, but you never quite imagine it to end up in that individual actually assaulting you.

How it all happened was a guy of about 15 years old came in, navy blue hoody with the strings on the hood pulled down so that you couldn’t see the colour of his hair let alone see any distinguishing features.

He said he was hungry and had no money and if I could give him a saveloy with that smug “aren’t I cool” smirk. Immediately I was having flashbacks of the time a guy came in asking for a chicken tikka masala or a korma and I wondered if it was the same guy but I can’t confidently say it was. But my professionalism prevailed and I chose to ignore him and assumed he would leave.

He had his clan of friends with him watching, about two, maybe three waiting outside. He hung around for about a minute and I told my parents that he was just messing around, just ignore him. He began to head towards the door but instead of going out he grabbed two chairs (which were joined together) and threw it towards the counter my first reaction was to cry out “oh my God!” and I screamed. I don’t know if he was intending to throw it over the counter, but the only damage caused was that he chipped a bit of the chair, which collided with the counter.

Dad told mum to call the police but she was slightly hesitant because whenever the police were called they would never turn up and she knew in this case they wouldn’t. I mean lets face it, nothing was severely damaged and no one was injured, we wouldn’t have been a priority case.

Dad was getting agitated and progressively angrier and was demanding to call the police. He then took out his anger on me and said that if I stayed at the counter and watched them instead of ignoring them then this would not have happened. He then said that I should have seen it coming and then made an irrelevant comment about me playing Tetris on my phone and somehow linking it to what had just happened.

The police said they would come in 15 minutes but they never did. Before closing time the owner of the grocers around the corner said the same group had been throwing fruit and vegetables at the counter. He said that this was the fourth time this happened in a month and he called the police several times and no one helped him.

My dad assumed the attack must have been racially motivated given that the guy who owned the grocery shop around the corner was also Asian and similar attacks like this happened in the past. Also the fish and chip shop were right next door to us and there didn’t appear to be an attack on them, and I have trouble imagining that the same group would incite a similar act against a fish and chip shop or even a pie and mash shop.

I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting the attack was racially motivated, there was nothing that they said that suggested it was, but that is a possibility. I spoke to my friend about it afterwards and he suggested that they assumed I must have just been some immigrant who couldn’t speak English and thought I was an easy target.

I know I sound silly suggesting that what just happened was in any way serious, much worse things happened during the summer riots in 2011. As I said before no one was physically hurt, the only thing that was damaged was my pride and confidence really. But it all happened so quickly and I was quite shaken after that and I had to act normal as though nothing had happened, a customer came in and I couldn’t even hold a pen properly and I was even struggling to open up plastic bags, I had never been assaulted before so the was quite shaken that it happened so quickly.

My dad was angry at me and mum and I felt like I was being made to feel that it was my fault this happened, and I went to escape to the bathroom upstairs and actually burst out crying feeling vulnerable, weak and angry that I couldn’t even stop a 15 year-old from hurling a chair.

A History of Violence

I often hear stories about attacks taking place outside Chinese takeaways, sometimes of a racial nature, other times because of the person being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I remember one evening being spooked by a Crimewatch report of a Chinese teenager from Northern Ireland who was murdered outside his takeaway as he took the rubbish out. The only thing you think really is “thank goodness that doesn’t happen here”.

Last Christmas my aunt, uncle and baby cousin came over from Singapore. My aunt was born in the UK and moved to find work in Hong Kong whilst the UK was having their recession and then eventually found herself in Singapore, where she met my uncle and they later had a baby.

My aunt like me also worked in the takeaway, but unlike me she started a lot younger, she could barely reach the counter but was taking orders past midnight from bigger men who had just come from the pub. In a lot of ways I suppose that lead to my aunt being quite tough in the workplace.

We’d often get stories from my aunt about what it was like when she worked there, how insanely busy it was, how they used to spend Christmas watching the TV in the kitchen, and the occasional police scare. It was then I realised that I never got these kinds of stories from my dad.

Whenever my aunt comes over we will bring back a pancake roll, chips and curry sauce for her, and she would get very excited, after all this was the food of her childhood.

One evening after work and she asked me how was the evening and I would tell her about the day, were there any difficult customers and so on. She then told me a long time ago, just as they were closing shop they were attacked.

My dad and my uncle got into a brawl outside the takeaway with a group of thugs who had dragged my grandfather out onto the street. My grandfather was wiping the counter at the time getting ready to close shop and out of nowhere these thugs came and hauled him out.

My grandmother told her two daughters – my two aunts – to hide upstairs. She stayed in the kitchen and began the to bang the meat cleaver on the table and making a lot of noise in the kitchen hoping that it would scare the thugs away. My aunt recalled peering through the windows and shaking as she watched the whole thing from upstairs.

She didn’t tell me if they were a regular occurence, although I imagine that they did happen from time to time if they weren’t frequent.

Of course times have changed; drunken brawls haven’t happened since I started working there. Back then there used to be three pubs quite close to each other, now two of those pubs have been closed down and built over.

Whilst I am quite lucky, it made me realise there was a lot about the takeaway I never really asked about, mainly because my dad or nan hardly ever talked about it.