Staring story

I was driving to see my mother in Manchester and passing through a small Lancashire town. I got stopped at traffic lights and had a clear view of the two or three shops on the opposite corner. There was a crowd of probably 8 or 9 teenagers outside one of the shops, and a fight started between two boys. The others crowded round, egging on their favourite.

I had recently started teaching in a secondary school, where managing fights was occasionally part of the job. And was also thinking about recent changes to the law on afray, making it possible to convict members of a group even if not personally involved in criminality some of the group engaged in. So was watching closely what occurred as I waited for the lights to change.

There was a girl on the edge of the group with her back to me, hovering, clearly uncertain as to whether to walk away or to join the egging-on. I concentrated on her, staring hard, thinking ‘don’t get involved’. She did, pushing in and bending over to see how the fight was going. Then, very suddenly she stood bolt upright and spun round. She didn’t look anywhere else, she made immediate direct eye contact with me, even though I was in a nondescript car along with others, and behind the windscreen.

She looked straight at me, unwavering, for probably 20 or 30 seconds which is a long time, than followed me with her eyes as the lights changed and I drove away past her.

I am sure that she sensed me staring.