I didn’t see the key, but I felt it. He punched it, secured between two fingers, into my face, straight between my eye and my nose. It was excruciating. My tear duct sliced in two. My orbit – the bony sheath surrounding my eye – shattered with the pressure. It sent me reeling. With the bystanders having moved away quickly, I was forced to defend myself, partly blinded by the pouring blood, insane with rage and terror as I thought I’d lost my eye, and managed to wrestle him to the ground. A nearby police van emptied rapidly and we were pulled apart.
By the time I got to hospital friends had joined me. My horrendously contorted face was patched up. Tests on my vision. Look this way. Can you see the dot? Look that way. What can you see? Every time I failed to see something, I’d well up. A nightmare unfolding; unlike most, one not of my making. Instead the result of a skinhead filled with hate and booze. All the way back from the hospital people had stared at me. I’ll never forget one woman who looked at me with a mix of disgust and fear – she assumed I was some kind of thug – and crossed the road to avoid me. I’d worked hard at school, university and in life to avoid that kind of shit. A mentally robust, confident and strong man became a recluse. My flatmate, Joanna, tried to help. But I was just terrified. I saw that sucker punch every night. Keep going over my mistakes. Should’ve ducked. Move the other way. Push his arm down. It took a month before I was fully healed and I could leave my house.
Slowly things went back to normal. The Metropolitan Police were amazing. I had a named contact who spoke to me a number of times; even if I just wanted to say I felt the fear again. Once when I’d drunk myself into a stupor to forget on a day I flinched at every sound I heard. A date was set for court months later, and by then I had recovered fully. I was weeks away from going to university for my course. As I got to Southwark Crown Court, I felt good. Life was not bad for me. My face was back to normal and my eye had healed apart from a small scar that, frankly, made me look cool.
As I got inside, the CPS barrister sat me down and explained the case. And then I asked the question that changed both mine, and I hope, my attacker’s life. I asked about him. Who he was.
My attacker was five years older than me. He’d had a history of abuse as a child. As a youth and then adult, he’d lashed out at society. Several minor crimes. A major crime. Jail and release. For a while he’d been fine. Eight months earlier, days after he’d attacked me, his girlfriend had his child. They married. Since the attack he’d shown huge regret. He’d attended courses. Alcohol. Violence. Reports were positive; he’d engaged with the teams and tried to sort himself out. Tried to get his life back on track. I stopped for a moment. Could I really condemn this man to jail? For months all I’d done was read up on the law surrounding racially aggravated actual bodily harm – the crime they’d charged him with. He’d go down for some time all things considered. And I wanted that. I’d thought about my righteous vengeance. I would stand up in court, healed, and watched that bastard go down. But suddenly my lust for vengeance had gone. I was dealing with a human being. As vulnerable and shitty as I was in so many ways.
And so I wrote to the judge. I told him I was better physically and mentally. That I was positive about my future and how my future was the result of a benevolent society that had let the child of immigrants in Manchester have a full and successful life. I was, for all intents, happy. I told him I wanted my attacker to know that this “Paki” was a forgiving and loving person that could find it in my heart to forgive and love my attacker if he could use that to counter his negative perceptions of my race. If my forgiveness could gift him understanding. And that if he was truly regretful, that it would break my heart to separate a child from his father. And a father from his child.
The judge that day heard my plea and gave my attacker a suspended sentence. My act of forgiveness gave me control over my destiny and my feelings; I have never felt scared or had a flashback to that incident since. And, as I heard from the CID officer I’d been dealing with, it gave him his chance at redemption and putting a life of anger and violence behind him. A chance he took. Nothing in my life gives me more pride or pleasure. That I could help one man change.