A few weeks ago I was standing in the checkout line at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op when a woman in a burqa joined the adjacent queue. It was off-white in color, like raw linen. It covered her completely, from head to toe. (I could just see her toes peeking out. She was wearing leather sandals.) I was standing next to her. I could hear her breathing. Her eyes were invisible behind a blank strip of gauze. Incongruously, hideously, it reminded me of Robocop.

I felt appalled. I felt ill. It was like suddenly finding myself next to a man wearing SS insignia and armed with a machine gun. No, that’s not right. It was like being next to an SS prisoner, with a yellow badge on her jacket and a number tattooed on her arm.

I wanted to do something. I wanted to say: Who did this to you? Take me to him and I will tell him a thing or two. But I did nothing. And I haven’t seen her since. But I promise you, next time, I will do something. I don’t know what. But I cannot, must not stand there again, afraid to act, afraid to help. I have to do something. This abuse must not stand. Not if I can do anything about it.