About a lucky man who made the grade

Written by Jakob Straub

Last Friday, I saw a man being hit by a truck. I ride my bicycle to work almost every day, and on my way, I have to cross a bridge that is basically one big intersection with several lanes. Morning traffic is indeed heavy there. Apart from that traffic bound for other cities is not directed around it on a bypass but goes almost directly through the heart of it, the city I live in is very leaning towards pedestrians or people riding their bike. You really have to watch out for them at times, because they always assume the right of way is on their side.

That morning, I'm halfway across the bridge, passing some other people on their bikes to my right going slower than me, closely watching the street light ahead. Like every morning, I'm waiting for it to turn green. This is when I speed up, pedalling straight over a far stretch.

After that, I'm almost at my destination, the place I work at. As I see the light turn green and shift my attention back to the road and traffic ahead of me, a truck has appeared out of nowhere, crossing our lane. And I see a man on a bicycle right by the streetlight driving straight ahead.

This all happens very fast, but to me, time seems to slow down. It almost looks as if he is riding directly into the truck (which appears to be going very fast), face first. I hear a sort of thudding sound and associate it with the impact, see the man's upper torso being twisted to the right, while his entire body is thrown back and off his bike. I see his face being forced into a distortion. His eyes close. He falls, hits the ground and in the process of it, loses a shoe - a detail I only notice later on, when I'm too distracted too check which one. Otherwise, I'm a close observer, I guess, but the things I take in and especially the thoughts that come to me this morning have a weird touch to them.

I slow down, brake, get off my bike. Suddenly, a lot of people scream.

There are shouts of "Oh my god!" and plain AAAAHs, and I remember thinking whether or not anyone else is hurt because of the screams. I find myself in a changed world and don't know my way around. Nothing is familiar. The bleeding man on the ground is the centre of attention.

It's freezing cold all of a sudden. I cannot focus on any sound other than the voice in my head, saying, "don't look," and I do anyway. "He must be surely dead," is my estimation at the moment. The only movement I can take in is his blood, pulsing from his skull. Then it comes to me that at a similar intersection less than 500 meters away, two people have died in the past month.

He must be dead, too. I get off the road and pat my pockets for my mobile. I can't find it and must have left it at home, but as I look up, there are already two people placing an emergency call. Yet so far no one has gone near the body lying still on the ground. I briefly consider it while at the same time trying to force back whatever knowledge of first aid I ever had, even though I already know I won't be the one to touch him. I am very relieved to see somebody else do it. There are three men over him, and I see he is not dead, not even unconscious. The last of the three has climbed down from his bicycle rather quickly and walked up to the hurt man very authoritatively, like he knows what he's doing. He asks if anyone has called emergency yet.

I wait. We all wait. I don't have a watch on me and try to keep track of time by traffic passing by. There are three cars behind the site of the accident, and a woman is telling them one by one to move to the left and drive around the site. There's a bus letting passengers off right there on the bridge because he can't go any further. I guess that three or four long minutes have passed until I hear the wailing of an ambulance in the distance. Another man on a bicycle is crossing its path as it is trying to manoeuvre through halted traffic over to us. I'm thinking how this can be, that someone is oblivious to what has happened here, because the whole world must be watching this man on the ground, observing his every breath. I guess I'm wrong.

Two men get off the ambulance, one jogging to the victim and the other going round back of the vehicle to get a stretcher-gurney-thing. I remember thinking of 'The Virgin Suicides', "this ain't TV, folks, this is how fast we go." The victim seems able to talk to them and gestures to the left half of his face. A little way farther up, half of his skull is torn open from where the moving truck brushed him. The ambulance driver smiles at him. Yes, I can still see him smiling reassuringly as he grabs the man's arms and lays them down again at his sides. This is where I stop looking, and shortly after, a second ambulance arrives.

I take the first conscious breath since the thud. Other sounds return; I notice car horns and the impatience of traffic around us. I search out a public clock and note I'm fifteen minutes late for work. The world is still freezing cold, though the sun is up and there's not a cloud anywhere to be seen. I look at people. Most of them have a hollow look on their faces. The world seems dark, drained of colour. Strange how that expression can sound so used up and still apply right then and there. I keep shooting glances over at the victim and hallucinate pieces of brain lying around. I don't know what a brain looks like, really, and it's probably all just blood.

I decide to stick around and wait for the police, offering my witness's account, realizing I was not that far behind him. Realizing that if I had crossed the bridge any faster, this could have been me. I'm sick and wonder when I'll be able to eat something. I haven't had breakfast and was looking forward to buying a buttered pretzel or a roll at the bakery next door from work.

There is a girl clerk working there I find quite attractive, same as the waitress at the bar where I sit writing this, feeling drunk already after just two beers. Life of Brian talk at the next table. I feel two old Adam Green tickets in my jacket's pocket. I need to go to the toilet. I can't believe I'm sitting here on my own.

When they finally roll the gurney into the ambulance, the driver talks to a policeman about a fractured skull, dilated pupils and some sort of trauma. As they're talking, the other man from the ambulance cleans part of the medical equipment they used with disinfectant spray. He's really just rinsing off blood. If anyone around is calm, the two of them are. I hear a woman sobbing loudly.

The victim will live, though I don't know that yet. I finally can give my address and phone number to a police officer. In the evening, he calls me at home and we arrange to meet the same evening at the station so I can give my witness's account. Afterwards I inquire about the man's condition and hear he'll make it through. Did I wish to have seen something more drastic? Watch someone die? The basic facts are that the truck driver missed a red light and the man on the bicycle didn't see him coming. Had either one of them been going any faster, the man would have been killed instantly.

How to finish this? I feel diminished afterwards, the way you feel when you collide head on with reality, thinking I will never ride my bike in this city again. What a silly thought. I'm half an hour late for work, with a story to tell.

From the police station, I head straight to my favourite bar. In the company of a beer, I begin getting this down. I want to stick around in case the place empties and I'm left alone with the waitress and can ask her out. I kind of wish for a similar situation at the bakery so I dare ask the girl working there out.

More foolish thinking. The beer is working against me; after three of them, I'll be barely able to pay and walk out, trying not to sway too much.

There is a triangular shape of light on the triangular table where I'm sitting. None of this has any significance, I realize. There is the world of what-could-have-been down the path of what-if questions; had he worn a helmet etc. What I witnessed today might have changed me or influence my behaviour, but still that doesn't signify anything.

And right before the end of this article is the best opportunity to fit in some advice along the lines of "seize the day" or every day could be your last, but each day you live will only remain a day in your life.

Stuff like that can make you feel a great loneliness.