The grey early evening seemed sticky and was threatening to liquefy in a matter of seconds. Yet somehow it felt like ashes would start pouring down instead of rain. A couple more minutes and I’d be home and cosy, closing the curtains on this depressing, dreary weather. Some good food, a nice cup of tea… oh, let’s be honest, a nice glass of wine is more like it.
My car slowed down and then stopped, together with all the other ones, before I became aware of the reason or even of the fact that it was happening. Instinct, force of habit, muscle memory, all of them combined and more, it’s what keeps us safe when driving while completely immersed in different thoughts. Well, not all of us… the line of red lights from stopped cars was leading to a set of different lights, blinking ones, piercing through the heavy fog. Not that again… now it’ll take forever…
I would normally see my building from where I was stopped, but on that fog I could barely distinguish those distorted lights blinking ahead. Nothing new, that bend in the road is yet again the scene of some incident. The visibility is terrible and even if they moved the crossing further down the road, that doesn’t stop people from using that exact place in order to get on the other side… of the street, of course. Many have lived in the area for a long time and changes of that sort are simply something they cannot accept – nothing can determine them to walk a few extra metres, even if that distance could be what separates life from death. If you live or work around here or if you simply have to drive down that street often enough, then you know better and you slow down, just in case someone decides to plunge right in front of your car without looking or thinking twice about it; but if you don’t, then you’d better have really good breaks… Nothing special really, there are so many spots of the sort in any big town, that you hardly think about it anymore.
Damn it, I should have stopped by that little pastry shop… an assortment of their delicious treats would be just right for the evening… after all, if this isn’t the weather for that kind of splurge, then what is? But we’re barely moving, it’s rather late already, by the time I manage to get back there, they’d be closed. Now I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about their chocolate cake all evening… and those éclairs, their so delicious and the choux is so light… I’d make it back there in time, but for this stupid traffic jam… Damn it, damn it, damn it!
Oh look… that must be the car… and that must be the person who tried to get on the other side of the street… Some people would normally get out of their cars for a better view of mundane drama. But nobody wants to be out in this weather, not even the few pedestrians can be bothered to slow down and take a closer look. Everybody’s in a hurry to get to whatever sheltered destination they’re heading to, so the paramedics can do their job undisturbed.
But maybe… let’s see… I close my eyes for a moment and review the contents of my kitchen cupboard. Yes, that’s it! I could make brownies tonight… the good ones, the really chocolaty ones. Do I have all the ingredients, do I have enough of everything? Maybe I’ve got the recipe on my phone as well, I can’t remember the exact quantities… I know I have it on the computer… no, no, it’s not on my phone… why would it be on my phone anyway? Oh well, I’ll see what’s what when I get home.
The old lady seems fine, she’s standing and chatting with the paramedics. She’ll probably get away with a few bruises and a good scare. Maybe she’ll cross the street somewhere safe from now on… Or maybe not – I know a few persons who have been through similar experiences, yet they haven’t learnt anything. Somehow it always comes down to blaming others for your own carelessness.
There’s the driver as well, leaning against her small car. I get the feeling that’s the only thing that prevents her from collapsing, that’s how terrified she looks. She’s about twenty and judging by the license plates on her car, she’s from another part of the country.
There’s really nothing to see. Slowly, one by one, the cars drive by the accident scene without paying too much attention. We’re jaded. We’re resilient. But above everything, we’re used to it. We live in a big town and such accidents are all too common. We’ve all seen much worse than this, most of us have witnessed car crashes and/or people being run over by cars at least once in our lives. See this sort of thing often enough and you’ll become immune; you have no other choice, if you don’t want to go insane.
The girl’s terrified face somehow got to me through the fog. The pedestrian wasn’t badly injured, the little car had no visible dent or broken bits, so she must have been driving slowly, carefully… I know the general tendency is to blame the driver, yet who was really to blame, who was the reckless one?… I remember how much I used to hate driving through that kind of weather. But after having done it enough times, I got used to it; I can’t say I particularly enjoy it, but I don’t mind it either. That’s just the way things are. I do remember how afraid I was, though… the same way I remember how I was afraid of running somebody over when I was learning how to drive. Each time I avoid hitting somebody who suddenly decides to run in the middle of the street for no apparent reason, right after that instant the danger has passed and my heart can start beating again, I remember that fear.
Some feelings and sensations are difficult to outgrow… so how come we’ve managed to outgrow our own instincts, our survival instincts? I’ve seen stray dogs looking left and right before crossing, or waiting at a traffic light for people to start walking first and only then would they also start crossing, convinced they were safe. Yet judging by the way some humans tend to simply throw themselves in front of moving vehicles without taking the slightest precaution, I can’t help but wonder why we imagine we’re such intelligent creatures.
They’re the ones driving, they can stop. They should be careful. I’ve heard this kind of statements more times than I can count or remember. I dug my nails deep into my mother’s arm once, preventing her from stepping in front of a car just because some unknown revelation made her believe the other side of the street would was better place to be. Very displeased with my actions, she noted that I bruised her arm by doing that – anyway, what was I trying to prove? The heap of metal driving her way would have hurt a lot worse, I thought. Well, they should have stopped, they should pay attention when driving and protect pedestrians. But what if they didn’t stop, what if they couldn’t have avoided you? Obviously it’s their fault – you’re not trying to blame me for crossing the street where I wasn’t allowed to, are you? – they are the ones driving. Would it hurt any less just because they were driving? Would you enjoy being an invalid better just because they were driving? Would rotting in a grave be more satisfying just because they were driving? I hated her that instant – she used to drive too, she knew what a difference a second can make and how difficult it is to avoid certain situations. If you care that little about your life and wellbeing, why do you expect anybody else to care more?
I decided not to go straight home – the brownies could wait a little bit longer. I drove through the fog for a while. We learn to bend our survival instincts to suit the risks we need to take on a daily basis. We also accept the metamorphosis of these instincts, the walls we need to build to protect our mind and soul in order to thrive. Metaphorically speaking, we are both road kill and daring drivers, sometimes both at the same time; we are aware of it and supposedly we know how far we can push the boundaries. So what’s the point when we decide we’re invincible on all plains? When and why do we decide it’s other people’s duty to protect us more than we are willing to protect ourselves? Somewhere, somehow, we decided it was acceptable to relinquish even that responsibility to ourselves, that it was acceptable to burden other people’s conscience with our own self-destruction.
I got back home none the wiser. I enjoyed the chocolaty brownies and life went on, the way it always does. I didn’t expect to find answers in the fog, but it was a good reminder to ask the questions – as long as I still ask myself certain questions, I feel grounded in reality.