It happened about ten years ago now. I was waiting for a workmate outside a mechanics’ early one morning, just before work. I was waiting to give him a lift to work, since his own car needed work. I sat in the driver’s seat parked nextto the curb, in the central part of a small New Zealand town: an eerily silent part of town because it was just after eight in the morning, and the main shops didn’t open until nine.
I remember thinking hard about something as I waited: most likely the day’s teaching load. I was probably stressing about whether we were going to make it to staff briefing on time, because he seemed to be taking ages in there.
I remember hearing an ambulance approach, not from my direction. It appeared at the intersection about 50 metres ahead of where I sat, safe in my car. When I say I ‘heard an ambulance’, I’m not even sure it had its siren on. It may not have, since the reason for a siren is to wend quickly through heavy traffic. There was no heavy traffic.
I wondered what had happened right there in front of me, but I know I didn’t ponder on it for very long because we did make it to work on time and I was soon caught up in the general busyness of a teaching day.
Later that afternoon I learned that a young man had been knocked off his bike in town. I’d assumed suspected head injury, broken bones. But he was dead.
The boy had been cycling towards the boys’ campus with his helmet hanging off his handlebars when he ran a red light and got knocked down by a small car.
When I look back with ten years of hindsight, I feel sure that I saw the boy. I saw his helmet hanging off the handlebars, his arms folded across his chest, bolt upright and infallible I see the small car clearly, too; it’s the same size as mine. With just a few minutes’ difference, it could have been me who knocked the kid off his bike and killed him.
It wasn’t a Movie Death Scene. What strikes me is the complete and utter silence of it all. There are no feminine shrieks, no Hollywood soundtrack, no heavy thuds, edited in later. No gathering crowd. Complete and utter silence.