Accident no.17

2009

I’m facing into the street – struggling to lock my bike to a lamppost. I wind the lock around the lamppost, through my bicycle and back. Eventually I succeed in wrangling the objects together.

As I straighten up, I find myself looking at the large traffic intersection of Southampton Row and High Holborn. On the opposite side of the road a businessman emerges from between two stationary cars. He pauses to assess the traffic – the lights are still on red and he gauges that he has enough time. He begins to cross. His suit flaps open around his belly as he attempts to hurry across the four lanes of empty tarmac.

Nearly at the middle of the road the traffic lights change. The man hesitates. Internal combustion engines growl as taxis and buses lumber slowly into motion. One powerful motorbike, though, explodes out from the pack – its engine screaming a different high-pitched squeal.

The businessman sees this and starts to head back to the safety of the pavement. The motorbike rider, however, has guided his machine to pass behind him. The bike is flying through the air at escalating speed – only a few microseconds have passed since it leapt from the starting line. The rider now sees the man’s change of direction and leans the other way – altering his path to pass in front of the hesitating man. But the businessman makes the same decision.

Two very soft things and one lump of metal merge together for a moment. The impact is strangely silent. There is no thunder-crack of metal and plastic ripping apart. No audible punctuation for the violent things that are unfolding in front of my eyes – except perhaps a dull thud like someone hitting a sofa.

Instantly, the three objects all have new trajectories. The motorbike continues its journey spinning across the tarmac on its side like a hockey-puck skimming over the ice. It is now heading almost straight towards me. The rider also glides across the tarmac moving impossibly fast but on a slightly different path. The motorbike skims past my lamppost on my right. And the rider, spinning on his back, flies past me on the left.

Finally there is the noise. I don’t see it but the bike crumples as it hits the front of a shop behind me and the rider bounces off the wall nearby. I don’t see this because I am still looking in the same direction as I was a second ago when I first straightened up. The grey suit of the businessman lies on the tarmac, like a bundle that has fallen off a lorry. Four lanes of traffic are still just beginning to move across the junction. They are heading towards the soft, motionless lump almost exactly halfway across the carriageway.

Without thinking I run into the road, waving my hands above me. I reach the bundle. The traffic flows either side of me and then stops. I look down. The lump still looks like a man – perhaps a man lying face down after too much drink. The smart pinstripe lines are still straight – only his hair is slightly confused. There is a strange gurgling sound though, like the last bit of water leaving a sink. The grey of the suit matches the London tarmac but there is a pool of deep red liquid expanding across the chips of asphalt. His face lies in this pool – his unseen nostrils blowing sticky red bubbles in Ribena.

Everything is still.

Suddenly there are lots of people. A man emerges who seems to be a doctor or at least acts like he knows what to do. I watch as other people do things. The body of the businessman still seems to be connected in all the right places. More people arrive on the scene, I can no longer see clearly through all their legs, but the man seems to have regained consciousness. With help, he sits up. Sirens grow louder from the surrounding streets. Ambulances and police cars appear. Things are moved. Police take statements from three people who say they saw everything. I am still stood at the back. The time comes to leave the road and the people drift away.

Returning to the lamppost, I watch the vehicles and officials disperse. The traffic begins to flow again. For a long moment I am at a loss. I unlock my bike and cycle slowly away.