The child’s body dropped like a stone from the platform to the track. One moment a boy stood securely on the platform, the next he was a flash of movement downward, vertically, feet first from the platform. No cry, no sound, just a flash of grey school shorts and white school shirt. Standing on the platform a moment earlier he looked small, perhaps a first grader. I did not know him.Now he was an absence, a silence.
I peered downward and could not sight him. I leaned out , far forward, near to my own tipping point. I saw an unsuspected shelf beneath the platform – small enough for a small body, too small for mine. Perhaps the train would miss him, pass him by. Who knew?
The moment after he dropped extended horribly forward into Time. I did not know when the train would come. I was the nearest adult. It would have to be me.
I awakened with a small cry. I sat up in the dark and shook my head, shaking away the image of a small body in a new uniform, passing from safety into the plain where I must step forward. I and only I. The dread lingered long after the unreality – there is no boy; there is no hazard – settled in my mind.
The dread lingered. I think it was not the dread of my dreadful death, but the dread I would delay too long.
What triggered this unearthly vision before the rapid movement of my eyes? Two days earlier I rode my bike home from work. As I pedalled hard past the boys’ school a small body in a white shirt exited a gate just before my flashing wheels. I jammed on the back brake and the front. The hurtling bike stood on its end and stopped. I did not. I fell at the feet of the boy like a stone. He stood, shocked as he regarded the body of an aged man lying at his feet.
One of Australia’s treasures, a relic from an earlier age, plods with measured tread across the country road ahead. One forefoot drags its opposite hindfoot, the second forefoot draws the hindermost, ungainly-stately steps from antiquity into the path of the rushing beast of noise and metal and plastic that is the motor car.
The echidna is a pachyderm*, related to olden things and oldest times. We do not meet as equals on the metalled road. The echidna waddles his slow way, oblivious, helpless, a mute witness to slow time.
The echidna survives. By the grace of remote places and broad emptiness the echidna reaches the other side.
So far I have never hit one.
On my pushbike I am the echidna. Ponderous, of another time, I travel with my unheeding back to the traffic. I too am a relic, not replaceable. My bike – heavy and old and unfashionable – carries two someones’ brother, three children’s father, the grandfather of seven tenderlings, the lover of one wife. My bike carries its freight of olden time awkwardly, a slow forewheel dragging a lagging, swaying rearwheel.
Last week an old friend called and asked – have you ever seen a road fatality close up?
Does it stay with you? How do you handle it?
It never goes away.
My friend saw a cyclist hit by one vehicle, fall into the path of a following truck. He saw the head removed from the trunk then pass beneath a rear wheel.
My friend does not sleep well. He cannot ride there, where he was wont to ride. He will not drive his own car in that road.
My friend lived the moment of witness when a vigorous human became extinct flesh.
I ride on, a human echidna.
*Is it a pachyderm? I’d like to think so, but I fear I am confusing the spiny anteater with the elephant and the woolly haired mammoth. An easy mistake to make.