Diffused by the pouring rain, the beam from our headlights bathed the scene with an eerie white glow. There was an overwhelming atmosphere of dread. The air smelled of pain, fear, panic and confusion. The scent seeped from the capillaries in my nostrils to my brain where it built up pressure until it felt like my skull was going to explode. Near our vehicle was an overturned tricycle. Scattered around it were 7 badly injured people, most of them moaning in pain. I say most because one of them wasn't. The driver of the tricycle lay underneath his vehicle, silent. His head was bloody, his limbs were contorted into unnatural angles. It was a scene straight out of a twilight zone episode. All that was needed was a grayscale filter, which would've been particularly useful to hide the blood and the gore. I didn't have that grayscale filter though. The colors around me bombarded my eyes in the most unwelcome fashion. For a few minutes, I was paralyzed. Thoughts blazed through my head at lightspeed. The scene was right before my eyes but the mind would not believe that it was real. As I tried to make sense of what I was seeing, the immediate past, the present and the future all tried to squeeze themselves in my head at the same time. Through all the confusion, I tried retracing what had happened a few minutes earlier.
It was almost midnight and there was a slight drizzle. I was making a left turn from Congressional Avenue towards a perpendicular road. It would've been a sharp, right-angle turn across a 3-lane highway which curved a little bit. In between my side of the road and the other side was a center island strewn with trees which slightly limited the visibility of the cars coming from the other side. I approached the turn. I looked for oncoming vehicles. I only saw one vehicle which was still quite far away so I decided to take the turn. I had already occupied one lane of the road when I saw a tricycle with its lights off speeding towards us. It was moving along the lane closest to the island. It was travelling at a really fast speed so I had very limited time to react. In another split second, it hit the passenger side door of our vehicle.
Being on the driver's side, I didn't feel the impact as much as my passenger did. Immediately after the impact, I stepped out of the vehicle and I cursed at the driver, telling him that he didn't have his lights on. That was before I saw his body lying face-down on the road and the carnage that surrounded him. Whatever I was thinking or whatever I was saying came to an abrupt halt and everything froze.
Before that night, I had never been in an accident that resulted in anything more than a minor dent and I wasn't at fault in any of them, save for one. I had never seen a wound that exposed anything underneath the skin. I had never seen a broken limb, I had never seen an exposed eyeball. I had never seen a dead body. I lost my innocence that night and I lost it in one of the most brutal ways possible.
After a few minutes, I was able to partially collect myself. I tried to comfort my companion who looked like she was in shock and asked her to go back inside the vehicle. I tried to get the tricycle upright again so it wouldn't rest on top of the driver. At this point, the moans were getting louder. There was a certain grogginess in their moans that made them sound almost ghostly. It was just another unwelcome addition to the barrage of sensory inputs that I was getting. I was panning around the scene trying to absorb everything when I saw that the driver was still moving. It was more instinct than anything else when I thought that something had to be done. I thought in the back of my head that he shouldn't be moved but at that point I didn't know which number to call and no one among the gathering crowd of onlookers seemed to be doing anything. Rather than wait for nothing and let him die on the street, I decided to lift him up myself onto another tricycle which carried him to a nearby hospital. I had blood all over my arms and hands. At that time, I thought that it was true both figuratively as well as literally.
My passenger was driven to a nearby hospital to have her head checked as she hit it pretty badly during the impact. Police officers escorted me towards the nearest precinct. I was broken and humbled. All my pride had to be surrendered. It felt like my brain had shut down and my body was being moved by outside forces, almost like a puppet. It was at the police station where they told me that the driver had expired at the hospital. I expected it but the news still hit me on the chest with a dull thud.
I must've been in a daze because it took me a while to realize that a security situation was starting to develop. The relatives of the injured started arriving at the precinct. Some of them were probably still emotional and were looking for the driver of the vehicle their trike bumped into. I was texting people with my blood-stained hands in front of them. Good thing none of them noticed. The officers escorted me to an isolated room to hide my identity and so I wouldn't do anything stupid in front of the relatives again. There was fear but I was mostly surrendered. If any of them came at me, I don't know if I would've defended myself.
They say that your life flashes before you right before you die. I don't know what the tricycle driver saw but I saw flashes that night. In my mind, I saw scenes in my future that scared me. But what scared me more was what I couldn't see. I saw my life end before my eyes that night. In my mind, my life would never be the same again. In my mind the, tricycle driver and I were in the same boat. I stayed the night at the police station.
A lot of those who go through a traumatic experience such as this end up talking to themselves a lot. There's that inner voice that constantly berates you, questioning everything that you've done. Most people call it conscience. I call it my pessimistic little half brother. I relieved myself of some of the guilt by saying that the tricycle was driving recklessly. That it was speeding without its headlights on. That it was way overloaded and it had no chance of stopping on time if ever it needed to. The support of friends and family helped as well. Gradually the voice got muffled enough that I no longer heard it. I wasn't at fault. I came to terms with what had happened - that this was real and this is something that I would have to live with - something that I can live with. After 18 hours of detention, I was released. No charges were filed.
It's now been 6 days since the accident. I'm back home. The atmosphere here in my room is starkly different from the chaotic mess of that fateful night. The airconditioner hums silently. I'm sitting on a reclining chair, having coffee while typing on my keyboard. I am uneasily relaxed. I am coping. To be able to live with yourself after being directly in the collision path of another human life, one must develop a certain coldness. The coldness helps me get by but it also colors everything I see with a slightly darker tint, including the image that I see in the mirror. You don't quite see yourself the same way after something like this. At least not for a while. It's midnight as I'm writing this. There's a slight drizzle outside. That section of Congressional Avenue should look uncomfortably familiar right now to a few eyes. Memories will be replayed there over and over in the minds of those who saw.
Things are no longer as they seemed. When I was at the police station, I thought that my life had ended. But it didn't really.
I'm writing this now wishing that it was a work of fiction but it's not really.