I could barely see it come out between the fog and mist hanging over the road. I couldn’t see it, the sun had not yet awoken and the road was still shining wet with morning. I only spotted it at that last moment, when the time had passed and its life had been decided. I reversed back, feeling my wheels skid a little with the balding tyres I had, and the back rattled with different parts and pieces falling all over. I tried not to hit it again, because even though it was already onto its next journey, scratching deep into whatever the next life had waiting, to kill it twice would make me feel worse. In papers and writings I had read about people killing for the thrill, for kicks, for a rush, yet I could not imagine it in application. For the life of me, I did not have anything but regret for the poor animal I had run down.
It’s hair wet in the headlights, its eyes never to close, I frowned and rubbed my face, wondering how to deal with this. I held the white tip of its tail and lifted its lifeless body away from the bitumen, knowing how it had tried so hard to cross ahead of my arrival. And for some reason it moved, and I looked closer at its white underneath. Something moved inside. As if its life were still there, waiting to escape. With my fingers, I gently reached into its skin, where it was still warm. Something was there, and in a way it was its life. A smaller version of it, with no hair and shaky movements. A child it had kept hidden. I told the mother, frozen in time, that I would care for it, that I would take responsibility for this little one, and that it had nothing more to worry about. The shaking baby deep in my pocket, the mother covered over with dirt and leaves, I continued on through the morning, with a new task at hand.
In large doors, over shiny floors, and tapping feet, the baby moved slightly against my leg and I made sure nothing would get near it. I made people aware of the fragile junior and placed it carefully, quietly, peacefully into a box by a heater. Its stiff movements rolled itself into a ball and slept. And I took on my uniform and left with sirens screaming and lights reflecting off car windows as they pulled aside to let us through.
Basically, you just breathe. There is little more you can do when a motorcycle leans too much on a corner and meets a Land Rover at close range. There is little you can do to change what has happened. Little you can do but help out, make some people feel better, try to help where you can. There are no winners in this, no heroes sometimes. Although it’s your job, you can only save so many. And you just have to breathe, take the oxygen down into your lungs and close off your mind and your natural want to cry at this. The white lines are splashed with red and a lady is crying by her car, saying she’s sorry. The tears glisten down her face, flashing in our lights. Drivers look back over the shoulders of their car seats and try to see the marks left by tyres and broken pieces of machinery and people. And I’m sure she is very sorry. I am too.
The sun creeps behind the building, changing morning to day slowly. It shines off the patch of red ground, like spilt wine. There are people pushing each other, yelling, trying to get into our van with us, trying to take whatever drugs we carry to escape from this, even if for only a while. Just any time away will do. Just take me away. The tiny body next to the concrete has not lived long enough to know escape. The tiny body would only have begun to learn, wide-eyed and fascinated by everything, just as my boy at home. My boy who has never seen this life. This tiny body, the spilt wine, the four storey drop, and the mother looking for an escape. From his crying. From his demanding. From this all. It’s a tiny body that will cry to me all day, inside my mind. It’s barely grown hair will look just like my boy’s. It’s never to be heard again cry. With the sun beaming down.
Right now he needs it. This man can hardly breathe, and he strains toward me, gripping at the blue pants, his eyes like billiard balls, so wide and afraid. Those eyes that have no understanding of why this is happening. And you can’t save everyone in this job, but the trick is to save as many as you can, and imagine fate has a grander plan for the others. The trick is to detach. Just breathe. The old man suddenly loosens up like a cat, and eases back, taking in the most beautiful breath of air he has ever known. Living the most relief he has ever felt. His hand rubs against his chest, over his heart. With a pillow under his head, and a mask to help him take more of those breaths that are more valuable than gold to him right now, he lies back onto the tiled floor, the small crowd exhaling in unison, as if they’d been watching a cliff hanger drama. The old man takes my hand, looks up at me with those grey blue eyes that must have seen so many things in their time.
‘Thank you, thank you so much,’ He fogs up the plastic mask as he speaks, smiling slightly, readjusting to life again.
The trick is to remember who you’ve saved. David Rogers is his name.
The girl shakes back into life, rattling her head around to awaken herself. Her hair is dirty and her clothes have stuck to the dust and leaves across the floor. She is crying already. Her boyfriend stands back, biting his nails and twirling his hair with his fingers. His feet move up and down on the floor. She brushes dust from her cheek, some stuck with saliva, and stares into my eyes, confused.
‘Who are you? What’s happening?’ The toxin reversed in her system, the high gone, she is bewildered, part angry at losing that feeling she had, part relieved to know she is alive. Part embarrassed that we have come to find her this way. She forces herself to smile when her mind registers, and she rubs her head, leaning over her knees as if she may throw up. Her name is simply Kathy. Her parents will never know about this. She will try her hardest to forget it herself. And maybe we’ll meet again some day, but it will never be right.
As we slip in through traffic, through rain falling in the sunlight, the city buildings look awakened with reflections of day, and they stand over us, looming like giants above. Watch us travel through, watch us disappear. A girl is dancing in the soft rain, letting the orange light shine through her. Her eyes closed, the warmth on her fingers. We watch her as the door closes slowly over her, like the final scene of the film. Fade out.
The trick is to remember what you are going home to. With my uniform hanging like a memory, I walk to the heater and gently uncover the small box. The baby makes tiny shaking movements at the change in light, and I gently pick it up and slide it into my pocket, where it will be warm. I rest it, slowly moving, on my lap, making sure it is okay. It moves against my leg, and I drift out into the traffic and become nobody again. My son will be asleep, my wife too, and I will as quietly as possible give a new home to this tiny baby. I will help it grow, take care of it, then let it free onto its own life. I will kiss my wife on the forehead, softly, so as not to wake her, and go to sleep.
The trick is to remember who you’ve saved. Who lives because of you.
And just breathe.