by Annabel Banks
No one would see it on the evening news. Nothing would appear in the paper. The pulse of the traffic, the arterial flow of the city, barely registered the tiny pause as brakes were applied, the ambulance called. This place has narrow curbs that separate the best and worst of any single moment, where buildings ring with cheers and evacuation alarms, where money buys you a good dinner or earns you a fist in the face.
I know a girl who, while making a telephone call in Soho, had her mobile wrenched from her hand by someone sprinting past her. “Amazing, really,” she’d said with a shrug. “Like a relay runner.” A year later, when her photograph was hung in the National Portrait Gallery, skin altered to wine red and patterned with shells, she’d sent me a picture-message of the sushi buffet. The waiters wore swords.
The man hit by the car was wearing a suit. It was a shock to see the bloodstain on his white shirt, jacket buttons ripped away, lost to the sewers. The woman behind him, camel coat belted tight around her waist, had shrieked, hand over her mouth, and then stood biting her bracelet as others took charge. It was the shriek that had made me turn, drew me into the crowd that edged the concrete circle that held him. We had become a people; we met eyes, we spoke to each other. We knew not to move him. We moved him. In our combined efforts of aid and reassurance we ignored the fact he was unconscious and offered water, whiskey, and MacDonald’s milkshake; prayed for him in four languages and commended him to three gods; wiped the gravel and blood from his palms with handkerchiefs, serviettes, and the corner of a hot-pink pashmina.
When he came to properly, he opened his eyes and looked at us. The blood from his head ran down his cheek, despite the efforts of a poodle-doll lady to stop it with a sanitary towel. He moved his gaze over us, one by one, smiling. When a woman with a man’s voice held up her fingers, he agreed that, yes, he could see three. Later, I realised that he had been looking, not at her fingers, but through them, as if they’d been bars across a window. He was seeing past us, to the high buildings with their glittering glass, the shop signs and the grey-tinted trees, and the swaying dance of people that went on beneath it all.
A kid in an expensive-looking coat knelt on the pavement and asked the man his name.
“I don’t remember,” he said, and we all sighed. A bump on the head. We had all seen it on the television. The anxious wife. The weeping babes. “What’s happened?”
“You’ve had an accident,” I said. “But you’re fine.” It was not a lie. He could breathe and talk, His heart was beating. It was not a lie. Around me, people began nodding, murmuring into collars that help was coming.
“Where am I?” he asked, and so we said it together, quietly affirmed, despite the fact that everyone had spoken: the kid with the black fingernail polish, the woman wearing fur, the couple with their hands in each other’s back pockets, loudly chewing gum. The man laughed, as if he didn’t quite believe us, and drew his ankles beneath him to sit cross-legged on the chewing-gummed ground.
The cars were still speeding past, buses passing so close we could feel their warm breath on our cheeks. I knew I would be late, but no one was moving, and so I didn’t want to leave, to push though bodies to break free. Above us, in an alcove built into the old grey brick, the statue of a half-naked figure pointed the way I should have been headed. I shook my head at him, and crouched once more to hear the wounded man’s words.
“Do you know what?” he was saying, drawing the back of his hand through the blood on his cheek, half closing his eyes and leaning back onto the arm of the man in the expensive coat. “None of you see it. But you’re glowing.”
I opened my mouth to tell him to relax, to agree with whatever nonsense he was murmuring, that it was all fine, hush, now—but the strobe-flicker of the ambulance reflected from someone’s belt buckle, and I felt the group draw back.
The paramedics had loud voices that mocked his predicament and sure hands that helped him up. From inside the ambulance we could hear his replies, could tell from the tone that he was once more in possession of his name, his city, and his safely-narrowed view. It was over, that small thing that could have been so big, the same thing that happens differently each day. Once again, our eyes were sliding off our neighbour’s, our heads dropping as we picked up bags and shifted coats from under one arm to the other. As we turned to leave, the memories of the rippling shrugs and shared half-smiles still connected us, faces blue in the flashing light, yellow in the evening sun. Glowing.
Annabel Banks (annabelbanks.com) is an English writer of poetry and prose. She is published in many literary journals, magazines and anthologies, and her work has won or been nominated for a number of awards. Tweet her @annabelwrites.