Wednesday, 2 March 2011

I'm not in Kansas

I am driving back along the beach front towards the city centre. It is late and dark but the air is warm, the window down and I hold my arm out relishing the 70km salty breeze that rushes over it. I am returning from dinner with new friends from work. Dinner in a Mexican restaurant on the African coast - or the "Atlantic seaboard" as locals call this area of the city which makes it sound like Florida. And it could be, superficially. The BMWs, the beautiful people jogging along the promenade, the high end restaurants.

The elevated roadway curves around, brushing the city centre. I glide down to a six lane junction. There is a queue. I cannot see quite why - the lights are green. The car in front of me moves slowly forward. Then, illuminated by its headlights I see a withered figure in a crumbling, bent wheelchair. The chair is in the middle of our lane. On either side cars hurtle past to join the Freeway up ahead. Unperturbed the figure reaches up to the window of the car in front. Its occupant passes a few coins. Nearer now I can see that it is a man. His legs are withered useless sticks - heritage of childhood polio. They are folded, contorted rather, in a way no normal limb could across the seat of his chair. The lights turn red. He pushes his chair across the traffic lane to the next car. Its occupant remains cocooned within - there is no response to the silent appeals. He pushes his chair on to the car behind that, the one beside me.

I instinctively look straight ahead - as if I have not seen anyone or anything. Perhaps he will ignore me. In the rear view mirror I see he has moved to the car behind me, pushing his broken chair with his broken body, hands up in a gesture of supplication.

I look at the lights, willing them to change, cursing them for their slowness. Cursing that I cannot blame laziness, drunkeness, or drugs as the root of this man's destitution. Cursing that perhaps the only way to make myself feel better about myself, about him, is to give him something.

The lights change, the abrupt red-to-green flick that is a continual surprise to a British driver more used to the excruciating politeness of a UK traffic light. I pull away, accelerating off to the freeway. In my rear-view mirror, a chair now silhouetted by the headlights of the cars behind, sits folorn and vulnerable in the middle of the highway as the cars hurtle around it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A reflection that we all share - where do we start and how do we emerge from our "cocoons" Kx