On the morning of January 15th, 2013, around 8:45 a.m., my life changed.
Until then, nothing about that morning had let on that such a momentous event would take place. This was a normal morning, where our family went through its regular routine.
I had no idea that I would witness a terrible tragedy that day.
I took the bus into downtown Montreal with my 4 year-old daughter. From the bus terminal, we would walk outside, in the cold, until we made it to her daycare. This was about a 15 minute walk. Then I would walk back the same way to my office.
On the way back, I stop at a red light and waited to cross the intersection. Traffic was heavy that morning, as it always was at that corner. My headphones screwed onto my ears, I was listening to some music when it happened.
Across the street, right in my field of vision, a flat bed truck was turning the corner.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a woman began running across the street. The light was green, but she apparently never saw the truck blocking her way as it turned. When she did see it, she spun around to get back on the sidewalk.
That’s when she tripped. Her feet got tangled up together, and she fell to the cold ground.
She never had a chance.
The truck driver never saw her. Even if he had, chances are he would have rolled right over her anyway.
She died instantly. The first police officer to arrive on the scene calmly walked out of his car, took one look at her, and brought a white sheet out of his patrol car.
I wasn’t the only witness. We all stood around looking at each other, in shock.
With shaking hands, I managed to call my boss, to tell her I would be late.
Then I phoned my girlfriend. I reassured her that both our daughter and I were fine.
It’s funny, but I had sometimes wondered if something special happened when a person died. This may be due to leftovers from my religious education, but I was under the impression that you could feel the person’s soul leave its dead body at the time of death. I thought it would be felt through a cold breeze, or a wave, something like that.
But there was nothing. Nothing at all.
In fact, I would say it felt rather like throwing a light switch. The light is open, you flick the switch, and tada! – darkness.
That lady died just like that.
Today, nearly 3 years after the fact, I can still see her, without even closing my eyes. It’s like a movie that gets replayed over and over again in my mind. At full speed. The details are clear. There’s no special effects, no CGI involved. Just a random event, which happens in the blink of an eye, but lasts a lifetime.
It took nearly two hours for the cops to take my statement. I waited, in the cold, a few feet away from the corpse. There were many people passing by, on their way to work. Some stopped, intrigued by all the police presence (there must have been 10 or 12 cars). One man tried to take a picture of the corpse with his cell phone. I told him he was out of line. This morbid curiosity, which I admit to being guilty of myself, felt out of place to me right then.
In the crowd, a familiar face appeared. Hans, who I know from our yearly fantasy baseball league. I was shocked, shaking like a baby, my eyes filled with tears. I think I scared him. He seemed really worried about me and offered to stay.
I imagine I must have been quite the sight.
I spoke briefly with a reporter from a talk radio station. Funny thing is, all I could tell him at that moment, as we stood next to the dead body of a woman, was that I had just met his wife and child at a birthday party a few days before.
There were 3 other witnesses, all men, who had stuck around. Two female witnesses had been brought by ambulance to the hospital. They were in shock. The truck driver was there, too. He was chain smoking, but he looked rather calm. We tried to comfort him by telling him that there was nothing he could do, that the woman had run into his truck for no reason. I don’t know if it helped. He would have to live with this accident for the rest of his life.
When the cops finally took my statement, they were very nice, very professionnal. He explained that I would be contacted again if needed, but that this case would probably be closed very quickly on their end. All the witnesses gave the same version of events. He even offered to have me driven to work, a gesture which I found very courteous. Cops often get bad press in Québec, but they (for the most part) do good work. Imagine what the first cop to arrive on the scene must have felt upon seeing the squashed body of that woman. Would you have liked to be in his shoes?
I needed to write. I needed to get it out of my system. I don’t think I will ever erase these memories from my head, but it felt good to write this out.
I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it. At that time, death had never been a part of my life. Except in books, movies, and the stories I wrote.
Until that day.
This woman, whose name I will probably never learn, was somebody’s daughter. She might have had siblings, a younger sister who looked up to her, perhaps. She might have been somebody’s girlfriend, wife, or even mistress. She was loved, I’m sure of that, because who isn’t? She loved, too, because who doesn’t?
Maybe somebody was waiting for her, that day. Colleagues, or a family member. Who knows? What I do know, though, is that I had the chance to see my family again that day. I had the chance to take my daughter and her brother into my arms that night, and kiss them tenderly.
But that woman never got that chance.
Because death swept by that morning. Silent, yet fast and unforgiving.
I saw it.