Ahead of me a man stepped off the sidewalk but his feet didn’t catch him. I heard the wet sound of his flesh and then the heavy knock of bone hitting the cold pavement of the road. He didn’t get up.
I had walked to the library, and I was now returning. The day was cold, the wind unrelenting, finding it’s way to bite at your most tender places. I hunched my shoulders against it inside my coat.
A man in a black suit had seen him fall, he snorted and said to no one in particular: You can’t drink and walk at the same time, before opening the glass door of a marble building and stepping out of the wind.
A woman with short grey hair looked down off the sidewalk at the man laying there in the road. She took out her phone. Does he need an ambulance? She asked. I stopped walking. Men were all around him, having risen from the shelter of the bus stop. Four men’s rough hands gripped his jacket to lift him. Their hands were bare to the winter day. They were cracked and raw. I never saw his face.
One of them looked at me: I don’t want to involve you with this situation, ma’am. His eyes were blue, glazed blue, as if un-seeing, but he looked at me. To the other woman he said: Yes. Go ahead and call. You had better. He put his arm around the man’s body like they were just going for a good long walk, but the feet never took ground.
Then I walked away.
Walking again into the wind all I could hear was the sound of his face hitting the concrete and myself just standing there. For days my visions had been full of robins, robins stepping off from the branches, as – I had observed – as one steps off the sidewalk: casually and perhaps with pleasure to float across the open space of sky as the sun settles behind the ridge. I had named myself saved by these robins and their stepping off, called by them to live again in the world of the numinous and the ordinary, to be a creature in the world of creatures.
And just as quickly I am shown the smallness of my sight. To be a creature among creatures means to stand at the edge of the water at sunset and watch the robins flying for sheer joy in the last light, and next to watch helplessly the slow stumble towards death.
It means to hold hands with suffering, to be revealed to your own inadequacy, to know always that once you walked away. Should I have stayed? Perhaps. But they told me to leave, and my son needed picked up from school, and any number of other things that draw us along self-centeredly preserving our own lives.
Now when I walk past that place on the sidewalk I look down into the road, looking for a stain of blood or some sign that a man’s body had lain there, unmoving, that it was grasped by four bare hands and lifted. I look for the man with the blue eyes, I want to ask him – is he alive? Where is he now?
But who am I to know these things? I, who walked away.