I don’t have to worry about finding the site of this RTC, riding as I am on the tail of a brace of fire trucks, careening through the dark streets, cleaving the night with our lights and sirens and getting straight to it, no question.
Car into house is the message on the terrafix, and then – no back up available. pls. assess and advise.
A police car tags on behind me. Then another. The punters turning out of the pubs must think it’s the end of the world.
We blaze off the main road up into residential territory, rights and lefts and tight fits between parked cars until the trucks haul up outside a bungalow marked by a small crowd of people – teenagers in dressing gowns, old men in slippers, family huddles – and, when I’m out and able to see, a car wedged in the front of it. The bungalow is on the elbow of the road as it turns up and to the right. It looks as if the car has taken the corner too fast, ploughed through a low brick wall, rolled on to its off-side and buried its bonnet just below a window. There is already a police car on scene. The officer tells me that the driver has absconded, but he leads me over to a middle-aged man who is waving his arms descriptively in front of a couple of fire fighters.
‘My boy was asleep in that room. There was an almighty crunch, we jumped off the sofa and ran in. You’ll see. There’s glass and stuff everywhere. We just scooped him up and ran out of there. We found this kid standing outside looking fucked up, you know. Obviously the driver. Not a mark on him, but completely spaced. He asked me if we were okay, and when I said I think so, he took off up the road.’
The policeman puts a hand on the man’s shoulder and leads him away to the side. A bright white light flips on from one of the fire trucks, laying the scene bare.
‘We’ve got a paramedic here,’ says the officer.
‘Great,’ says the man. ‘I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with James, but I’d appreciate it if you’d come and give him the once over.’
I follow him into a neighbour’s house. If the crowd in the street is held together by a compulsion to witness the wreck, the blue lights and the police running up and down the road, the focus of this house is altogether more personal. It seems to have become a gathering place, a neighbourly place of safety, where those most directly affected can gather themselves, drink tea and make plans. It’s as if the car has slammed into a hive, jolting the community into collective action.
James is bouncing up and down on his mother’s lap, a bright little two year old, enjoying the strangeness of all this. I check him over but he’s very obviously fine. Before I go, I ask the mother if she’d mind if I had a look in the house to see what the level of damage was.
‘Please do,’ she says. ‘You’ll see how lucky we’ve been.’
Even though I know that the family are next door, I still knock before I go in. The hallway is strangely illuminated by the harsh scene lighting. The house seems to be hanging back, guarding its shadows from the blatant scrutiny. I walk along the hallway, take a right, and stand in front of the door to the James’ nursery. It swings open smoothly, then catches on something. I look in.
The wall beneath the bay window opposite bulges inwards, five courses of bricks from the carpet up witness to the point of impact. All the glass has been shattered above it, the struts hanging inwards, a vicious confetti of glass shards scattered across every surface, the carpet, dresser, teddies and dressing up clothes, the train track and the colouring books. The bed.
This is a shocking assault on a happy little room, and yes, James is a lucky boy.
Just as I turn to go, I catch a sudden, strange hopping movement on the floor. I see a little dark lump – and it hops again. A froglet, heading towards the window. I guess it was either on the bush outside and carried through when the car struck, or perhaps hopped through one of the gaps immediately after. Either way, it will struggle to get back outside on its own. I take a step forward to try to rescue it. The glass crystals crunch underfoot. The froglet makes a desperate sideways leap and disappears under the bed. I can’t reach it, and can’t afford any time trying.
I leave the room, and head back outside into the light.