“no matter what you plan for – accidents happen.”
Life decided to toss me this particular lesson a couple of years ago in a rather memorable manner. Like any newly minted driver, with the ink hardly dry on my driver’s license, I was extra careful. I followed every traffic rule to the letter. I left home ridiculously early in the morning and left work criminally late in an effort to avoid driving in traffic lest I damaged a car I could ill afford to have repaired. Every time I pulled into my familiar parking bay at home or at the office I would have very real and very embarrassing pit stains. That’s how nerve-wracking driving was for me. I always drove at 60km/hour or less. I have to chuckle at the memory now that it’s nothing to tear down the highway at 120km/hour.
Despite all my caution then, I still managed to catch a curveball one weekend afternoon. I pulled up to a red robot and I dutifully stopped. My brother was in the passenger seat next to me. A woman was standing at the robot waiting to cross. It didn’t occur to me to wonder why she wasn’t crossing given the light was red for me. Just as my light turned green, exactly like I had been taught, I looked left then right then released my brakes and pressed down my accelerator.
At that very moment, little Miss Sunshine who was standing at the robot, decided my green light was her cue to cross the road and she trotted across…. right in front of my car and under my wheels. Mwari imi!
I remember that moment like a slow motion video clip. The dull thud as the car made contact with her body. Her handbag flying across my bonnet and falling onto the road. Hitting the emergency brake as she disappeared under the front of my car body first and jacket last.
I was so shocked but I went straight into reaction mode. I pulled my hand brake up. I switched off the car. I shakily unbuckled my safety belt as I rushed to try to get out of the car to see where she was. I remember praying that she was Ok and simultaneously looking at the robot over and over to confirm it was actually green and I wasn’t the crazy one.
Before I could get a foot out the door and as suddenly as she had vanished under the car, she popped back up like a jack-in-the-box. She roughly straightened her track jacket and huffily went to pick up her bag. At this point I was frozen in shock. All I could think to do was apologise. So as she came close to me I opened my mouth to say I was so sorry. I only managed to get to “I am so….” before she shouted in a very harsh tone said “heyi wena! This is a stop sign! mscheew!!! You should have stopped!”
Sorry what?! My apology went right out the window. A stop sign?! What was she smoking? Instead of apologising I asked, “where have you ever seen a stop sign with coloured lights.” She looked at the robot for a long second as if she was seeing it for the first time then turned on her heel and just walked away. I called an offer to take her to the hospital after her but she was having none of it. She just ignored me as she disappeared round a corner.
As I drove home with my hands shaking on the wheel and the little confidence I had built up in tatters, I realised that sometimes, no matter how much you do what you are supposed to, things do go wrong. I was lucky she wasn’t more seriously hurt and that she didn’t die. I would be wondering to this day what would possess a grown woman to cross a road when a light is green for traffic. I can guarantee you that it would never occur to me to think she hadn’t noticed the robot and she thought it was a stop sign. Sometimes we can prepare all we like but others will do their own thing.