The first thing, literally the first thing I remember about the whole deal was a noise. It wasn’t loud like you might expect, but it was muffled like there was a large rubber wall separating me from an explosion. Then I heard a sort of exhale, and then I heard this;
“Owww Ah shit man! Wow that looked bad!” came an excited voice from a short distance away. The voice was accompanied by footsteps, running towards me by the sound of it. My whole head felt out of focus, like two wires were crossed in my brain and consequently everything was ending up in the wrong place. For a moment I was falling, but it felt like the world moving around me while I stayed in the same place with everything just spinning and spinning and spinning. After some considerable bewilderment I realized I had feet, as I was standing on them.
“Whaa…?” I answered stupidly. My brain was too busy checking to see if it had any sensation on file to compare this one to, to actually produce words at that particular moment. I stopped trying to talk and instead focused on the fact that my eyes must be closed, and I was having difficulty remembering how to open them.
“Well I mean one minute you’re all keepin’ yourself to yourself and the next second BAM! Strawberry jam all over the place. Ugly really.” The speaker smacked the back of his hand against his palm enthusiastically, sounding all too like a spectator appreciating a decent street performance. “If it’s any consolation man, you had right of way so it was all the fucker in the pickup’s fault. Between the two of us that looked borderline intentional.” The voice went on, failing to notice (or ignoring) the fact that I had no idea what was going on. “See this is kinda my area y’know? I hang around and amuse myself from time to time tryin’ to keep myself from drifting off and… well you don’t know shit about that yet anyways. Let’s just say that by a twist of fate I happened to be in the neighborhood at the time. You were on your way when the asshole just kinda floors it and then floored you, uh, so to speak.”
Either I had been knocked stupid or this guy wasn’t making any kind of sense, and I honestly didn’t know which one was more likely. I tried massaging my temples while half-listening, but I was having trouble making my arms do what I wanted them to. There was an insubstantial feeling spreading throughout my body. I must have been concussed. A good stiff breeze (or a light one, for that matter) could have knocked me to the pavement right then and there.
“What did you… where….?” I stammered on, still encountering difficulty with my eyes.
“Don’t worry about it, I memorized the plate number. One thing you can be sure of if you hang around long enough is a good memory for the little things.” He went on, chuckling good-naturedly. “You’re not exactly the first body I pulled out of the gutter, uh, metaphorically speaking.” I think my brain eventually got fed up with being barraged with polite conversation with nothing to contribute, but I was beginning to regain some focus. I tried a simple question to start with while I could keep my grip on things.
“Wha… uh… why…..w-why don’t my eyes work?” I eventually managed to sputter.
“Yeah boggles the mind, don’t it?” The voice answered sympathetically. “Everything bein’ all instinctive your whole life but then BAM suddenly the training wheels come off like they do for everyone sooner or later you’re as helpless as a slug on shrooms, and twice as slow. My name is Manny by the way; Manuel to some, but not to you. And in my experience, eyes are generally found…” I suddenly felt two pressure points on my face which burned like peppermint, then like cold fire. Then the strange cold burning had passed and I could see Manny pulling his two fingers away from my face saying “…here.” Finally being able to see, my body seemed to have a reference point for everything else: arms, legs, head, fingers, toes, they all seemed accounted for. I rubbed my eyes.
“Now how many fingers am I holding up?” Manny was saying. Manny turned out to be a stocky tan man wearing white khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. He had short cropped black hair and a wide grin full of very white teeth, he was also holding up three fingers. I held up three of mine to show I saw. “There’s a good boy,” Manny said as he put one of his arms around my shoulder, “we feeling more like ourselves now?”
“How did you d-do that?” I asked, rubbing my eyes.
“Don’t worry about it man, it’ll make perfect sense later. You just needed a jump was all, it’s no big deal. It’s not like you came with an instruction manual is it?” I was almost ninety percent sure, despite my currently addled brain that what he’d said made absolutely no sense. Manny didn’t seem to want to press the issue however, as he quickly changed the subject.
“So where’s your head at? Any sudden realizations? Stuff like that?” He asked.
“I don’t r-really remember anything about, um, anything?” I said, my voice still shaky. Manny patted my shoulder sympathetically. “I think I’ve got amnesia” Manny laughed heartily at that and smacked me on the back. For the first time since I’d come to my senses I wondered why the two of us were standing in the middle of the street. Luckily there seemed to be very little traffic at the moment. Whatever the reason, it seemed to have caused some sort of commotion a few yards down the street.
There were raised voices, car doors opening and closing, and the sounds of footsteps on pavement as people scrambled to see what the matter was. Manny put his finger on his lips and ‘sh’ed me as I was about to ask him that same thing, and instead steered me through the crowed to see what the buzz was about. We were only a few yards away, but there were so many people kneeling around something that I couldn’t see what it was.
“Not to sound insensitive or anything man, but this is always my favorite part.” Manny said, looking out at all the people around us with warm appreciation. “I mean nothing conveys a sense of community more than a bunch of caring, concerned strangers kneeling over some poor stiff. Slowly in my traumatized brain, something clicked.
“You mean someone’s been hit?” I asked hurriedly. I suddenly couldn’t take my eyes off of the crowd of huddled people. Had I been the driver? Was this why I couldn’t remember anything? With a sweeping sense of guilt, I asked meekly “Do you think they’re all right?”
“Not a chance.” Manny replied. From his tone, he could have been talking about his baseball team being down in the 9th inning rather than the chances of survival of the poor bastard in the middle of the crowd. It was the way he said it that made me feel uneasy, and I felt then like I should be running and screaming, like I should be in a hospital, like I should be somewhere that makes sense instead of there in the middle of the road with a dead body and a guy who addressed it with such professional amusement. “Look kid, I do this a lot. It’s a hobby.” He said apologetically, as if he’d sensed my unease, “I mean I’ve been told I don’t exactly connect with my audience the way I used to. It happens with age. Anyways we’d better go have a look, for identification and all that jazz.”
My head still felt pretty messed up at the time but for some reason I was really glad for anything to take my mind off of me, even if that was a dead man in the street.
“I thought you only had to do that if you knew the person.” I said drawing on my experience with police procedure, which really only consisted of detective dramas and cop shows. Still, it seemed right and I was glad to sound like I knew what was going on for a change. Unfortunately that was when I realized what it was I had actually said, and a terrible wave of guilt washed over me again. “Umm, you didn’t know him, did you?” Manny shook his head mercifully. I don’t think I’d have been able to take it if I found out that I’d been responsible for him losing a loved one after he had been nothing but friendly to me.
“Nah man it’s all right. By the way you’re doin’ ok so far. Better than the last wisp I pulled outta the street.” He answered. My chest loosened slightly, but not completely.
“Doing fine with what?” I asked mainly to dispel thoughts of the poor guy I must’ve hit.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll let you figure it out in your own time, healthier that way y’know. That’s how I did it anyways. Then you can have your little freak out.” Manny said, motioning for me to keep following him through the crowd.
“Why would I freak out?” I asked. He waved away my question simply saying;
“Don’t worry, you will.” Nobody seemed to notice or care as we weaved between people and occasionally had to elbow our way through. He raised a hand for me to stop halfway through as we edged through the crowd. “Look kid,” he said after a short pause, his features distorted somewhat by a note of seriousness that didn’t suit him, “there’s just one thing. How can I tell you without…?” He scratched his head and looked up over my shoulder.
“Ok, put it this way: Think of birds. Birds think they’re getting a free ride with the whole ‘life’ business in the early days. They get a room with a view built up specifically for them along with room service you don’t even need to chew, courtesy of Mama Bird. They get to live it up peepin’ away being all ugly and shriveled and pathetic (in a cute way) and that’s what they think life is; now imagine the sheer ice-cold slap to the face they get when to them, seemingly out of nowhere and completely unprovoked in the middle of a perfectly leisurely day their feathery maître d communicates the temporary nature of their relationship by physically throwing them out of a tree.”
“Ok–” I began, but before I could ask where the Hell this was going he ‘shh’ed me again, apparently on a roll.
“Not all of the little chicks even realize that they’re supposed to flap those feathery things that they’ve literally never used before until they’re a few more seconds away from being a chicken nugget.” He continued. “All they know for a little while is that there’s no more nest and they’ve made a grave judgmental error. Once they can’t get any more disoriented, that’s when nature throws its last curve ball and despite, no—because of that pure pants-wetting terror they realize what it is their life was really for.” He looked at me for a hint of recognition. He finally added; “The point is that even when it seems like it’s over, even when everything’s gone, it’s never the end. It’s just a beginning in disguise.” With that, almost reverently, Manny stepped aside and ushered me through the crowd.
I got to the center and looked down. The poor guy’s back was bent at a sickening angle, and his bare socks were stained with blood, his shoes having been flung off in the crash. Someone behind me was calling 9-1-1, but looking at the guy you just kind of knew that something that had made him a person a short while ago was… it was somewhere. Not there. I don’t know how long I looked down at him. It was like looking down a well at night, just barely able to see the familiar ripples of water at the bottom, something far, far below me that my mind was still being too sluggish to see. I kind of didn’t want to see it either, but rather remain ignorant as to who this was to me and ignore the vague sense of recognition that echoed around in my head trying to find something to grab onto. I didn’t want to feel the loss, the guilt, the pain. I wanted this to just be a stranger and a tragic accident. Slowly, despite my wishes, my mouth started moving in an unthinking musing sort of way.
“You know,” I began, my voice sounding oddly distant even to me, “how it’s always so strange to see the part in your hair on film, like everyone else sees it every day?” Manny nodded slowly and patted my shoulder softly. “Like in the mirror it’s always parted to my right, it is just so weird to see it…” My voice trailed off as cogs deep in my brain began to ‘whirrrrr’ away at full speed, trying desperately to bring something important to my attention. I considered at length what I had just said; trying to notice what was odd about it. There was a sinking feeling in my gut, like the world around me was rushing upwards, and I suddenly felt very small. I wanted to throw up, but nothing would come out as if my pipes were frozen. Finally I looked down at the broken body on the pavement, then up, and then down, and finally up again once more before it clicked.
Then, as Manny had put it, I had a little freak out.