Death hangs over the Mound, haunting the twenty or so people currently frozen to the spot on it, allowing themselves the brief moment of self-indulgent shock they require before they can spring to action. It’s early on a Sunday morning, but a whole sub-section of Edinburgh life stands on that hill – the city’s perfect random sample group – and whether they know it or not in that instant, they will all be irrevocably bonded by what they have all just witnessed. Every individual is going through something rather profound.
Take, for example, John, driver of that morning’s number 23 bus. John, having wrestled his behemoth-ic double-decker bus to a halt, is currently sat staring straight ahead down onto Princes Street. The colour is draining from his face, leaving it almost as white as the perfectly ironed Lothian Buses shirt his wife left out for him the previous evening. His wife, Irene, is an absolute artist with an ironing board, everyone always says so. Probably.
But John isn’t thinking about that right now. No, all he can think about is the sensation he felt seconds ago as his bus rumbled over a pedestrian. The slight bump at his left-hand tyre as the bus raised over the body, and the quick dip as the weight of the machine pulverised it. The banging below him, as his fellow human being bounced along beneath the floor, ricocheting between the concrete road and the metal chassis. And then, as he frantically braked, that final rise and fall as the skidding back wheel at the right-hand side depressed the tumbling carcass further into street, dragging it along before finally discarding it, fully digested, at the bus’s rear.
Of course, truth be told, all of this happened far too quickly for John to have really been able to judge his accidental victim’s trajectory and fate to that amount of specifics. But then, that doesn’t matter because now his recollection is the only truth he is aware of. It is the story he will tell the police and the story he will tell the councillor he is sent to. It is the story that will stay with him until the day he dies, haunting him in random moments, like when he’s eating cereal or sitting on the toilet. It is the story which will wake him up in the middle of the night, or keep him from falling asleep in the first place. It is the story which will cause him to quit his job – one that he has held and loved for more than fifteen years – and it is the story that two years from now he will finally break down in tears and share with Irene.
Slowly, it dawns on him that soon he is going to have to get out of the bus and deal with all of this fallout. But that’s still seconds away. For now though, he can just sit and stare straight ahead onto Princes Street.
Further down the bus, in the back seat, sits Julie. She turned 16 about a month and a half ago and got a crappy job in a tiny, family-run, coffee shop. She’s on her way there now. Luckily for her, she was pretty insulated from what just happens as she was listening to something shit (my words, not hers) on her iPod and texting some vapid nonsense to her pals – probably about how unfair it was that she had to start work at 8am on a Sunday. I mean, she has to get up that early for school during the week, shouldn’t that be enough for her bitch mum? Her awareness of the accident amounted to feeling the bump of the wheel directly below her which almost knocked her phone clean out of her hands. But now she’s beginning to realise that something isn’t quite right. Firstly, the bus is sat at an angle on the road and, although she’s not much of a bus driver herself, she knows that that isn’t right and B) there is a lot of screaming going on. Like, a lot of screaming. Her immediate thought is to turn round and look out the back window to see what’s going on, but this bus doesn’t have one of those, so she just kind of looks around the bus to see if she can work it out from everyone else’s reactions. But there’s only like one other person and he looks creepy, old and weird and she doesn’t want to look at him too long because then he might see her and look back. So she makes a quick decision and decides to just ignore everything for as long as she’s able to – as long as she’s not late for work, everything will be fine. Her boss is such a bitch, man.
Outside on the street, things are a bit rougher going. The people here got the full show in resplendent 3D complete with sound effects, smell-o-vision and the works. A truly immersive sensory experience. Needless to say, the first three rows got pretty wet. Elizabeth Brown and her young grandson got it worst though. They had been on their way to church, against the expressed wishes of her militantly atheist son-in-law, and the young man who got hit had been wandering down the hill towards them in the moments prior to the accident. To be honest, Elizabeth had felt threatened by him. The moment she saw him she had pulled Rory close to her side and had tried to subtly move across the pavement towards the metal railing so that he was between herself and it. This was perfectly understandable. The young man coming towards them was clearly drunk. He was weaving all over the pavement, muttering to himself and he seemed to be wildly oscillating between great joy and severe sorrow – one moment he was laughing manically, the next he was gripping his long hair in his hands, openly crying and yelling obscenities into the early morning. As he got close to them he seemed to notice Elizabeth’s fear and, regarding Rory and the way he was gripping onto her hand, sadness washed over him and he reared out onto the road to give them as wide a berth as possible, not noticing the bus tanking down the hill towards him. Elizabeth tried to yell out, but the words didn’t emerge from her quick enough and she was left to helplessly watch as he was dragged under some of Great Britain’s finest public transportation.
As a mother and grandmother, Elizabeth likely already had a pretty strong appreciation for the fragility of human life but that couldn’t have prepared her for the bone-crunching awfulness of what she witnessed. To see another person thrown about, vandalised and crushed in such a manner deeply humbled her, deeply frightened her and causes the deepest part of her stomach to empty itself all over a small part of Edinburgh city centre. With last night’s dinner having been evacuated, she quickly turns her attention to Rory, grabbing him up into her arms and burying his head into her shoulder. She’s unsure if it’s completely Christian of her but her thoughts are with him rather than the drunk young man who had just been spread like cheap butter over a busy road. She wonders how much of what he had witnessed had just burned into his inquiring three-year-old mind. And then she wonders how she’s going to explain to her daughter and son-in-law why she has him out at this time of the morning…
Reggie Shepard-James is the real hero on the Mound this morning though. Ten minutes prior to all this unpleasantness he set off from his plush New Town apartment – he’d call it a flat but that just doesn’t quite account for it’s splendour – for his epic Sunday morning jog. He ran for two hours last week and he would be pretty disappointed if he didn’t at least match that today. It is an utterly beautiful morning for it, you see. So yeah, the plan for the day is: epic jog; sensible, structured warm down; shower; bit of brunch; an afternoon of studying; and then this evening he might give Suze a text and see if she fancies a shag. It’s going to be a good day for Reggie – or at least, it was going to be before he saw this personage pancaked by a prole-mobile. But, where most people would see a horrible and tragic accident, Reggie saw opportunity. As a third year medical student – and a damn fine one, in his opinion – this is his chance to spring into action, prove himself and maybe even get his name in the newspaper. For something this fortunate to happen is a rarity and Reggie understands that this is a chance which should be seized.
As soon as he heard the impact, Reggie was sprinting to the man’s side. He reached him just as the bus finally pulled to a halt behind him and he was in the middle of dropping to his side to administer first aid when he realised how utterly out-of-his-depth he was. The man, who was about his own age, was twisted and contorted in a manner that no human body should ever be twisted and contorted in. Every bone in his body appeared to be shattered, crushed or snapped. Blood poured out of him, flowing down the camber of the road and into the drain. Bruising was already surfacing on his face, pulping the skin around his lifeless eyes. Satisfied that the man was already dead, Reggie passes out next to him in the middle of the road. On the plus side, he probably will get his name in the paper.
So this leaves me I guess. In a way, I was lucky, as I didn’t actually see any of it and so won’t carry the same mental scars as everyone else who was there. Thing is though, if I had seen it, the bus probably wouldn’t have hit me as I stepped off the pavement away from that bloody woman. I can’t tell you what it felt like to be hit by or run over by the bus. It happened too quickly. But I can tell you that as I lie on the road, every part of me broken, I’m wishing for death. I know my injuries are terrible and I know I should be dead and that my lungs should have ceased with their stubborn insistence on oxygen, but I’m not and they haven’t. So instead I just lie here, prone and flitting in and out of consciousness. Breathing, when I shouldn’t be. Living, when I shouldn’t be.