It was a small 3-series BMW, and it howled wildly past us on the stretch of the M3 below UCT. The whine of the accelerator straining forwards made a peculiar Doppler effect as it passed us. We tried to figure out how fast they were going. One-twenty, I figured. More, said Candice. Maybe it just seems fast because we’re only going at 80, I said.
The time was about five to ten – less than an hour ago – Candice and I were driving back from Sake House in Claremont. Kolya was crying resolutely in the back, overtired but determined to fend off sleep a little longer. I was taking it slow and singing to try calm my child.
Less than a minute later, and we came up towards Woodstock. I slowed slightly; the traffic ahead seemed to be backed up along the three right hand lanes. Move over to the left, said Candice. Then: no, it seems to be moving now. Accident. Then: It’s the car. It’s the car that passed us.
There it was, overturned, smashed on its roof, glass splattered everywhere. A man – youngish, carrying something – was walking around the outside of the car. I hoped he was someone that had been inside, that had gotten lucky, gotten out alive. But I know it probably wasn’t. We both went silent, grey, ill. Kolya carried on crying in the back. Moments ago, we’d seen it flying past us, the four occupants probably high on something, brandy or beers or methamphetamines, who knows.
All I could think of was their mothers. How many times had their mothers, like me, reached back to touch a child’s head, wincing with the prickling of private gratitude to have their own child safe in the face of disaster? How would their mothers hear this news? When, where, from whom? Where would their years and years of steadily meted-out care go to when a child’s life gets smashed in a single moment of recklessness? It made me want to reach out to the most estranged souls in my life, to cry out at the fragility of this life, to beg for gentleness and mindfulness, to pour oil on troubled waters somewhere unrelated to that awful scene, in a blind bid to balance out the terrible closeness of this ugly thing. All I could do was drive past, and not look into those broken windows, that smashed roof against the tar.