By the time we arrived at the scene, the firemen were already there - their fire engine parked across the Brookly Queens Expressway. A lone cop car had stopped all traffic, and as we waited, the firemen went to work on the car.
It was a regular new york yellow cab. A tractor-trailer had rear-ended it, the force of the impact crumpling its rear half, flipping it over, and leaving it pointing in the direction of the on-coming traffic, wedged against a side-rail. Needless to say, the giant truck had fled the scene.
The gas tank had ruptured, sending gas flowing on to the road. That explained the firemen. The rear door was jammed, and inside, trapped, lay someone unconscious.
Within a few minutes, the sounds of emergency sirens - cop-cars, ambulances and fire engines surrounded us. These are sounds you hear all the time in this city - sounds that you become inured to, until you are confronted with something like this that reminds you that everytime those sirens blare, someone is dying.
I watched with a little concern as the stream of gas flowed towards my car. Just then, I noticed that the driver of the car next to me had stepped out, and was smoking. I yelled at him. He acknowledged my existence with a nod and a shrug. He did not stop smoking, of course.
My cabbie was Jamaican, he had been driving a cab for twenty years. This should have been a scene not entirely unfamiliar to him - and yet he was furious. He stepped out of the car started swearing at everybody -cops included. I understood his being upset, but not the degree of it. Until I finally made out, underneath all the incoherence, what he was saying - "They killed my friend. Ten years ago. Same place. F**kin' juggernauts"
It's a friendly city - this one. The aforementioned smoker put an arm around my cabbie's shoulders, took him aside and calmed him down. Most people had stepped out of their cars by now. There were shrieks and gasps as the firemen pried the door open and pulled out a bloody mess that had been, until a few minutes ago, a normal functioning person. Apparently he was still alive, but not breathing. The firemen started administering CPR. The snarl of traffic backed up behind us meant that the paramedics had not arrived. I had stepped out by now. The woman next to me was sobbing.
The cops did not particularly appreciate the standing crowd, so they shooed us back into our cars. My cabbie was agitatedly sobbing. I had no idea what to do - so I ventured a "I hope he does not die"
"He's dead, brother. Crash like that nobody survives", retorted my cabbie.
Another awkward silence.
The paramedics had arrived by now. They had come back down the empty stretch of highway that lay ahead of the crashed car. They put the guy on a stretcher, hooked him up to a ventilator and tried to restart his heart. I don't know if they succeeded, but they took him away. The firemen began hosing the highway to clean it of blood. They foamed down the gasoline.
Meanwhile, the cops made all of us back down along the BQE, and take the nearest exit out. It would be some time before they would restart traffic here. Presumably, after the cab had been towed off and the road sanitized of all evidence that a person had almost died there.
We made our way to my place via another route. I was a bit pained that my fare was almost twice of what it would have been otherwise, and at the same time a bit guilty for feeling that way instead of being concerned about the passenger in the crumpled cab.
As I reached out to pay the cabbie, he turned around, tears streaming down his eyes.
"Are you muslim, brother?"
"Are you a christian, then?"
"No, I'm Hindu"
"Do you pray, brother?"
I did not have the heart to tell him I did not.
"Pray tonight for him, will you?"
"Yes, I will", I told him. Then I entered my apartment. The smell of gas had given me a headache and made me nauseous. I threw up and fell asleep.
I wish I could live forever.