One day last week as I was driving down the hill into Double Bay, heading west, I saw spreadeagled, face down on the road, a rag doll. It was tall with striped pants and orange hair. Arms out either side. I swerved to avoid running over it but you could see that plenty of other drivers had not. How did it end up there? Whose familiar was it? Did some child drop it crossing the road or did it fly out a car window? Did someone throw it from the balcony of one of the tall apartment buildings flanking the street? Did it fall from space?
It revived or perhaps recalled my greatest fear while I drive: that I might hit a pedestrian. Don't really worry about hitting, or being hit by, other cars even though, on any night, you might have half a dozen narrow escapes. Probably that's something to do with the metal skin you're all encased in. Whereas pedestrians ... it's the thought of metal hitting unprotected flesh, allied with the fact that pedestrian behaviour is becoming more and more casual, to the point where people now commonly step out into the road at any old time, even when the trafiic is flowing and the lights are against them.
Last week my nightmare almost came true. I'd picked up a fellow in the City and taken him out to the University of NSW for his daughter's graduation. She'd studied Chemical Egineering and was already working out north of Mt Isa. He was a former member of the board of the Film Finance Corporation, an interesting man who found out, I realised as I drove away, much more about me than I did about him. It was about 6.30, before daylight saving had ended. I was coming down High Street towards Anzac Parade, with the setting sun directly ahead of me. The combination of low light, downhill trajectory and dust on the windscreen made visibility almost nil. Like driving into a golden haze, a swarm of dusty light.
I was probably driving too fast, as I tend to do when I'm thinking about other things. Suddenly I saw, out of the haze, a young woman stepping in front of the car. Hadn't even seen the pedestrian crossing she was using; and she, with her ipod on, certainly hadn't seen me. In fact, I don't think she ever did really see me. I slammed on the anchors, praying the car would stop before sending her plumpness flying into meat. It did, just. And she carried on, oblivious. As I did, a bit shaken, a bit trembly, and much slower. For the rest of the shift I kept getting flashbacks: both her form appearing out of the haze and then, overlaid or perhaps immediately sequential, the rag doll spreadeagled face down on New South Head Road.