About a month ago, a couple of days after my birthday, I was driving into work when I heard about an accident on the Peninsula Link highway. A cyclist had been hit by a truck, and the air ambulance had arrived to pick the cyclist up. He was in a serious condition.
Accidents between vehicles and cyclists have become quite common these days, and by the time I got to work it was out of my mind: a sad event, but, unfortunately, garden variety.
That night I went to JV’s for dinner. It was a Friday. They had very kindly invited me over to celebrate my birthday, which to a large degree had gone by without comment. We got excellent take-away burgers, opened a couple of bottles of excellent Shiraz, and B, JV’s wife, had got a lovely chocolate birthday cake to mark the occasion.
About midway through the meal B got a phone call. As she spoke her face fell. “Oh no,” she said as we watched, aware that something terrible had happened. The distress was visible on B’s face, in her strained voice, in the dislocated language she used in communicating with the person on the other end of the line.
After she got off the line B looked at us in shock. The husband of a dear friend – her wedding photographer? – had been struck by a truck while out cycling. They had a young family, were lovely people who B had known for many years. He wasn’t expected to last the night.
It was chastening news, and somehow more so as I made the connection to what I had heard on the radio that morning. I told the story as it had been reported, and B nodded her head listening as if it made sense. She added that the truck had abruptly changed direction, as if it had missed a turn, which is when it had struck her friend.
After a while the cake was brought out, with a candle on top to blow out. Make a wish I was urged. I hesitated. There was much I could wish for myself, but that seemed selfish. It’s only a birthday wish, I thought, but it seemed important, if not to the world, then to me. I wished for B’s friend to live and to make a full recovery. Then I cut the cake.
I rang over the weekend to check how he was, and found he was alive still, but in a coma. A week later the story was much the same. I drew encouragement from that. I don’t know if anyone can understand, but I had forged a bond with this person. His fate was important. Much as I would like to deny it, there was a selfish component to this. I hoped that his wife and children would get their husband and father back, and felt it all the way through.
At the same time his fate felt symbolic to me. I’d invested a birthday wish in him. If he survived then everything would be good. That silly wish would be validated, and in some way good fortune would ensue for all. If he were to die, then the opposite were true. It’s ridiculous how these things grow a life of their own.
In a way it felt like my life was on the line too. Whether he survived or didn’t had nothing to do with what I wished for, I knew that, but I felt something different. It was almost as if I believed the wish of an unknown stranger might be enough on top of the hopes and wishes of friends and family to tip the balance. It had to be. And if it wasn’t it was because there was no power of luck in me any more.
On Friday I went over there for an Easter feast. His parents were down from Sydney, and her mum and brothers were there, and me, adopted family for the day. It was a nice occasion – they’re lovely people all – and it flowed into the evening.
I had not forgotten about this man, but he had gone to the back of my mind. Sitting there on Friday I remembered again. I itched how he was, but didn’t want to do it in front of others lest the news were bad – he was close, I knew, to one of B’s brother’s particularly.
I took aside when I got the chance and asked. She answered to the table: the news was good. He was alive and conscious, and had even begun rehabilitation and therapy. There was a long way to go, but the prognosis was good.
Somehow I had known this even before she confirmed it, but on hearing it I felt a pleasant lightness, as if, almost, it meant that happy endings were possible after all. That’s what you have to believe.