If we hadn’t stayed to get a coffee cup, we wouldn’t have seen it. The others had disappeared into the pub for our choir rehearsal by then, and I was chatting to my friend T about carols in my local park in a couple of weeks, B and T’s wife J following behind.
We were skirting around the ladder when there was a slip, a smack and suddenly there was a man lying on the pavement a metre in front of us. He was on his back, eyes open, completely still. On the other side of the road, a woman screamed.
T and B ran to him and checked his wrists for a pulse. J rang for an ambulance and ran off into a coffee shop to scream for a doctor. I just stood there. Everyone around me was calling an ambulance. Suddenly the man was surrounded by people, arguing over what to do. Blood slipped out of his nose and I lost my nerve and ran off to the pub, shaking.
“Someone just fell off a building in front of us,” I said. It felt wrong leaving my friends there, even if there wasn’t anything I could do. And I just wanted to make sure the man wasn’t dead. I dropped my stuff off and went back.
B was inside a shop with a distraught man – a friend of the fallen man, who had been on the roof when he fell. Understandably, he was in such shock. They had been putting up Christmas lights for the shop’s owner, B said. Neither of them spoke English. After what felt like an hour, a lifetime, but was probably only 20 minutes, the ambulance came. Through the window, a technician asked: “How old is he?” No English. B and I flashed up our fingers to the friend, like we were at school, to try and find out the falling man’s age.
After another lifetime, the ambulance people cut off the man’s clothes and got him on a stretcher. Some possible reasons for the fall came out. Another lifetime later, we went off to the pub. The whole thing had taken barely 40 minutes. T and J got us brandies. Embarrassingly, I cried.
I’m generally quite good in a crisis, blood or otherwise. But it turns out that I’m not good in every crisis. That was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen – not the fall, or the blood, or the panic, but thinking that I was seeing life snatched away from someone completely out of the blue. That was completely terrifying.
In much brighter news, J rang the shop owner today and the man who fell is going to be ok, and is walking again. Thank God for that.