Last week I came as close as I ever have to dying – or, more accurately, to being killed.
I was walking from the station to work and, as I normally do, took a short-cut across a near-empty car park. It wasn’t dark, or raining, and as usual I stayed alert for cars – I’m a cautious person by nature, particularly around traffic.
I saw the big white van (what a cliché…) come into the car park, and assumed the driver would be looking to park somewhere – there were dozens of places.
But instead of searching for a space, the driver simply did a u-turn – he was heading out of the car park again – and headed straight towards me.
I had barely a few seconds to register the fact he obviously hadn’t seen me – or, to be more accurate, wasn’t expecting anyone to be in the car park at all – before he was feet away, and not stopping.
I had to take four or five rapid steps backwards – it was instinctive, I didn’t think about it – in order to avoid being hit. The van passed in front of me about a foot away – if I hadn’t moved, or had gone the other way, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t be here now.
After the near miss, the van just drove off. I’m certain the driver didn’t even see me.
I was unhurt, but shocked, and looked around to see if anyone had witnessed my near-death experience… there was nobody in sight. This was annoying. I wanted to share the moment with someone; to do the ‘Did you see that?’ thing. I had to wait until I got to work before I could tell somebody.
For the rest of the day, I kept thinking back to that split second when I had come very close to being flattened under the wheels of a big white van.
We all know, if we think about it at all (which I believe we should), that death could come at any moment. I often say ‘Life’s too short to do ironing,’ or ‘we could all be dead tomorrow,’ or ‘you could get hit by a bus next week.’ We know the reality, but don’t really think it’ll happen to us or those we love.
Of course, sometimes it does.
My dad had many sayings, most of them borrowed from works of literature, films or comedy sketches. One of his most frequently used, usually accompanied by some groaning or moaning about minor health issues, was ‘I won’t see February/April/ November*’ *whatever the following month was.
We used to tut and roll our eyes.
And then he had a stroke, and died two weeks later, on March 31st – not seeing April… sitting on my mum’s couch on April 1st 1995, in shock because dad had gone, and pondering on this, is one of the memories I will take to the grave.
So… big white vans… I suppose they come in many shapes and forms.
My new novel, out soon (watch this space!) starts with the sudden death of a child, who gets hit by a car on his way to nursery school. I hope it acts as a reminder that we’re all mortal, and that big white vans are everywhere…