I stayed in my seat as others around me stood to exchange information. The car had come out of nowhere. The car had come out of somewhere. The car was crumpled now, on the wrong side of the road, with a woman inside. I leaned my head against the window of the bus. It was my first bus-ride in Orlando. Outside the sky was darkening over a chain of neon-lit stores. Until now, I had enjoyed an uninterrupted love affair with Florida. But romance is the opposite of a bang to the side of your moving vehicle. Romance is not wondering first has someone been shot? Romance is put on hold when a woman in a floral dress pushes her way up through the aisle for a clear view of the road and announces wearily to no one in particular “she ain’t dead”.
In the proximity of death things become quite clear. People become more of what they are. Landscapes become real. Actualities get revealed. Very little, I think, escapes the bright flash of a near-death experience. Deathliness has a way of dismantling unreality and packing it away for a while. It demands instead, starkness and clarity. For a few moments, after the car collided with the bus, I observed Orlando with unclouded eyes. Orlando is, I realised, an endeavor. I saw the lanes of traffic moving beneath the concrete fly-overs. Low rolling clouds pushed at the edge of the sky. Orlando is a city of lines, constantly drawing itself. It is a place of construction, of re-invention, of old-fashioned work. Orlando is a city that wants – more than anything – to be loved.
Soon the emergency services arrived. In a lake of blue light, strong-bodied men and women in steel-capped boots and overalls ran from their shining vehicles towards the car, which sat now in the road like a crushed tin star. Around it they formed a circle and began with machines to cut into the silver seams. Around their circle, an outer-ring of teenage girls and boys formed, holding their cell-phones high above their heads towards the action and towards the woman they could not see. In the spiral of it all, I watched a hundred luminous screens flicker. I had the feeling of being foreign, of being alone beneath a new moon, of being witness to more than I could report.
Annemarie Ni Churreain was Fall 2014 Writer In Residence at Jack Kerouac House. (cargocollective.com/annemarienichurreain)