Our Lives in Our Hands

An angry voice insists on squeezing its way through my window. He sounds drunk, but it could be the fury not the wine. Drying my hands on a tea-towel I wander idly across the kitchen and peer into the glistening street below. It takes me a little while to piece it all together, but finally I see her. A woman is lying on the road, partly concealed by the leaves of a tree beneath my apartment: only her arm and a foot are visible from my vantage point. As I watch, a team move towards her, lift her carefully, and wheel her into a waiting ambulance. Her limbs sway with the motion of the stretcher, but she is not moving.

There is time to notice details. I see that she is wearing a knee-length black skirt and dark tights. She has a light suit jacket over a cream blouse, but no coat. A pretty gold necklace glints in the afternoon sun. She is young. She had been lying less than two metres away from a pedestrian crossing: the one I use myself on a daily basis.

Angry Man is shouting into the open window of a police car. He has a lot to say. The police are here but are making no attempt to control traffic around the accident spot. Cars are driving up onto the pavements and creeping along the edges of the tragedy, some of them leaning on their horns in protest at the inconvenience. The traffic moves ahead, the rain begins again, life goes on. The nonchalant, passive apathy of the whole scene enrages me: me and Angry Man, who is still intermittently shouting.

The pedestrian crossing in Moscow may get you from one side of the street to the other (although you take your life into your hands every time), but it is also the site of intersection between cultures. Here you will immediately realise the difference between Russia and… other places. Never assume that a pedestrian crossing here is a safe place to cross the road. A driver may begin to slow down but change their minds at the last minute because, after all, it’s much easier to accelerate than to brake, especially if your free hand Is busy holding your mobile phone to your ear. The staggering indifference to the value of human life as demonstrated by many Moscow drivers is something I will never get over, however long I may live here.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), science-fiction, horror, mystery and fantasy writer, speaking half a century ago:

“I never learned to drive. As a kid, I saw too many fatal accidents and I grew up hating the idea. Automobiles slaughter 40,000 people a year, maim a hundred thousand more, and bring out the worst in men. Any society where a natural man — the pedestrian — becomes the intruder, and an unnatural men encased in a steel shell becomes his molester, is a science fiction nightmare.”

Sam Gerrans on being a pedestrian in Moscow – very funny and very true. Click here:- Inside Out: The Voice of Russia

2 thoughts on “Our Lives in Our Hands

  1. Apparently more Russians die in a year on the roads than in the entire ten years of their Afghan War.
    I’ve just got back from 10 days in Iceland and it was wonderful to have drivers slow down as they see you approach the pedestrian crossing, rather than accelerate as Russian drivers are prone to do.

    • It’s the first thing I notice every time I come back from a trip abroad: the need to be even more aware and alert. Being in another country can lull you into a false sense of security. Welcome back to Moscow!

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