3

Where the author is almost run over by a bus and is taken to the hospital with a fractured knee.

On May 23rd around 1PM I have the impulse of trying a little stunt I have seen other messengers do: to keep my balance on the bike when the bike is stationary. It's not as easy as I thought and a sudden shift of the handlebar to keep my balance brings the tire in contact with my shin. Blood starts to ooze from the skinned area. I pat it dry with a handkerchief. When I get into the lobby blood has run down my leg and I pat it dry again. Before I ring the bell at that designer's office there's still more blood and I give it another pat. The receptionist in the jewelbox-like foyer asks me to have a seat and wait a moment. I sit a few minutes on a gilt chair in my dusty shorts, scuffed sneakers, rough leather bomber jacket, my face unmade-up, my hands unmanicured, blood running down my leg obscenely, then the porcelain doll tells me that I may leave.

Back to my bike I'm startled that the blood hasn't clotted yet. And it bleeds so much for such a small scrape! Then I notice the beautiful color combination of my blood against the dark grey of the asphalt. Very stylish. A stab of panic interrupts my aesthetic reverie. A stern voice speaks from inside: "We're not talking about colors in the abstract here. The grey is the pavement, the red is your blood. Your blood dripping
out of you. Your blood is your life. You lose your blood, you lose your life."
"But I was only trying a little stunt away from traffic," I protest.
"This is enough! I didn't say anything until now but you're bleeding! YOU'RE BLEEDING! This passes the limits!"
I'm shaken. Yes, it's true. Life is so fragile. Skin is so thin. My body. I must respect my body. I must protect my body as if my will were a mother and my body that mother's child. So I resolve that from now on I will be very attentive, I won't let my mind wander even one second.

My next stop is in the twenties, so from 57th Street I take 5th Avenue, which is a one-way street with four or five lanes of traffic, the right one being a bus lane. At 42nd Street the light is red so I move to the front of the line and find myself on the second lane with a Transit Authority bus on my left on the third lane. I have been there many times, I know that the incline that starts north of 42nd and ends at 41st Street doesn't look steep but it does slow me down considerably. About two thirds of the way up a few cars are parked inside the bus lane. And to the right of the avenue, the majestic Public Library occupies the two blocks from 42nd to 40th street.

I wonder how the bus is going to reach the 40th street bus stop. Whatever it does, our paths will intersect. The light turns green and I start to slowly pedal uphill, expecting the bus to pass me immediately but it doesn't."Oh, he's letting me pass ahead so he can go to the right behind me instead of in front of me" I think. After passing the southern pedestrian crossing of 42nd Street I let my head hang low to relax my neck muscles and I keep a distance of about one foot from the painted line on my right. Cars pass me in the far left lanes of the avenue, not in the 2nd and 3rd lanes, and the bus still hasn't passed me. I'm approaching the first car parked in the bus lane. What is he doing?

I turn around and see it about twenty feet behind me, ap- proaching without a sound like a missile aimed at me. I'm sand- wiched between the bus and the parked cars, there is no escape. "I'm going to die" I think and my only consolation is that I'll die working. I let my head hang low again, having nothing else to do but keep going until the last second of my life. Then, because of the angle of my head I see the front fender of the bus when it comes level with my rear wheel. Its distance to my left is no more than a half-arm length and the distance keeps getting smaller. The bus is going to collide with my front wheel! When it is level with my body I throw my left shoulder against it to prevent the collision. I'm thinking of the huge wheel that would run me over if I fell.

The moment my shoulder makes contact with the bus, the driver engages the motor. I hear its insane roar and the vehicle starts going faster while my shoulder slides against the glassed front door. The driver sees me and he doesn't stop, he goes faster! He's trying to kill me! He's trying to make me fall to run me over! I feel a rage I've never felt before. I push against the bus with all my weight, my upper body at an angle, while keeping the bike upright and as far away as possible from the bus. I know from childhood experience that if anything comes into contact with the bike you fall. I see the deadly front wheel pass just inches away and feel triumphant but the thought of the back wheel sobers me. I can't just let myself fall and roll away, I have to let the entire side of the bus slide against my shoulder. So I pedal as fast as I can to minimize the friction while the bus keeps accelerating and pulling me forward. From the length of the bus ahead of me I know that the back door is coming up. I brace my shoulder to withstand the bump into and out of the recess of the back door and I keep my balance. My bike jumps forward and I'm going even faster. We're on flat ground. I know that I'm going to be injured but at least I won't be killed. The rear twin wheels pass under my eyes at last and now there's nothing to support my shoulder any more and I fall on my left knee. I hear the bones explode on impact.

Sprawled in the middle of the second lane I look at the bus that keeps going, then stops at the 40th Street bus stop. I wonder who has paid him to run me over but nobody comes to mind. It is 1:13PM and the "13 Hours 13" of French and military time doesn't escape me. People who were taking their lunch break on the steps of the library gather in a half circle on the sidewalk and the roadway. In the front row I immediately recognize the man with the dark shades I met at the incident of 666 Broadway. As soon as our eyes meet (at least I suppose) he approaches me and asks what I'm going to do with my bicycle. As if I cared. He says that if I want, he could padlock my bike at a signpost and I hand him my keys without saying anything. But an EMS man who is moving me to a stretcher says that they're going to put the bike in the ambulance and the tall man gives me my keys back. My knee has swollen to basketball size and I feel a dull pain. While the EMS people are busy with me a policeman approaches me. "What part of the bus hit you? The front?"
"No." I wasn't exactly "hit" but I don't know the correct word and I'm in no condition to start explaining.
"The back?"
"Yes." It was the part of the bus with which I was in contact last.

In the emergency room at St. Clare hospital a doctor reduces the fracture and dislocation of my femur then I ask to be wheeled to a telephone and I call Ed. I tell him that I've been injured and I'm in the hospital. I ask him to send a messenger at the emergency room to pick up the package I was going to deliver. Ed's reaction puzzles me. He doesn't ask how badly I'm hurt, he doesn't say how sorry he is that I'm injured. No. His voice is eerily flat and matter of fact. He doesn't sound surprised! He says that he's sending someone over.


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