I used to own a Norton 650 motorbike. It was made long before I was born and it was a beautiful piece of machinery. It was superbly balanced, so that although it was a heavy machine it felt light to the rider. It went where you leaned; you only had to give it a hint, like a horse that knows and likes you. And it had power to spare.
I was working as a psychiatric nurse. It was a security hospital far out in the country. I mostly did night shifts, because I’m a night owl and I didn’t mind odd sleep patterns as much as most people. The patients were mostly asleep at night, with some spectacular exceptions, so I could usually get some reading or writing done.
I went to a party one Friday night. It was a good party, and I lost track of time. So when I looked at my watch I found it was 10.35PM. That meant I had less than half an hour to get my uniform on and get to the ward. I had my uniform in a backpack, and I decided to get changed at the ward once I’d arrived. That was a lucky decision. The other lucky thing was that I put on a long coat made of camel hair, that my grandfather had worn in the second world war. He was in desert fighting, where the nights seemed as cold as the surface of the moon.
But by the time I had my foot on the kickstart I had less than twenty minutes to get to the ward, and it was a half hour ride. It was a pitch black night, cloudy, moonless and starless.
I was on a stretch of gravel road when I saw a packing case on the road ahead of me, that must have fallen off the back of someone’s truck. I swerved to go round it, but I didn’t have enough time. The front tyre missed the box but hit a large stone, and suddenly the bike was sliding along the ground on one footpeg and one handle bar, spinning but still heading in the general direction of work. But I was in the air, having gone over the handlebars when the bike went down. I was flying a bit less than a metre above the ground, at the speed that the bike had been going.
I had what seemed like a long time in the air, long enough to experience every microsecond and to wonder, in an abstract way – since I couldn’t do anything about it – what I was going to hit, and how badly whatever I hit would break me. There were trees, and a ditch.
I feel like that now. I’ve left the bike, I’ve done the things I can do to try to save us. I don’t know if they’re enough, but more would make things worse. And for now there’s nothing more that I can do except to fly and hope that I’ll be ok when I hit whatever it is that I hit.