This is not a pleasant post to write and it will, I suspect, not be particularly pleasant to read. I began this new blog less than a week ago to write about happenings in my life, and by sad chance the first major happening was one of tragedy. Nevertheless I will write about it; things like this cannot just be swept under a carpet of superficial happiness. In respect for the deceased and those who knew her I will be omitting certain descriptions from my post.
This incident will certainly make me think about the way I operate a motor vehicle, and I would defy anyone to hear me describe what happened in true detail and not consider if their own conduct couldn't be improved. Please only read on if you are assured that hearing about this will not unduly upset you.
On the morning of Thursday 29th March I was taking my usual cycle route to work in the centre of Manchester. The route leaves Victoria Park opposite Daisy Bank road, turning onto Upper Brook Street and shortly to the cross roads with Hathersage Road. Thanks to Google Latitude I have almost exact timings for when I was at specific points. At 9:58am I crossed the lights before the long stretch along the side of Manchester Royal Infirmary; as I crossed the lights I noticed a pair of gloves just on the line, and straight after noticed a black handbag lying almost in the centre of the cross roads. My first thought was to pick it up, but as I slowed down the lights began to change and I cycled on.
Immediately after the lights two busses were stopped. As I pulled out to overtake the rear bus, a StageCoach bus began to indicate to move off. I sped up slightly, and only as I passed the driver did I look up to see that all the cars ahead of me were swerving out to avoid... something in the road. From this distance it was not immediately clear what it was, but the first idea my mind went to turned out to be true. In typical fashion as soon as I first thought of what it could be a hundred alternatives replaced it; in some form of immediate self denial I ignored the other items of evidence lying on the road and followed the line of cars, pulling out past the object.
As I passed I was forced to recognise the awful truth. She was wearing a wrist watch.
Still in some form of denial I busied myself wondering what the large crowd of people were looking at, then with annoyance at that bus that had started to pull out, and then with the state of the road. I was about 100 metres away when I had to pull in. The enormity began to hit me. Over and over in my head I tried to reason what I could have seen. To describe the alternatives would be to give too much detail, but the crowd of onlookers didn't bode well. I began scrabling for something to cling to, some form of personal contact.
Up the road were some builders drinking tea. Tea. Very normal. People wouldn't be drinking tea if something like what I thought I'd seen was actually present. Well, they would if they had no idea, if as seemed apparent from the investigation that was to come it had happened so quickly that nobody was actually certain what had transpired. Still at a loss I turned and saw another cyclist pass the scene. He seemed to cycle normally, maybe it was imagined after all. I pulled out shortly before he passed and tried to match my speed. He slowed behind me and we came to the next set of lights where we stopped. I turned to find him looking around somewhat in confusion. Heart sinking I just asked "was that?" before his slow nod told me that we weren't sharing some joint hallucination, this was real.
The rest of the journey into town is a bit blurred. I'm not sure I usually cycle that fast but it seemed incredibly important that I talk to someone. Anyone. I stopped under Mancunian Way and considered posting on Twitter. But what do you post? Especially when you're still not sure what you saw. Who's going to come and chat to you over that? So I continued to the office, barely sitting in my seat before announcing to Jake and Owen (who's desk I work at) "there's a dead body in the road on Upper Brook Street".
I don't know what people are supposed to do in reaction to that, but credit to both of them for being rational and understanding. Also apologies to them for interrupting their morning with such news. At that point I did go on Twitter, saying the only thing I could think
Just saw possibly the most disturbing thing of my life cycling along Upper Brook Street. Keep an eye out on the news, too bad to tweet it
— M1ke (@M1ke) March 29, 2012
Shortly after this the internet began to explode with news. I tweeted at the @gmpolice account and got a reply fairly quickly stating that officers had attended. Soon afterwards I got a call from someone at the Manchester Evening News. It was difficult to relate what had happened but I felt that if anyone else had half seen the incident they'd be looking for information, so anything the press could tell them was better than nothing. By the time I got back to my desk there was already an article online, quoting my tweet.
The rest of the day wasn't particularly great for work. Whilst trying to get on with things I was hooked on Twitter, hoping for some news. During the day a man was arrested, then released and images of the deceased prior to the accident were released. Various rumours came out about what had happened, from the horrific (the body was dropped from a van) to the eventual truth, a road traffic accident. On my way home I visited officers at the crime scene to make sure they had the information about the hand bag; I expected that they would but found on the news later that they were still looking for it.
On the evening I attended both a Bible study in Levenshulme and our regular Thursday pub meet up in Moss Side. At both gatherings my friends were very understanding, and tolerant to my need to talk about what had happened. I went to sleep Thursday afraid that the day's events would not do me well overnight, but I got a good sleep in, and was able to resume a more normal pattern on the Friday, though still keeping a watch on incoming news.
It is now a few days since the incident (I've played with the post time). Tomorrow I will go and place some flowers with the few that have already appeared at the scene. I'm not sure I'll ever forget what I saw, but I'm not sure it would be good to. Death is something we must all face, and we will do so multiple times in our lives. God willing it will be in far less tragic circumstances than the poor woman on Upper Brook Street.