Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
I once stepped into the path of a speeding van to see if it would hit me.
Upon hearing this, you might expect that I was suicidal, and I would not begrudge you for thinking that about me. I would like to clarify that this was not an attempt to take my life. Rather, it was a test to see if I had one to begin with.
You see, I was stood at a zebra crossing, and if you’re unfamiliar with how they work (as the driver of the van might very well have been), suffice it to say that you are legally obligated to yield at one if a pedestrian is wanting to cross. The day was perfectly clear, a sporadic, sweltering day in spring that could pass for summer. There were no other vehicles on the road, and no other pedestrians other than myself. In other words, there was little to distract the driver’s attention. His eyes should have flicked to where I was standing. The front of his van should have dipped as he applied the brakes. The engine should have grumbled as the gears downshifted. I should have been granted my right of way to cross the road. I should have been seen.
But none of those things happened, and I guess that made something click inside my head. A collection of memories and feelings seemed to surface, not separately, but rather an amalgamation of every occasion in my life that made me wonder if I truly existed. Like the many times I’ve smiled at a stranger and their eyes slipped over me as if I weren’t there. Like every occasion I spoke to a colleague or friend and I could see their attention waver, and I listened to my voice trail into silence. Every time I woke up and felt lighter than when I went to sleep. Every time I realised that my life has never truly overlapped anyone else’s.
And so I stepped in front of the van. I stepped and thought, “If I’m to be struck down then I didn’t exist anyway!”
Since I am sharing this recollection, I’m sure you can guess that the van did indeed stop. There was a mighty screech of rubber on tarmac, and by the time the van became still, the grilles were inches from my face, and I could feel heatwaves billowing from the engine.
The driver leaned out of his window and shouted, “What are you doing you crazy fucking bitch!”
Of course, to him, it must have looked like I was attempting to take my life. If only he could have known I had passed my test. That I was alive. I had been seen.
“Thank you,” I told the man politely. This disarmed him quite effectively, though that was not my intention. He simmered back into his van and I’m sure his thunderstruck eyes followed me as I crossed the road and rounded the corner, because I did not hear his van resume the journey.
For a few days I felt an overwhelming fondness for that man. Tyre marks were left on the road, and I could not pass these black slashes without offering them a smile or nod of recognition. Eventually, long after they faded and the road was clear once again, I came to realise that I did not owe the man my gratitude.
Because strangers still continued to look through me. The people I knew quite well still allowed their attention to wander when I spoke to them. The part that changed was how I felt about these instances afterwards. I didn’t need these people to substantiate my existence any longer. And, I came to realise, the driver of the van did not imbue my life with value because I made him stop and let me cross the road. I did that myself. I stepped out. I put one foot in front of the other and forced my way in front of three tons of steel barrelling towards me, and I demanded to be seen.
And so I was.