When I was younger I used to go to church with a family who had a son with autism. My memories of him are vague at best. He was obsessed with space ships, trains and video games, and would often sit alone repeating the same phrases over and over.
As he got older, he began exhibiting more unruly types of behaviour. They started out small enough – a tendency to break things or overeat. His parents locked all their cupboards and kept him away from the kitchen. Things obviously worsened, however, as he entered early adulthood, because the last thing I heard was that his family had put him into full-time professional care.
“Why did they do that?” I asked my physio, who was a reliable source of church gossip.
“Well, he was becoming a little difficult to handle,” she replied, digging her knuckles into my abdomen.
“But what did he do?” I pressed.
“Oh he would just get upset easily and then do inappropriate things,” she said.
“Can you give me an example?” I asked. I was dying from curiosity. What did this boy do when he got mad? I was imagining physical violence, tantrums, or perhaps even some public masturbation for shock value. The truth, however, was even more spectacular.
“Okay, here’s one,” the physio said. “Last month their whole family went to Perth for somebody’s birthday. When they were due to come home, their flight was delayed for four hours. The boy got upset, and when they tried to calm him down, he became angry. So he bit his own arm until it started bleeding, then he went around wiping the blood on other people and screaming into their faces.”
“That’s fucked up,” I marvelled.
“Please don’t swear in my house,” she replied. “Now, roll over.”
I was sitting at my desk last Tuesday when I heard a crash and screaming. I jumped up and ran to the window, assuming one of the junkies that hang around Town Hall had lost their shit. Downstairs, outside McDonald’s on Park Street in Sydney’s CBD, a cab was half-sitting on the curb and a woman lay writhing on the ground, shouting incoherently.
“Fuck!” I said articulately and my co-worker ran to the window.
“There’s a cab up on the curb and a woman is screaming!” I explained.
“Hmm” my co-worker said and returned to his desk.
I stayed at the window and watched as the taxi driver got out of his car and walked awkwardly towards the woman he had just run over. I should go to her, I thought, I should help her. She needs me. But I was afraid of missing some of the action from my window seat. Besides, a group of people instantly flocked to the woman’s aid and whipped out their mobile phones. They cast hostile glances towards the taxi driver. Look what you’ve done, you arsehole, their eyes said. I was annoyed when enough people surrounded the lady as to partially obscure her from my vision, but I was glad that she had help. She had stopped screaming and was sitting on the ground, talking to those around her. The taxi driver moved his cab off the curb and leaned against a telegraph pole with his arms folded. There were at least ten people sitting with the lady, taking care of her. There was nothing for me to do. Except watch.
I ran to the fridge and grabbed my lunch, then dragged my chair over to the window and continued watching while I ate. An ambulance arrived a few minutes later and one of the paramedics attended to the lady. She used wild hand gestures to explain how the taxi had run over her. The taxi driver still stood with his arms folded. I began to feel jealous. This woman had just been through a traumatic and potentially life-threatening experience, but she seemed to be physically fine. Maybe a broken leg or something, but nothing too serious. And yet she was about to become a millionaire. A taxi driver who runs up the curb is going to get his pants sued off. Better, his company would have way more money than he would. And his company’s insurance company would have even MORE money. Money that would soon belong to the lady.
I had to take a phone call, then when I went back to the window, the ambulance and the run-over lady were gone, but the police had arrived and were taking statements from four of the witnesses. That should be me, I thought, I would have given a better statement than any of those jokers.
“Linda was really special,” I would have told the police, “I saw her give $5 to a homeless man right before it happened. Did you know she was a ballet dancer? Yeah, well, there goes that.”
Then I would go to the hospital to see Linda. I would explain how I had given such a great statement. A statement that would probably be used in court while determining the amount of compensation awarded to her. Linda would owe me.