You see it like a dream: the man falls down on the slick pavement. You almost expect a splash but there is none, only the pounding of the sky. He turns from a human into a huddled mass, a hardly decipherable lump in the dark, wet night. Streetlights glance off the shining road, looking like a watercolor painting abandoned by an expressionist suddenly struck by another idea. Did the artist intend to paint this man? This man, standing? This man, mouth opened in a silent scream? This man, taking long unsteady gaits on shaking legs? This man, falling to the ground? And not getting up again. He doesn’t get up again.
You see it like a dream: the man crumpled on the ground. It is only moments after that you realize a car could hit him, destroy him, make sure of what you don’t yet know. You freeze and remember who and what you are: twenty-three, black, a girl, alone. You imagine yourself stopping the car, getting out, running to his side in the rain. You think of how small and thin you are, how weak. You imagine the man opening his eyes and grabbing you by the arm and then you stop imagining because you don’t know what happens next. People are so deceptive; it could be so foolish to help—what would your mother say?
Keep driving. And so you do. But before you press the gas you see a hooded figure through the rain. It runs from the sidewalk toward the huddled mass that may or may not be a dead man. You see the figure raise its arms, stopping the onslaught of cars coming toward him. You’re relieved. You watch the figure doing what you could not, and you want to close your eyes, but you’re supposed to be driving. You move the car forward, glance in your mirror and see the man, still not moving, and the figure, another man, leaning down, and you’re thankful there was someone else there—thankful it wasn’t up to you—because what would you have done?
Once you get home you call 911 and the woman says they’ve already gotten a call, and they’re already on the way. She hangs up. You sigh. What if the other man had not been on the sidewalk? What if you were the only one who saw the man falling? What if you drove on, and let the cars come? You think of the last time it rained this hard. You remember yourself, head aching and eyes streaming, curled in a ball on your bed wondering where it all went wrong and how you could ever move forward. You stop remembering. You see the man collapse, again and again. What would your mother have said? Keep driving. What did you mother say? You did the right thing. What did you say? What if no one else had been there? And your mother says, Thank God someone was. And you thank God someone was. And for a moment you hate yourself. You hate that you are a small black girl afraid of what could have happened if you helped.
You see it like a dream as you drive the road that leads home, and you try to see the man in the street in your rearview, there and gone in seconds, disappearing into the rain-washed scene. And you keep going because you have to, and the further you move away the more you realize you’ll never know whether or not you saw someone die.