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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.

 

The man holding the plastic bag raises his arms over his head and waves them slowly back and forth, back and forth. His face is hidden under his hood, and the rain falls around him and the lump at his feet. Cars, oncoming, stop, their red taillights glaring through the rain. The man with the plastic bag looped around his fingers kneels down and touches the lump; it doesn’t respond. He touches it again, pushing it gently, then forcefully—hey man, hey man, get up. you okay? You okay, man? Hey…hey. The man with the plastic bag looks south; the police station is just down the way, on the next block, but the cars are coming and honking and drivers are yelling and hanging out of windows trying to see what’s going on.

Someone must have called. Someone must have called because the police come, sirens blaring out of the station parking lot and make a right, then stop. The lump is still on the ground, unmoving, and the man with the plastic bag stands up and raising his arms again, back and forth, back and forth, and officers come to meet him. Another officer reroutes traffic. Go around, go around, and disgruntled drivers back up and turn the other way, slowly, watching and grumbling. Others rubberneck, unsure of what’s going on, eyes wide and mouths open. If their windows were open they’d catch the rain. The dark street is wet and there’s a lump on the ground, and a man standing with a plastic bag in his hands, or maybe he’s already gone. He disappears from the scene. He doesn’t know the old man, doesn’t know what to do. If there’s food in the plastic bag, it’s getting cold; if there are goods in there, they’re getting wet. He can’t hang around. The ambulance is parked on the curb, and EMTs are lifting the lump onto a stretcher. It’s lucky there’s a hospital down the street, not even five minutes away. They lift him, and his slick parka glistens beneath the streetlamps and the headlights as the line of cars make their left-hand turns. Still unconscious, rolling with the stretcher as it’s wheeled over the asphalt, the man is lifted into the back of the ambulance and the sirens whine as it pulls away from the curb and speeds up the street. It makes a right at the light, and then a left, and then another right into the medical center parking lot, where the double doors are thrown wide just in time to receive him.   

Maybe the doctors were right there. Maybe they ran alongside his gurney like they do on TV and rushed him into the operating room. Maybe a doctor has his hands against the man’s chest and is pushing and pushing, one hand over the other against his ribcage, pushing and pushing. The heart monitor is not beeping, but they have reason to believe he isn’t dead and so the first doctor keeps going and then another brings out the defibrillator, and between calls of “CLEAR!” the tiny beep of life sounds and grows louder and maybe the man stirs—a twitch of the finger or the mouth and the doctor leans back, hands still on the man’s newly heaving chest. The man can’t say where he’s been or what he’s seen, he only breathes, eyes fluttering. The doctors step back and watch him, exchanging glances as he sucks air into his grizzled mouth, chin and neck covered in matted gray hair. A powerful smell is coming off of him. Wet and musty. Rain water mixed with sweat and urine. The breath of one who hasn’t eaten, stale and pungent, and dirty hair festering with the layer of dirt and grime that covers his skin. The doctors don’t mind—they have seen and smelled worse—they still exchange glances. Waiting. The man’s eyes close, but he is still breathing—sleeping mainly. Maybe dying and coming back to life takes a lot out of you; maybe resurrection is like being born.

Not a week later the man sits under the wintry sky wearing the same coat and the same hat sitting on the same street. He’s muttering to himself, eyes roving back and forth up and down. Beneath his shirt there is a bruise where the doctor was pushing on his chest. Beneath his pant leg there is a scar where he cut himself on the street. Beneath his hat his hair grows wiry and tangled, matted with downtown’s dirt. Cars rattle by but he doesn’t see or hear them—he doesn’t even stir. He just sits, arms wrapped around himself, muttering quietly, eyes darting. His chest hurts and he can’t remember why. His legs sting but he can’t tell you what happened. His hips are sore from falling in the street, but he doesn’t remember that either.

He looks up at the sky where he does remember a light and some pressure, and some part of him thinks it was an angel. He looks up at the sky, muttering. It looks like rain.