Standing in the middle of the road, his sunglasses reflecting the passing clouds in the sky and cars on the street, his felt cap perched at just the right angle upon his head, his boots blackened and shining in the sun, he stares at the passing traffic, fingering the wireless radio attached to his thick, navy blue belt. Another day on the road. Another day in the sun. Another day in a long series of days that never seem to end in peace. The radio emits endless gibberish, intersected now and then with static. He listens with half an ear, picking up the important phrases and ignoring the rest. The morning traffic swarms around him in all directions; cars, buses, trucks, pickups, rickshaws and donkey-carts. The components of the great automobile society of the nation. His trained eye picks up unregistered vehicles, broken tail-lights, drivers with no licences. He can see through the glass of the passing buses where an illegal shama’a or two are tucked out of view behind the closed doors. A minibus with the name of a school printed all over the side, while it’s load of passengers are clearly no school children at all, tries to keep itself hidden behind a large bus as it passes in front of him. He sighs wearily; it’s so much easier to pick the law abiding vehicles from the outlaws than the opposite; they’re a much smaller percentage. But he shouldn’t be worrying about it, it isn’t his problem. Behind him he can hear the seemingly endless whistling of his colleagues, pulling over about 3 of every 5 automobiles passing by them. Licence and registration, licence and registration, licence and registration. Two things every traffic-officer says in his sleep. Picking his way between the vehicles, he walks slowly over to the car parked over the curb. Inside are two other high-ranking officers, pens poised over ticket-books, ready to fine first and listen to excuses later. The one in the passenger seat raises his eyebrows at him, silently offering him his seat as he ignores the two drivers yelling over his head at the injustice of the system. He shakes his head wearily; he has been up for the past 16 hours, he can manage these last 2 on his feet. He thinks. He leans on the car, looking aimlessly down the road. White suits; the subject of eternal hate of the Sudanese community, drivers and non-drivers alike. It’s hard to believe that anyone has been less popular than traffic-officers in all time; not even the English colonizers themselves.
He must have dozed off while standing up. The radio at his waist is suddenly alive and spitting with police-jargon. The officers in the car and those on the street and pavement look at him questioningly, as their radios relay the same information over the air waves. Shaking himself, he pulls himself together and grabs the radio.
‘East 200, do you copy? Come in East 200.’
’10-4, East 200.’
‘We have a 20/20 on the Shingeeti-Al-Doma intersection, 3 vehicles, massive casualties, state your position.’
‘I’m half a mile north, ETA three minutes, over.’
He’s already jumped onto his motorcycle, already revving the engine and before the confirmation on the site of the accident and registration numbers of the vehicles is patched through, he is on his way. Skidding on the dirt and almost running over a kumsari arguing with an officer, the motorcycle roars over the pavement and onto the street, swerving between cars and heading north towards the intersection. Massive casualties; every traffic officer’s worst nightmare. Already traffic has slowed down and piled up; the two lane road has expanded into five lanes. He slams down onto the siren and brings out the loud speaker. In Sudan, courtesy is not a necessity.
‘Move! Out of the way! Officer coming through!’
A couple of officers push through, whistles squealing, arms waving. He inches through the crowd, narrowly avoiding scratching the cars around him. Its impossible. The radio at his hip emits frantic police jargon, and then:
‘Al-Tayeb! Where the hell are you!’
He ignores the radio and, throwing all care to the wind, revs his engine and bolts through the jam. He swerves behind a lorry laden with cows and jolts onto the pavement. Siren blaring and red light flashing, he tears down the broken asphalt, people and dogs scattering in front of him to avoid being run down. The two minutes to the intersection manage to seem like fifteen and a long way down the road he can already see the damage. Already a patrol car is present, and the crowd milling around is almost double that already in the cars. Aren’t these people supposed to getting to work?, he thinks to himself, annoyed, as he drives past a burning tire lying in a shallow ditch. He can hear the screams now, can see the blood and feel the heavy stench of death in the air even before the destroyed vehicles appear on the street. One of them will definitely be a bus, big or mini, and one possibly a civilian car. Please don’t let there be a truck involved. He knows that particular prayer won’t necessarily be answered. People craning over each other to catch a glimpse of the damage and bodies turn and move out of the motorcycle’s way as Al-Tayeb pushes his way through the crowd. He can see a set of tires high up in the air; a truck is involved after all. He can hear Kabashi yelling through the loud speaker for people to get the hell out of the way and let them work for God’s sake. Finally through, Al-Tayeb jumps to the ground and runs through the wreck, taking in the massive destruction around him even as a junior officer chokingly updates him. Three vehicles; one TATA dispense lorry with a load of dirt, one 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer, one Daewoo 6-passenger amjad, number of people in all: 12, number of dead bodies so far: 8, the rest are still trapped under the two smaller cars, screaming, and so obviously alive. An ambulance has been radioed ETA: 10 minutes. It’s 7:10 in the morning and already 8 bodies for the city mortuary. Kabashi and another officer who’s face he can’t see, along with about 8 passer bys are all over the mashed Lancer, pushing and pulling and lifting and swearing, trying to free the dented door and pull the people out from inside. Between their legs he can see a small hand flopping lifelessly with the movement of the car. Far down the road is the amjad, flung on its back and crushed beyond recognition. A similar crowd surrounds it, police men and civilians. Apparently someone inside there is still alive, too. The truck, lying on it’s side like a dead elephant, with it’s cargo of dirt all over the road and filling the ditch by the road, is other wise untouched. The Sudanese stubborn despise towards seatbelts is enough to cause damage on its own; the driver had crashed through the windshield and the passengers flown out the window onto the road. All killed instantly. Hopefully.
He jumps and swirls around. Kabashi is glaring at him and beckoning frantically, one hand lost amidst the tens of others wrapped around the mangled car. The screaming has diminished noticeably. He runs over, dodging the debris strewn over the asphalt, pushing through the everlasting crowd of lookers. There really is nothing we can do, he tells himself out of habit, as he dives into the crowd and starts pushing. He shuts his ears out to the piercing voices beneath him, closes his eyes to the bright red blood seeping through the cracks in the asphalt. There's nothing we can do, there's nothing we can do, there's nothing we can do…
Later, as the last ambulance hurries off, he stands alone on the street. The crowds of speculators have dispersed and the officers have driven off to their different destinations: to the regional hospital where the injured have been taken, to the city morgue and back to the station. Those who were already on sentry duty head back to their stations to clear up the nightmarish traffic. Al-Tayeb should be following Kabashi to the hospital, but his legs don’t seem to want to move. He can't get the sight of that small hand out of his head. And what was attached to the hand was worse. In all his 13 years of work, he thinks he should be used to all the grotesque sights that result from traffic accidents. Obviously it isn’t that easy. His radio crackles and its Kabashi again, surprise surprise.
Not shouting, not demanding. Just asking. It's always that way after an accident. He sighs, murmurs an OK into his radio and heads towards his motorcycle. He steps on something hard and feels it snap beneath his heavy boots. Startled, he lifts his foot and looks down at the small, ridiculous object lying on the road like a leaf floating in a vast ocean. It's a pink pencil.