In two weeks, I will have lived in Indonesia for two months. It feels, however, like I’ve been here for a lot longer. The only thing I can say to that is Alhamdulillah (thank God), and I hope, God-willing, that my experiences in the rest of these short months can be as enriching as the last two. I think with all of the amazing experiences I’ve had so far, there had to come a time when I would experience something not so good; something that I would prefer not to remember.
It happens like this. You spend happy, anxious moments planning a weekend of sightseeing. You book hostels or hotels, you contact friends, you research restaurants and attractions, you day-dream about it, and when the day finally comes, you gather up your pre-packed bags and make a veritable dash for the door. At least, that’s how it was for me. On this day, there was very little room to think of anything negative, aside from normal traveler woes, such as pick-pocketers and late buses (or lack thereof).
I was with a friend (a volunteer from Europe) on a bus to Yogyakarta. It was morning on Saturday, the 25th of February; it was bright and hot. The bus was nicely air conditioned, and there was plenty of legroom. For the majority of the ride, I sat staring outside my window at the rice fields, mountains, and little villages that passed us by, listening to my iPod and letting my wind wander. My friend did the same. About one hour and thirty minutes into the bus ride, our vehicle of transport was zooming down a busy market road (some kind of a bridge actually). The road, four lanes separated by a black and white zebra divider, was overwhelmed with speeding cards, buses, and motorcycles. We were traveling fast, so fast that I noticed that the head of the sleeping man in front of me was bobbing rather violently with every turn of the bus’s wheels.
A few seconds later the bus lurched forward (the sleeping man awoke) as the driver hit the brakes. My friend felt an impact while outside my window I saw a woman being thrown backwards; sent rolling on the sidewalk/zebra divider, her bag sent flying in the same direction. I saw her crumple in a heap and the bus finally slowed about 10 meters from where she lay, bleeding under the hot Java sun. Stricken, I watched blood pour from her head, her left arm moving slightly.
She was so young. I noticed her pink top and black skirt (or was it a pink skirt and a black top?). Her jet black hair covered most of the injury, but now and then a red gleam as the blood flowed from the wound. Her right leg lay straight beneath her, and her left leg was folded over it. Her left arm covered her eyes while the right arm was maybe folded under. Anywhere else, and she could have been sleeping. A multicolored tote lay next to her, forgotten, abandoned by her death.
A crowd gathered but did nothing. My friend and I looked at each other in complete shock, and through quite a few obscenities I asked to no one in particular why the fifteen people gathered around the woman only stared and did not help. They stared, as we did through our window, and tried to understand.
My friend suggested we go outside to help, and through the strangeness of it all I muttered “I don’t think we can.” But even so I could feel the intention to jump out of the bus and run to her. Or maybe the truth of it was, I did not want to. What could I have done? Move her away from the staring eyes of the crowd? Hold her near-dead hand, and wait for her to pass? Suppress the bleeding in her destroyed head? Was she already dead? Is that why the crowd stayed back?
Why did I stay on the bus?
After a few minutes her arm stopped moving and she was still. I stared and tried to watch for signs of life, anyway. The passengers on our bus were directed to wait outside. We got off the bus and joined the crowd. After a few minutes, it was clear that she was dead. No ambulance was called. Just a makeshift police truck with a wooden bed and a wooden bench affixed to the floor of the bed. It was surreally insensitive. People passed, stared, and continued on. Some smiled nervously or laughed in shock. Others stopped and joined the crowd, cupping their hands over their mouths, shaking their heads. I remember thinking: so this is how it happens.
My friend later told me that the woman had tried to cross on my side of the road, and she was almost there before our bus hit her and knocked her backwards. She had been moving fast, so fast that it had looked as if she was using some mode of transportation to cross the street. There was no ruin of a bicycle or scooter, so we assumed she had been running. Running where? Why would she try to cross the road like that? Assuming she had lived in Indonesia all of her life, wouldn’t she have known that it was foolish and dangerous to cross a four lane road full of speeding vehicles with little regard for road rules? I wondered if she had been rushing to meet someone. Her child, her husband, her mother? Maybe she was late for work? Or maybe she had seen our bus at the last minute and realized that she would be hit, and used a last burst of energy to try to save herself.
Ten or so minutes later, a new bus came to collect us. The driver, shell-shocked and scared, stayed back to talk to the police. I hope he knows he is innocent.
The strangest feeling came over me as we left the dead woman on the sidewalk, surrounded by the crowd and police. One hour before we had been en route to Yogyakarta when the bus hit the woman. One hour later, a woman was dead and we were still en route to Yogyakarta. The world never stops, not even for the dead. The woman never got to the other side of the road. It sounds like some macabre, twisted version of a childhood joke, I know. But it’s eerily true; I saw it happen. I saw the end of life in the midst of chaos; of daily, blind routine. If she had just been careful, if she had just trusted her instincts, or maybe the echo of a relative telling her to be careful when crossing the road, maybe she would have gotten to where she wanted to go.
The image of that woman bleeding out on a hot sidewalk on an even hotter day will always be with me. It is a reminder that death is sudden and life is precious. That when I die, the world will not stop for me. The buses will keep moving, if you will. After a moment of grief, people will move on too. But I will stay dead.
This hard, cruel truth, now proven to me by the world itself, will, I hope, teach me to be more careful. I think about all the times when I’ve been reckless. All the times when something could have happened but didn’t. SubhanAllah. How many times have I been blessed? How many times will I be blessed? Only God knows, and I trust Him.
As a parting gift, I’d like to share this with you. “..Be mindful of Allah, you will find Him before you. Get to know Allah in prosperity and He will know you in adversity. Know that what has passed you by was not going to befall you; and that what has befallen you was not going to pass you by. And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship.”
To my friend who was with me when it happened, I am so glad you were there. I don’t think I could have handled it if you weren’t.
To the woman in the pink and black clothes; Inna lillahi wa inna illaihi raji’oon. May Allah forgive and protect you in the afterlife, and give you Jannat al Firdaus.