February 03, 2008

rue de Tolbiac

Somebody died on rue de Tolbiac today.

Walking by, I saw two relaxed-looking policemen and a policewoman milling around on a stretch of pavement they had cordoned off with red & white plastic ribbon. Then I saw a body covered with a large sheet of white plastic at the policewoman's feet, a little bundle of belongings alongside it.

The little bundle of belongings, the white, vaguely body-shaped plastic on black tarmac under the window of an apartment block, the people chatting at the bus stop not 10 meters away, the cops smiling and conversing while they waited for the morgue van to arrive... it made me cry. There was something so abhorrent about that scene - the fact that the Sunday afternoon tea and cake-feeling pervaded the place where some poor soul had given up and left it's body lying in the street and no-one seemed concerned. Clearly no-one around mourned a loss. People slowed their footsteps on seeing the police, heads turned, eyes registered what they were seeing and legs carried on, regardless. It hit me so hard, I couldn't control the tears. I cried not only for the nameless, faceless one who died all alone in public, on the street in a city packed with people on a Sunday in February, but also for the rest of us. We who are too busy, stressed, apathetic or scared to worry about anyone else's distress risk losing our humanity on that same pavement.

I don't know what I expected people to do... (gather round and have a ceremony? Yes, something like that! At least bow your head and acknowledge what someone went through)... but I can't help feeling that it's not normal to be reaction-less in the face of such finality. I think it's the saddest thing in the world that you can die completely alone, under everyone's noses and no-one even stops. How civilized can we possibly be if we just couldn't care less about somebody in the street, dead or alive?

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