By Keith Pereña
I had read on a car forum that getting into an accident is one of the milestones a driver has to pass. At first, I thought it to be morbid and shrugged the idea off, thinking that if I followed what I learned in driving school about being safe, I should be fine. But when a heavy mixer truck hit the back of my hatchback a couple of weeks ago, those safety lessons went through the window.
I was waiting for the signal to go green at an intersection in Al Quoz when the thud cut through the sound of Paul McCartney singing on the radio.
In my rear view I saw the sight of the truck’s grille, just there — static. My brain took a moment before it processed what had happened.
As I stepped out of the car and walked to the rear, I wished this was just a bad dream. The truck reversed to allow me to see the damage done to my car. The rear end was completely flattened.
The lorry driver was communicating to me in what little English he could manage, but it went over my head. My car, which I had named Anna, was broken. My eyes fixated on the crumpled bodywork. I perused every angle of the damage — the rear bumper split open — and thought, thank goodness the rear window didn’t break. As Anna’s caretaker, I was doing a horrible job.
In the afternoon sun, I wondered how to legally get this sorted. It took five calls to the police department before I had an idea what to do. The lorry driver, likewise shaken to his nerves, kept asking me what was next. A police officer told me on the phone to report the accident using an app I didn’t have. New life lesson: download the Dubai Police app on you phone to report accidents.
The app was convenient. In just over an hour, a police report came through — better than seeing an authority figure sort out the situation in person, I guess.
After sorting the situation, I felt afraid of stepping inside my car. Not because I could’ve died inside it, but I felt that I didn’t deserve to take the wheel. This was despite the more rational part of my brain thinking that I was already an hour late for work. I sat on the sidewalk staring at my car for long minutes.
According to Thomas Edelmann of RoadSafetyUAE.com, young drivers acount for about half of all accidents in the UAE. Motorists tend to misbehave more than older, more experienced drivers. He believes this behaviour comes from a feeling of being invincible that young drivers often experience.
I thought of having recently driven this car to Abu Dhabi, and to pick up friends from polar ends of town. I was extremely enthusiastic when I first picked up Anna from a secondhand lot in Deira (and in the bargain, almost getting a speeding ticket). The first time I brought the car to work, I felt like a million dirhams, jangling keys around while talking to my boss about finding parking downstairs.
Thinking of happier times in the car made me get up from the sidewalk and get behind the wheel again. Despite being slightly catatonic, I drove to office. In that 10-minute drive, my mind was flooded with thoughts about the fragility of life.
I thought about a television show called Invincible Youth that my friends from the Korean pop music club would urge me to watch. I never got around to seeing it but those two words stuck to my head. That truck could have crushed my car but it hadn’t. If it had, I wouldn’t be writing this story. As I thought of that, my hands began to tremble. The accident replayed in my head over and over. I thought of the possibility that I could have not lived to tell the tale. It was the closest I had ever come to death. I had begun to think of what I would regret had it come to pass.
When I reached the office parking lot, I sat for a moment trying to settle my thoughts.
Getting into an accident made me realise that life is all about the things we regret. It wasn’t yet my time to go — according to me — but if it had been, I would have miss out on being with my family, trips to other countries and becoming a better person. I was struck by the thought that we are finite and responsible. Finite because we all die and responsible because we are in charge of making sure we don’t have too many regrets.
Keith is still proud to call himself a car guy