A note on Frailty   Leave a comment

Yurakugai on a Saturday night in Hamamatsu is a mish mash of bodies going to various destinations. This street is the most popular street in the city center, and people congregate here to sing Karaoke, hang out by the 7-11, and pickup girls. I’m normally at the video arcade on early Saturday nights, playing Street Fighter 4 while blasting music in my ears. After losing a few heated battles, I took a break to grab at a drink at the nearby convenience store.

After I got my drink, I talked to a guy I always see on the Strip. Every Friday and Saturday I run into him. He is tall guy who looks like a fashionista biker. Tonight he is explaining to me his theories on picking up Japanese women.
“Most times I just say “We Will fuck” to the girls. And that’s enough.” He says.
I laughed in disbelief, but his expression seems to connote an element of truth in what he said. Two friends of his disappeared a few minutes earlier after spotting some targets across the street. I stood there for a few seconds, eyeing the crowd, thinking. Japanese guys often said getting girls was an easy affair; a few choice statements, a couple drinks at a bar and then off to a hotel or an apartment to take it to the next level. I waited for him to continue, but we would never finished that conversation.That was when I heard the noise.  

Behind me are a set of red stairs that lead up to popular restaurant above the 7-11. On the stairs voices shout and I hear the telltale sound of someone’s feet clattering down the steps. In a second,  I see man’s body coming fast down the flight of stairs. He is falling, and he hits the ground buttocks first with his feet pointing upwards. His torso snaps back and his head smacks the ground. The sound of his head smashing against the pavement sounded like someone took a baseball bat and hit it with all their strength on a concrete wall. I had never heard a person’s head hit anything and make such noise, much less seen in happen.

In the immediate vicinity, everyone froze. The man lay there, not moving. I swore he was dead. People across the street, drunk and chatting gaily had also heard the man’s head hit the ground. Then, people swarmed him. A few friends at the top of the stairs ran down, calling his name. People inside 7-11 and neighboring restaurants stood around the man, who was on the ground, not moving. He seemed healthy, with a broad chest, salt and pepper hair in a military buzz cut and thick hands. From his style he seemed to be reasonably well off. He wore a sports jacket with a black designer shirt tucked into stylish flat-iron pants. His wingtip shoes were shiny, though small. His face was clean shaven and he looked to be about fifty. As I stood there, he could have been anyone. Did he have family? Who were his friends? These thoughts flooded my mind. My heart raced and I knelt beside him. The friends were frantic, screaming at each other in Japanese.
“Don’t move him!” I shouted as they started lifting him.

I was buzzing with adrenaline. I squeezed the man’s hand to see if he would squeeze it back. He was fluttering his eyelids and was semi-coherent. The hand squeeze was a test from my limited medical knowledge to see if he had some spinal damage. A man beside him, who I realized was his good friend barked at me. He waved his hand and pushed me and someone else aside. More people clamored around and I slinked off into a nearby corner, watching the spectacle play out. I didn’t know who the man was, but I wanted to help him. Like so many moments I’ve experienced in life, I felt powerless.

It took a while for the ambulance to come, and the guy I was speaking previously to vanished with his friends. He was meeting his girlfriend at the train station I think. Some people, thinking the man was drunk, laughed at him and shouted in a comical fashion “Is there a doctor here?”. Other people smiled as they passed, thinking he had passed out. As I looked at person after person pass by, I was reminded of our frailty. The man on the ground had a few drinks and took a bad step. Now he was probably dying on the ground surrounded by strangers and inebriated gawkers. How easily could any of us take a bad step? An awkward fall?

My mood was circumspect. I felt bad that I couldn’t help the man, but did I really care or was that raw emotion? Was this man’s life any more fascinating than mine? I didn’t think so. I was whittling my life away at the arcade, hiding in a building like so many people do on the weekend, trying to forget about Monday. But something disturbed me about the sound the man’s head hitting the ground. It was thunderous, frightening and somewhat traumatic. In our lives of work and play, movies and escape, we can easily forget that we are flesh and bone, weak and breakable.

After the ambulance collected the man and I watched it drive into the distance, eventually blending into the thick Saturday night crowd. The sound of the ambulance faded, and the din of voices and footsteps filled the air. In another minute, there was no indication a man had ever been lying on the floor just feet from where hundreds of people were passing by. The incident was over, an afterthought. Life was going on. I sighed, took one last look at the spot where he lay, and went back to the video arcade.

Posted December 14, 2009 by marcusbird in Personal Thoughts

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