My brush with death
Maggie O’Farrell – I Am, I Am, I Am – seventeen brushes with death

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I’m biking home.

Not via the fastest route, but via the village where my friends live. I’m the only one living a few kilometers further, so the last part is always a solo expedition. I’m 12, almost 13, and therefore invincible.

I’m on the road that runs through the fields, with only a few houses at the beginning. A typical road for my village, with steep verges ending in muddy ditches on both sides. It is intended as a two-way road, probably, but if two cars cross they both have to give way to the verge. High trees enclose the road every few meters. We can see them from our kitchen window. 

The railroad crossing is halfway. Every half hour two trains pass within a few minutes of each other, one way and another. Track trees which always start to close way too early, when the train is just a dot on the horizon. Because of this, the blinking red lights and the loud bells are more of a suggestion for me, not really an order. As long as the track trees are not coming down, it is fair game as far as I’m concerned. A matter of speeding up, instead of slowing down. Make a zigzag movement across the rails to avoid the descending track trees, to the other side. 

I’m too fast today. I pull the steer back to quickly and my wheel slips in the track. I lose my balance and I try to break my fall by putting my foot on the ground. But my bike falls anyway. I’m stuck below. I’m trying to push my bicycle up, but one or both wheels is stuck in the rail. I’m trying to crawl out from under it, but my foot is stuck. The track trees are all the way down now. Ding ding ding ding ding. I’m franticly pulling on my bike. Ding ding ding ding ding. The world seems to disappears with every heartbeat, the train and me are the only ones left. The train is definitely not a dot anymore. Ding ding ding ding ding. I try to twist my ankle. I don’t hear the bells anymore, just the blood rushing through my veins. Am I even breathing? Why won’t my foot move? Why can’t I get the bicycle up? The train gets bigger and my foot is stuck. My foot is stuck. I’m going to die, because I wanted to be home a minute earlier. My foot. Is stuck. I’m stuck. 

My bike is lifted, I can move my leg again. I push myself up and run to the other side of the track tree. Home save. The man who moved my bike is talking to me. Asking me if I’m alright? I hear him, I see his lips moving, I see his concern, but it doesn’t register. I nod and take my bike from him. I step on and start moving. My hands are shaking and I breathe like I just tried to run a marathon on zero training. I have grazes on my hands and knee, but my clothing seems to be fine. I ride on home. 

When I put my bike in the shed, I see that there are scratches on the steer. I hope dad won’t notice it. The bike is not even a year old. He will be so mad when he sees it. 

Image by Julian Hochgesang via Unsplash