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The Man

Carol Devine

he lay there on the side of the road and I knew that he was dead. His face awkwardly planted into the cement and his arm crudely bent underneath his body.

"Oh my God, il est mort," I said to Kevin. He did not seem to hear me, his focus being on the crazy Moroccan traffic. The French words came out because my six-year-old son was in the backseat and I did not want him to see this dead human being lying on the highway.

"Pourquoi?" I said to Kevin. He seemed irritated, the traffic always making him impatient. He spoke to me in French as well; realizing that this would be too upsetting for Sean. "Maybe he fell off a truck" was the response as he leaned on the horn, giving gestures to the driver who refused to give way. I kept thinking about this dead man. Why had we not stopped to help? What was there to help? He was dead.

I mulled this over all the way home, while Kevin fought the traffic. I closed my eyes; the sight invading no matter what thoughts I tried to push forward. It was poking at me, like a dagger, making me feel helpless and somehow irresponsible. In Canada, it's considered a crime to not stop at the scene of an accident. We should have stopped to do something, anything. He was a human being and deserved better than to be left dead on the side of the road.

There was no doubt that he was Moroccan. He seemed to be a laborer; by the way he was dressed. His clothing consisted of simple shirt and pants, worn-out shoes and nothing else. If he had been perched on top of a truck, there is a chance he might have fallen off. 'Perhaps he'd been struck by a car,' I thought. This is common, this sitting or lying on tops of trucks transporting goods for whatever reason. It always amazes me the number of people who do this, the men, women and children.

The man, my thoughts overwhelmed by his gruesome death. He haunted me and I wondered who he was and where he came from. Was he from Casablanca or traveling back somewhere to be with his family? How old was he? Did he have family, children or a wife? Since that day, I have thought of him often. I have wondered and hoped that his death was quick and painless as possible. Why did no one stop to help? Is this something often seen, just a common sight?

I had been working at my son's school in Casablanca as a teacher. I enjoyed the work, but always dreaded the drive there and back. We live on the seaside about thirty minutes away and traffic here is hellish. The two-lane highway often somehow turns into four lanes. Some traffic moves incredibly fast, other traffic, much too slow. The upkeep of motor vehicles is lax, although the laws require verification of the vehicle abilities; often inspectors are bribed just to sign certification. The result is a highway that seems unsafe and in peril from vehicles that look like and have fallen apart suddenly and without warning.

I have seen buses that are so crooked that from behind in our car, we can just about see the driver. There have been accidents, too many to recall with bodies everywhere on the ground, exposed, uncovered. Death does not take a holiday on the roadways of Morocco. We have seen more dead bodies on the side of the road here in one year than a whole lifetime spent in Canada.

We drive and I see them. The mothers with their tiny baby's on their laps, unprotected. Don't they realize that one sudden stop and that poor innocent child would be flung, without miracle through the windshield? I see them. The families crammed into one car, up to seven people on an outing, not wearing a single seatbelt. The taxis, overfilled with passengers, the paying clients unbelted and squashed. They are vulnerable, unprotected, and foolish.

My spouse has never been a patient driver and Morocco has made him less so. Every ride in the car is a berating of the other drivers on the road. The day we saw the man was no different than any other day we have driven here. This man occupied me, probably the victim of foolish practices.

I have never felt it more strongly than here, this thread of life that we hold. I have heard morbid tales, deaths from accidents being the most common ones. I am thunderstruck by the risks taken. The masses of people who cross the highway even though the overpass is only a few feet away. It's the people who ride on top of vehicles that scare me the most. Piled high on the goods, these goods not held down by rope or chains but by the mere laws of physics. These pyramid shapes, stacked bags, boxes, and assorted other things. Some of this stuff becomes debris in the road, another hazard to Moroccan driving as if there aren't already enough risks taken every single moment.

The danger involved reels the mind. I remember the first day I saw this, these people who treat the highway like a sidewalk. Every day, they take the risk of crossing the highway. Sometimes, they almost dare you, looking straight at you hands up as if to say, "Stop! I'm crossing the road!" They do not seem to think that they have no right to be there, they just do what they have to in order to get to the other side. Do they at all think that hand up or not; a driver may be unable to stop. God is with you, I hope…I would not dare do this crazy thing!

The highway is where real life is happening. There are the people going to work, the children going to school and the cars, trucks and carts going to market. It is a sight to see the activity, the rush of life on the highway, this merging of humanity with technology. The cars may carry bread, stacked in the backseat. There are trucks filled with onions, just loaded in the back, the odor assaulting you as you drive behind it. The highway is no different in construction than what we are used to at home. There is a median and the idea of crossing the highway is a twofold proposition. First, run to the median, climb over and wait for a break in the traffic, then run to the other side. This seems fine until you add baggage and children to the equation.

It is the mothers who cross with children that frighten me the most. Women carry children or hold their hands and tell them to run when the time is right. Why do I fear for my own children when I see this sight? Why do I think that they do not see the value of human life? I do not understand why they don't take a few precious minutes of time and walk to the overpass. They were constructed for the purpose of getting people off the highway. Would it make a difference? They are in too much of a hurry to see that it could save their lives?

The mother in me wants to scold them all for the risks they take with themselves and with their little ones. As a child I was told to look both ways before crossing and yes, they do look, but the risk is great. I was always told to hold a grown-ups hand while crossing and yes, the children do. Why does it seem so odd that they follow the rules and yet it looks so dangerous, so foolish? Perhaps it is because the highway is for me the territory of the moving vehicle. It is unlawful in my heart and mind to be there for the purpose of getting to the other side People do not belong there. All the logic I have learned in my life has gone askew here. It forces me to think about things that I would rather not think about in the long run. In a car, the seatbelt, the ability of the driver and luck keeps one safe. Out there on the road, with no protection, these people risk every day, every time they cross the road. It seems jumbled like a lot of things we have encountered. It seems like there is a half-hearted attempt to regulate where the people go and how they actually go there. No one notices and they just do, as they want. Looking down the barrel of a moving vehicle.

The dead man took a risk…now he is with God.

Carol Devine is married, the mother of two, a teacher, and an aspiring writer.

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