The first thing they do after getting hit by a van is check their phone.
Walking to the office after a morning meeting, a kid leaps like a gazelle from this corner into traffic, right across from our building, just as a van was turning into the street.
He bounces off, back onto the footpath, leaps back to his feet, clutches his left arm with his right, immediately drops his left arm and then pulls out his phone. Not to make a call or assess whether it was damaged, no. It was like a reflex action. Something has just happened, must look at the glowing rectangle. Weird.
I quickly cross the road to see if he’s all right. A crowd of the kid’s friends do the same. (That would explain the gazelle leap… catching up with his friends on the other side of the road. Honestly, how did any of us make it to adulthood??)
As I’ve gone to great pains to spell out, I’m not a doctor. But even I can tell his left arm is broken. (The clue was the large, angular break in his forearm.) I ask him if he wants me to call an ambulance. He pulls out his phone again, so I think no. One of his friends asks “are you updating your Facebook?!” They laugh. Clearly enough time has passed to see the funny side.
I ask again. One of his other friends suggest that maybe someone should go and find the Deputy Head. (Actually, this was when I cottoned to their age because they weren’t in uniform.)
It’s a good suggestion. Nobody moves. The kid looks at his phone again. Man, kids are idiots. This is when I realise -gods help them- that I am what passes for an adult in this situation so I tell his friends to help the kid across the road into my office and out of the driving rain. The distressed and apologetic van driver accompanies us.
We seat the kid on the couch in reception and I get the receptionists to call an ambulance. The glowing rectangle is finally put to good use when the accident victim himself calls the Deputy Head who promptly arrives.
And then in an unwanted flashback to parts of my own childhood I find myself explaining an incident to a Deputy Head and then giving him my details. Obviously this was so the police could come and take my statement. The ambulance arrives, the kids disperse and I go to my desk.
Quicker than expected, a couple of police officers emerge from the elevator onto our floor and ask for me. (In front of the new HR manager. My first thought is to diffuse the situation by making a joke about that heroin lab I have set up in the conference room but I judge this probably isn’t the right crowd. Professional!) I take them to a meeting room so they can collect my statement.
“From what you saw, was the van driving too fast?” It was faster than I would have taken the corner but it certainly wasn’t excessive or dangerous.
They shoot me a look like I’m some misguided femme fatale playing coy with the hardened gumshoes about the location of my dead husband’s prize racehorse, but I was just trying to be honest. “In situations like this, witness testimony can go a long way in determining whether or not charges will be pressed so I’m going to need you to answer that. In your opinion was the van driving too fast?” I think to myself… actually that’s a different question. In my opinion the van was driving too fast, but that doesn’t mean the van was driving too fast. Am I the only one in this room who cares about how big the divide is between those two questions?
That’s when I notice the tiny incident pads they are writing this up on. And I mean tiny. Like maybe 2.5 times the size of a Post-It pad. It had little boxes to tick as to whether this was a fatal (!) accident and maybe two inches of lines where they would hand write my ‘statement’.
For some reason this really alarms me. We train these people not to find the most accurate answer to a situation, only the least complex. And then we give them guns.
The whole edifice of how Power builds Truth, from global wars down to parking tickets, is somehow revealed and I have an extremely existential moment. The unreliability of memory, the inconsistency of personal experience, the sheer ambiguity of meaning in anything… I do media strategy and chaos magic. Ambiguity is where I live. Good magic relies on it.
Ambiguity is not where these London Met officers live. Even though the van may have appeared to possibly take the corner slightly faster than I would have based on my view of the incident from where I was standing, I make the call. “No.”
One of the officers has been writing while I have been talking. He reads out what he has written down. In no way does it match either what we have been discussing or my own recollections of the incident but it ends with the assertion that the van was not driving dangerously. “Happy with that?” I sign.
I walk the officers to the front door and watch them leave. Standing in reception I think about maps and territories, worldviews and worlds. What scale does a map have to be before we can be confident in its depiction of the territory? 1:1? Even then I would be suspicious because there are fewer places for ambiguity to hide, fewer opportunities for me to be wrong. I don’t know where my map is taking me but I do know that I will never get there if I’m not allowed to be wrong.
Magic is the best map I have found so far because it is simultaneously the biggest and the most ambiguous.
If you set out with a Post-It map then you are already lost.