Death rides pillion

Death and mayhem on Thailand's roads

A Rescue van speeds past and my group of friends, nestled comfortably in our rental car gliding along the highway, converse about the merits (or otherwise) of the private rescue services in Thailand. About a kilometre down the road reality slaps us hard in the face as we stumble across the reason for the Rescue van’s haste…

In the mirage-inducing, asphalt-melting, face-burning, mid-day April heat of Thailand, a motorbike rider and his pillion passenger have been knocked off their bike by a hit-and-run driver. The bike is in pieces littering the clean and ordered highway. The two men have, quite literally, come to rest a few inches from each other. The impact of hitting the road at speed has torn the rider’s shoulder from his body, and blood the colour of a deep-polished fire engine flows freely, adding unneeded drama to an already unspeakable scene.

The man’s head is almost face down and his neck is twisted like a macabre bendy-toy. I can see his eyes as we pass. They stare intently, as if trying in vain to register the magnitude of the scene unfolding before them. The air is a black cloak of stillness. The girls in our car let out an instantaneous and simultaneous gasp of….

Recognition. That’s what it is. The sound your body makes when it sees what it must never fully comprehend. The sound of your mind recognising. The stoic Australian drives on, burying his shock deep. Deep. The pragmatic Korean shudders involuntarily but forces her mind to calm itself. The superstitious Chinese-Thai asks politely if we mind if she rolls down the window to scream. She does so. She screams our private shock for us. I rub her leg, but not for the selfish pleasure we are accustomed to. For comfort. Sharing the recognition that this time it’s not us. We are not pieces of bloodied, torn flesh lying motionless in the Asiatic heat. We are alive. We can feel. We can talk. We can express ourselves. We can scream.

The driver of a song-taew has pulled over so his ghost-hungry Thai passengers can disembark and stare at the unfolding drama. Stare at the bodies of ‘the others’. The ones who are no longer ‘us’. For how could they be us? Death happens to other people.

No one removes their shirt or jacket to cover the faces of ‘the others’. The faces. So still. Yet they can see. They know. They understand.


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