The Doppler Effect fascinates me. In layman’s terms, it’s like the siren which starts off as a high shriek and then becomes lower when it passes, like someone’s pain mournfully ebbing away into silence. It’s like time itself, where far things appear near and near things appear far when you look at them.
In a taxi, time repeats itself and the room of the taxi is a microcosm of the larger room of South African society, where we pay for a ride into an unknown future.
I don’t know who saw that the taxi was on fire underneath.
I am holding a bag, a bottle of water, a black blazer, and my phone. In my head, I am writing a poem. People start screaming, and turning their heads as if to some unseen terror behind me. I can’t turn sufficiently as I am jammed in by the woman next to me holding her child. We are forty-four in the taxi. It is pointless to look back as well, as a big woman with a massive head and big elongated cream hat obscures the rear to my point of view.
I see the taxi driver leap out the front. I see a man leap out the front, and the thin girl next to him. Several hands pull at the sliding door at once, fighting each other to open it. The woman on my left charges at the door at the same time as another thrusts forward. The big woman behind me tries to jump over the seat behind me using my head as a fulcrum. The door is only half open, because in the fight to get there, no one has had a chance to pull it open sufficiently.
Nobody can get out of the half-open door because everyone has jumped at once and jammed in the narrow spaces. I can’t go forward or backward, so I half-sit, half-stand, with a lady trying to climb over my head, nearly knocking my glasses off, waiting in those seconds for whatever will happen. I presume a massive container truck is on course to crush us, or something along those lines. I didn’t see that people were looking back at the smoke coming from underneath, and the people gaping amazed at this spectacle on an otherwise very normal Wednesday afternoon.
I wonder to myself what it will be like to be crushed to death in a taxi in those seconds of ignorance. I imagine the metal closing in on me and cutting my insides out and seeing my life leave me.
In what a splendid coincidence, I had said to Pro’s son, “Lets walk, I always do this, it takes me five to ten minutes to reach the bottom of Church street and get to the Masukwana rank and find the taxi home.”
He had insisted. He had felt it was not right for me to walk down the road by myself, and seeing as he was going to Howick, politely insisted we both climb into the taxi that ferried Masukwana passengers for free from opposite Shoprite in Boshoff Street.
What irony, to get killed taking a free taxi.
Remind me, oh conscience, never to listen to well-intentioned friends ever again. If we are to get killed, let’s get beaten to death in a violent fight with muggers on a street of my own choosing rather than to die in a small confined space like this. And those twenty minutes wasted in a queue for this taxi adds swift gall.
As I visualize in those seconds the possibility of my instant or lingering demise, someone from outside hurls the door open. Or maybe inside. I am there and not really there. It happens quickly. The dam bursts open. The women break free. I find myself half propelled, half leaping, through the doorway into the pavement beyond. I register then that Pro’s son has been shouting in my ear the last five seconds, “Kyle get out!”
The two of us step back from the taxi and then I turn and look at the flames coming from underneath. This is fascinating. I bend down and try to see underneath. Move away, it might explode. I walk a few steps back. I see the driver staring at the taxi, puzzled, as if wondering what ironic fate created fire underneath his taxi. A woman is crying out loud, holding her baby. My friend embraces her. “You are alright now.”
I hear a single siren, brief and high, then getting lower. That’s called the Doppler Effect, I remember to myself. The traffic cop, a young woman, walks over to the driver. Somehow a fire hydrant has arrived on the scene and put the fire out.
“Let’s go,” says the son of Pro. “I think we are safer walking.”
“Yes indeed,” I reply.
We laugh at once aloud, look each other in the eyes, shrug, and then plunge into the storm of moving pedestrians on a bright August afternoon. I’m still holding everything, except for the bottled water, somehow.
Tell us what you think: One would call this a “freak” accident, have you ever had one of those? Tell us about it.