Image by Jiri Siftar
I was in Victoria Park this afternoon to say goodbye to a friend who is returning to Brasil for good on the 17th.
We made plans to meet by the entrance gates, near the pond. While I was standing around waiting for her to arrive, two cyclists collided against each other and crashed onto the pavement. One of them was knocked unconscious.
It all happened so fast. Suddenly people were standing around them - couples with children, a woman with her dog, a gardner in a neon jacket. One of the cyclists got on the phone to ambulance services. Tears were pouring down his face, which he kept trying to wipe away as he spoke on the phone. The other guy, face down on the pavement, started twitching. A woman, holding her toddler daughter in one hand and a scooter in the other, leaned close for a good look. The woman with the dog got closer too; the dog, strangely, wanted to move away.
Staff from the café by the pond ran towards the group. A man berated the cyclist that was on the phone. A couple marching into the park spotted the commotion and decided on a detour - to walk past and also take a good look. I felt disgusted. (Was I any better, though, standing slightly apart and watching everything unfold?)
More people from the café joined the circle. I hoped one of them was a doctor. Someone went to the gates to unlock it so the ambulance could come through. Joggers went by, ignoring everything. The woman with the dog took off her jacket so they could put it underneath the cyclist's head. The man in the neon jacket rubbed the man's back, the others gently tried to turn him on his side. His legs kept kicking; I hoped he wouldn't pass away there and then.
Sirens in the distance, a rapid response ambulance car with four paramedics was about to arrive. The man was sitting up now, cradled by some of the bystanders, half of his face covered in blood. As soon as paramedics had their hands on the man, the crowd dispersed.
'Did he fall off his bike?' I heard someone ask me. It was a little old lady, in a pink crocheted hat and black parka coat, with a Jack Russell Terrier by her side.
'No, he collided against another cyclist,' I told her, going into all the details of what had just happened.
'They go so fast,' she said. 'You are meant to go 5 miles per hour but they always go much faster.'
The Jack Russell Terrier had now decided I was a friend and was jumping on my leg. I bent down to pet him and she told me he was called Milo. We watched as a proper ambulance arrived and the four paramedics cut all the clothes off the cyclist and lifted him completely naked onto a stretcher. They then covered him with a grey blanket and slid him inside the ambulance.
'Do you bring Milo to Victoria Park twice a day?' I asked.
'I've got age against me now,' she laughed. 'I take him mostly to a little square near my tower block but if the day is not wet, like today, then I bring him here for a few hours.' Milo had moved away and was now sniffing the café's garbage bins.
She told me she was born in Bethnal Green and lived all her life there and the furthest she had moved was to Bow. She had been 5 years old when the War happened; she and her sisters were evacuated to Suffolk, to live with a woman nicknamed "Nanny". Her parents stayed behind in London but were luckily not involved in the Bethnal Green tube disaster. However, she had a close call in Suffolk. The village they were staying was near the American base and one Sunday, while they were in chapel, they saw smoke rising from the area where Nanny lived. Someone came running in to tell them that one of the American planes had crashed into Nanny's home - the only thing left was a smouldering fireplace. It turned out that during a reconnaissance flight, the plane's engine malfunctioned. The pilot ejected while aiming for the plane to head into the sea but for some reason it turned itself around and crashed into the village.
We spoke of other things - of Victoria Park's old pagoda, of a rumoured murder on one of the park's bridges, of the lads who used to go around with aggressive dogs and who had suddenly disappeared. We said our goodbyes when my friend arrived; we wished each other a merry Christmas. I found out her name was Rita and that she was going to spend Christmas with her son up in Lincolnshire (and of course Milo was going too) but she was very jealous I was flying the next day to Brasil and it was a shame she couldn't be snuck inside a trunk and go with me.