Today I saw a man fall off a bicycle.
We’d finished swimming at the pool at Bukit Merah, and I was waiting outside with my friend Renato for my wife to get changed, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a man fall off a bicycle.
Some crashes are excruciating to watch. This was very graceful. The man was riding down the gentle slope of Jalan Bukit Merah when the bike stopped, and he went over the bars. For a moment he glided through the air, headfirst, body parallel to the ground, like an angelic figure, and then he landed, face first, and didn’t get up. Not a quiver, just lying there prostrate and motionless.
We rushed over. One of the other fathers from the swimming class had been closer, and the cyclist was now rolled over onto his back. Renato rolled him onto his side while somebody else called for an ambulance.
It was hard to ser what had caused him to come a cropper. There was no obvious obstacle on the pavement. Perhaps his front wheel had hit the six-inch high brick wall at the edge of the path leading out to the road. His face had hit the six-inch high brick wall on the other side of the path.
I didn’t really fancy our daughter seeing all this blood, so I rolled the stroller back a bit. Meanwhile, the guy had stood up and was refusing further help. I wasn’t close enough to smell the booze on him, but I could see the blood in his mouth and on his face, and the swelling the size of a ping pong ball at the top of his left cheek.
He looked like he’d not had an easy life. Probably in his fifties or older, wizened, scruffy clothes, a bunch of cheap looking rings on his hands. I think he was Malay (and I only mention this because when I ask the internet why people in Singapore ride bicycles badly, the usual answer is something like "it’s those Indian construction workers"). My wife gave him a wipe to clean some of the blood from his face; he dropped that on the ground then picked up his bike (a battered mountain bike with twisted or broken brakes, a chain around the handlebars and a bent seat – whether this was because of the accident or a contribution to it, I don’t know) and walked across the street, almost getting run down by a taxi in the process.
As life choices go, riding a bike drunk is not indefensible. Usually you escape without concussion or a broken cheek bone. And then sometimes, you don’t. We couldn’t understand why he was so adamant about not having an ambulance – but again, drunk people who’ve just taken a blow to the head aren’t known for their rationality. Could we have done more to keep him there until medical assistance arrived? Or would that have just spoiled the end of my day with a shoving match with a drunk man who had blood on his face? Eventually the alcoholic anaesthesia was going to wear off and he would (hopefully) realise he needed some serious help, but not today.
So we watched him go, and gave him space. Of course, Sod’s Law decreed that we were heading in the same direction, as we needed to go grocery shopping in the complex he was heading towards. From a few yards away, we saw him lean his bike against a wall and go through a doorway. As we passed, we saw it was a bookie’s. Was that further poor decision making, or did he just reckon it was finally time for his luck to improve?