Walk on by

  • 2004-10-13
Believe it or not, I'm a very sensitive person. As a child I once discovered a biography of Kafka among my parents' many books. Randomly flicking through it, I read that the "pathologically sensitive" Franz once sat down to write a letter to his father to vent his filial frustrations, but it ended up turning into a 300-page epic.

Wow, I thought, that's impressive, and not to be outdone I sat down and wrote a 600-page letter to my father, which began, rather ridiculously, with the words: "Dear Dad..." Anyway, I only mention this as an example.

The other day I was walking down Avotu St. in downtown Riga, which is a pretty grim sort of a place. That's pretty, by the way, as in lovely.

Anyway, passing by a trolleybus stop I noticed a woman lying there in a heap, while two other middle-aged women just stood there, heads cocked, waiting for the bus to come. The poor woman's body was so twisted that it was hard to tell where her head began and her feet finished.

I see this thing quite often and it really disturbs me. Not, that is, the spectacle of some desperate drunk lying there in an 8-hour coma, but the fact that everyone utterly ignores them. They don't even stop to at least check if they're breathing.

I remember one night a couple of winters ago, when the whole city was caked in black ice, I slipped over on a busy street. And I mean slipped. My forehead smashed against the sidewalk so hard that I momentarily thought I would die. I lay there in shock more than pain, gently groaning, writhing around, clasping my head. Not a single person stopped to see what was wrong. They stepped over me, around me, and effectively through me.

Likewise, I remember a similar thing happened when I fainted in Verman Park during the Riga 800 celebrations. On the first night of festivities I got so drunk that I didn't even know which city I was in, much less that it was celebrating an anniversary. I don't even know how I got home.

The next day I lay there in bed and suffered. And suffered. And suffered some more. Finally, I dragged myself out of bed and plodded toward the Old Town, determined to "do something." But it was a very hot day, and by the time I reached Verman Park, which was swarming all over with people, I suddenly felt amazingly dizzy.

It was all I could do to stagger onto the grass and faint. And did anyone come to my aid? Did anyone put a hand on my shoulder and ask if I was okay? No, they all just took Dionne Warwick's advice, and walked on by.

And the moral of this story? There isn't one. What - there has to be one you say? Um, okay then. Never attempt to strike up a conversation with a stranger whilst prostrate on a sidewalk.