As a 21st century adult, I used to consider myself fairly desensitized. Between the sensational and horrific scenes shown on the evening news in the name of informing us of current affairs (did anyone really need to see Gaddafi’s battered and bloodied face) and the even more graphic violent scenes thrown into movies these days, I was pretty sure my brain had shrunk so far into itself that there was nowhere else to go. I still had the good grace to flinch when unpleasant images where presented to me but deep down inside, I thought I had reached a stage where I could handle most things. But, you might have guessed by now, I’ve just realised how wrong I was.
I used to hate driving. Outside of the mortal fear that I would crash into a tree or run someone over in my first few years behind the wheel, I did not enjoy the process of driving at all. When people talked about going out for a drive just for the fun of it, I thought they were a little bit nutty. But when I started to take weekly joyrides on the less busy roads of Central London to ensure that my engine didn’t die a slow death from underuse I found myself enjoying weaving in and out of the narrowest roads and shouting abuse at other drivers. Soon I was even venturing further away from home in my quest to discover other interesting back streets. The occasional scrape and bump no longer scare me as much as they did in the early days.
So today when I decided to take the car out for a spin to kill some time as my flat reeked of fresh paint, I wasn’t expecting anything unusual to happen. When a white van driver nearly crashed into me, I honked and mumbled angrily to myself but that was not unusual. When a cyclist decided to own the road despite moving much slower than me, I worked my way around him and shook my head but that was not unusual. A few pedestrians risking death by running across the road as cars dashed towards them, again nothing unusual. I was halfway through the route I had mapped out for myself when I saw it.
I was on a residential road which has a good amount of speed bumps to slow down drivers. Knowing how close the bumps are on this particular road, I tend to drive slowly so at first when I saw it, I thought it was a white plastic bag in the middle of the road. Whatever it was seemed fairly still yet there was some small movement in the middle area so I assumed it was the handles of the plastic bag blowing about in the evening breeze. But as I approached the object, I realised that the handles were in fact little paws and the white object was actually a grey squirrel lying on its back and squirming like crazy. Bear in mind this all happened in less than 15 seconds. I was so shocked by the sight that I almost stopped the car right there in the middle of the road with God knows how many drivers behind me but my brain managed to keep going and I managed to make sure that I didn’t drive over the hurt animal. As terrible as it sounds, it would have been better if it was already dead. I’ve seen enough squashed squirrels and pigeons in the middle of London roads to not care so much (including a few dead cats and even a dead fox which have knocked all revulsion out of my system). What got to me was the fact that the squirrel was still alive and trapped in the middle of the road with no hope of survival as I was sure another driver was going to drive over it after I was gone.
I didn’t carry on my drive for too long after that; my joyride was ruined. There wasn’t any point going back to see if the squirrel was ok because I didn’t want to find it dead. The strange thing is I’ve watched chickens and goats killed for meals and not felt any guilt at all but for some reason, I can’t get the scene out of my mind. So I decided to write about it. Maybe by sharing my trauma with the world, I’ll purge the thought from my mind’s eye. Maybe…nah, joyrides are over for me! Now they’ll just be rides. Thank you reckless London drivers!