At the coffee break our colleague told us how she had missed the start of the meeting because on the way to work she'd driven past a young woman in a short summer dress dangling at the end of a rope from a balcony railing over a garage -- not a real rope, as she said: more like a child's coloured skipping rope (which must have been hard to hold onto) -- and the girl had looked back at her as she passed; she had slowed right down and might even have stopped to ask if the girl was okay, but hadn't.
She told us that her first thought, actually, was that she had caught the girl in the middle of trying to break into the house, but the shortness of the rope and the ridiculous colours -- the sparkles she thought she had seen, or tassels even -- made it look as if the girl had been trying to get down from the balcony rather than up, and it was this puzzle about what the girl was doing or trying to do that occupied her as she turned into the car park when she arrived at work. But as soon as she got out of her car, she knew she couldn't go on to the meeting. The girl could have dropped from that balcony and broken her arm or her leg or fractured her skull. She could have come to in a hospital bed, with the one clear memory of the woman who had driven by in her car and hadn't stopped -- this woman who had looked at her full in the face only moments before her fall -- and she would have been able to describe this woman to someone -- if not to the police, who wouldn't have cared, but to her mother or her boyfriend, who would have kept his eyes peeled from then on for this bitch without a heart in a three year old Holden Astra with her initials on the plates.
And so she had to go back, she told us. She knew she'd be late for the meeting but she didn't have a choice. How would she ever be able to live with herself if something happened? She decided not to drive this time -- the car was too obvious -- but just to walk the few blocks, retracing the journey she only ever took in her car. She had to see if the girl was still dangling from the railing and if she was, she would offer to call someone -- such as the police, the girl's mother or the boyfriend. She would say to the girl that she'd been worried about her ever since she had passed in her car and so she thought that she should come back straightaway to see if she was all right, and the moment that she thought this thought about what she would say, she calmed right down. Then all the way down the street and around the corner, she prepared herself to see this girl and her house from much closer and from another perspective; you drive past somebody in a situation like that but it is different when you are in the street itself, and so she prepared to see that girl either dangling still or on the ground in a bleeding, summery mess close up.
It was then that she said that the girl had been fleshy and blonde and so couldn't possibly have been doing exercises in that dress as somebody else was suggesting -- the kind of girl that she would normally have nothing to say to -- and in fact, it was the thought of the other's blonde and probably insolent youth that made her hesitate to cross the street near the house in the end. The driveway was sloping and so she couldn't see the ground from where she eventually stopped on the other side of the street, but she was sure she could see that there was no one dangling from the railing on the balcony, and that the rope had gone; after all, if the girl had fallen, the rope would have still been there.
As she walked away and back towards the meeting which was now nearly twenty minutes in, she was glad that at least she had done what she had to do.
Of course just as she was turning into our building, she heard a siren go by -- it was either an ambulance or the police -- and for a moment her heart started to race, but as she said (and the rest of us agreed) we are always hearing sirens like that in the streets around here. It's not exactly a dangerous suburb but still, for many reasons, most of us prefer to drive to work rather than to walk or to catch the bus or train.