The Tail Lights Of Death

The macabre thing was not that the driver had been dead in the car. It was that he had not been alive.

I saw the car the previous night when I was out just after midnight, walking Brownie — so named because her coat is not blue.

The car was parked near my building among other cars; and the only reason I remember it was because the tail lights were on. I did not know that the driver was dead inside the car.

Because our street is a quiet, tree-lined and pretty street, it sometimes attracts people who park their cars there late at night. I always clock the car and driver to see if I can spot anything suspicious — although I have no idea what “suspicious” looks like.

Sometimes, there’s a dude in the car making a long and obviously private phone call. Often, there are couples in some sort of dalliance that they want hidden from plain sight. Once there was a older man who was getting a little handsy with a young girl and she seemed to push him away and there was some clumsiness.

I wondered if this was rape — there seems to be so much of it lately. So I busted out the vigilante cape and mask and walked towards the car keeping in the line of his blind spot — like American actors do on cop shows — to see if the girl needed rescuing.

But as I drew close, she started to rape the guy back. An unsightly melange of hands and teeth and tongues flew in the air; it did not remotely resemble those videos that you would not watch if your whole family was gathered behind you.

Brownie and I backed off. Brownie decided to take a whiz behind their car — she cannot separate passion from peristalsis — and I stood around blankly, trying not look in the direction of the amorous pair.

So when I saw the car parked with its tail lights glowing, I peered from a distance, and through the back window and I saw what seemed to be a middle aged man sitting in the driver’s seat. I thought nothing of it; nothing more than a fellow citizen merely exercising his constitutional right to a secluded spot late at night.

There was commotion the next morning. I shook the consequences of my daily insomnia out of my head and walked out on the street to a large crowd of people and a brace of police. I peered into the car and saw the dead 60something man slumped forward in the driver’s seat. The tail lights and headlights were off; I reckoned the car’s battery had died during the night. This was an ironic observation.

A kind neighbour had provided the dead guy’s wife a chair on the street and several of the man’s relatives arrived to an ambience of grief. The spectacle of the dead man on public display in his seat awaiting the arrival of the crime scene investigators must have been hard on the family because there was something undignified about the way this was playing out.

From the anguish of his wife, we learned that he had left home at 11.30 pm after doing the dishes. This intrigued me. Doing the dishes is an acceptance of continuing domesticity. To do that, and then drive off into a strange neighbourhood seemed unseemly.

I guess the cops will try and figure out why he left home at 11.30 pm and why he chose to drive to our street, which really leads to nowhere of public interest, such that he might have used it as a thoroughfare and had had a heart attack while driving. No one on our street knew him, so clearly, he was not visiting anyone here.

I tried to ask myself why I was feeling heavy hearted, hours afterwards.

I could not decide what was bothering me. I knew it wasn’t something obviously unsettling as seeing a corpse; nor was it the bad cloud of mortality, in the sense of John Donne: “The death of any man diminishes me / For I am involved in mankind / Ask not for whom the bell tolls… yadda yadda.”

I thought it may be the indignity of his death — like being carted off by the forensic police, or that his body and the grieving family were the source of amusement for the rubbernecking public. I felt an empathy with the wife and the family; but they were merely bereaved, not dead.

And then I realised that my feelings had bottomed out when I saw the dead man’s face.

Even at fleeting glance, he looked like a man who had shouldered his share of responsibilities in life, had fought the battles and had provided well for his kith and caboodle — why, he even did the dishes. What bothered me was that the sense I got from his face that he had been lonely.

Any dude that does the dishes and then finds the need to leave his own house late at night I believe was lonely. A loneliness that had followed him to his death in a parked car with tail lights on that had faded during the night.

Later that morning, after the police were done and dusted, the neighbours who had earlier milled around the area, returned. They went into the park across the street because someone had organised a flea market. Maroon 5 played loudly through the speakers. People ate mint and chutney sandwiches.

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