Cars and a taxi are scattered across the road. As we slow, I register a new model Audi TT at a crash angle on the left side of the road, nose-to-bumper with a little red Golf. A policeman looms into view – dark glasses at this early hour of the morning and self-satisfied paunch encroaching over his official waistband. He waves us around the taxi stopped in the middle of the road – probably because the two crash-angled cars are taking up all the space in the taxi bay, and the driver thought that the white central line was as good a place as any to stop and pick up passengers.
As we edge slowly past the scene, I see pedestrians standing around and talking animatedly with each other, arms waving in the air. More police men, all wearing shades and paunches, grouped around a bundle on the grass verge. The bundle resolves itself into a man, on his stomach on the ground, hands cuffed behind him. trussed like a roasting bird for the oven. The cops are not being gentle with him.
Slowly passing this alleged criminal, his head comes up, taking in the ungentle cops, the gawking pedestrians. And me – my face probably set in lines of pity which I hope he doesn’t see. Pity is a terrible emotion.
What I’m feeling however is a flash, and then a wave. What is it like to be that man?. How was it with him as a baby, as a child? Was he loved or abused? How did he come to this place, on the grassy verge of Douglasdale, his getaway car crashed into the kerb, his arms bound behind him, a crowd of hostile onlookers leering at him – and a woman passing slowly on her way to work in a different world, gazing with every sign of contemptible pity?
It’s acceptable, it seems, for those of us who do not make a living on the other side of the law to regard those who do as beneath our care. As unworthy objects, who we are glad to see cornered, trussed and beaten. And maybe there’s more than a grain of truth in the old adage that those who don’t care for the lives of their victims deserve no further thought from the rest of us.
But it’s a lesson, to me, all the same. Compassion, not pity.
How it feels to be the other, if only for a moment.
And I’m thinking that – especially in these times – the least we owe all beings is the ability to live, if only for a few seconds, inside their skin.