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The Accident

Translated by Harvey Thomlinson and first published in English in the Guardian, 10/4/2012. Read the Chinese here.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the motorbike clank over and skid a long way. The rider flew into the air, hitting the ground with a terrible thump and rolling over twice before coming to a halt.

My mind went blank and I stopped the car. The rider lay on the road, not moving. Night was falling and a hubbub surrounded the scene of the accident. I stared blankly at the blood flowing out from beneath his helmet, a gorgeous bright red, like Rugosa roses in full May bloom.

The guy was still flat on the road, motionless. I sat in my car thinking, 'Whatever you do my friend, please don't be dead. Driving after drinking, making an illegal turn. If you are dead then I might as well be too.' After a bit I got out of my car and slowly went up to him. He suddenly turned over, sat up, and inside his helmet started to mutter and swear bewilderedly, 'Fuck you. What kind of driving was that?' Sweet merciful shit – in my thirty-seven years of life, I, Old Wei, have had a few verbal bouquets tossed in my general direction. None of them were as welcome to my ears as that 'Fuck you.' It was like thunder from heaven. I thought, 'If this guy is still alive enough to swear, then that is just too fucking excellent.

The road was carpeted with celery and radishes – it looked like he was a poor farmer delivering vegetables to the city. Feeling calmer, I tried to help him to walk a couple of steps. That went OK, and he stood up straight. Things were looking good – the only problem I could see was that his mouth was still bloody. I decided that that I shouldn't show him any weakness. If I was nice to him he might take advantage, and I had no idea what he might ask for. He slowly removed his helmet, and then I bellowed at once, 'Show me your driver's license!' No one who'd caused an accident would dare to say this, and I wanted to club him into submission.

He still looked confused. He rubbed the blood on his head, looked at his hand and then shakily asked me, 'What are you doing?' This guy was more than fifty years old, his clothes were oily, he wore a pair of yellow rubber shoes, and his clothes reeked of pesticide. He didn't look too clued-up about life.

I glared fiercely. 'What business is that of yours? Driver's licence!'

He groped about for ages and then grinned shyly, 'Aiya, I forgot to bring it.'
This was advantage to me, and I poked his chest. 'Exactly. Fuck YOU – no driver's licence? Riding on my tail? And you still dare to swear at me?'
His head dropped and he tried to defend himself, 'You … you didn't have your lights on, how did I know ...' Just then I noticed a few people slowly coming over, and I figured that even rabbits had been known to bite people when they were nervous, so why didn't I just bung him a bit of cash and be done with it. Best to avoid any fuss. I helped him to stand up his motorbike, and the old guy lowered his head, shakily advanced a couple of steps, and then suddenly collapsed to the ground again.

This time he was out cold. I prodded him violently for ages but he didn't come round.

The crowd was growing and a lengthy queue of cars had built up behind us. I could hear police sirens in the distance. I didn't like the look of this and quickly rang Hu Caoxing. He was very businesslike and asked me a few questions about where the incident had taken place and the general situation, and then promised to find help.

I'd just hung up when the cops arrived and one of them asked for my documents. I said in a small voice, 'I am friends with your Commissar.'

He stared at me. 'Don't talk rubbish, get your documents out.'

The old farmer was slowly coming round, and breathing heavily. He said 'You weren't …' I was getting more and more worried, but then I heard the cop's radio crackle into life. If this was Hu Caoxing, he was really on his game. The cop listened for a while and then gave me a hard look before walking away from the crowd to continue the conversation. He came back less than two minutes later with a totally different attitude.

He said nothing to me. Instead he addressed himself directly to the farmer. 'You were on his tail? ID card, driver's licence, passport!' The old guy's face turned pale – it was smeared with blood, his mouth was quivering. For ages he didn't seem to realise what was happening. The cop interrogated him some more and then turned to me and whispered, 'Lawyer Wei, let's get him to the hospital first. He's hurt pretty bad.'

I groaned – what shitty luck. But I never thought that the old guy would turn out to be incredibly stupid. He stood up quite suddenly and leaned shakily on his motorbike. Then he took his vegetable basket and started to scoop up the greens from the road, dripping blood on the leaves. The cop and I exchanged amused glances. The cop said to him, 'There's nothing wrong?'

The old vegetable grower rubbed his chest, 'Hurts.'

The other, weedier cop stepped forward and asked him whether he was willing to settle this, and went on, 'You have no driver's licence, you were on his tail and it looks like you hit his car! You have to admit liability, do you understand?' And then he told me, 'You were at fault too, your lights weren't on!' I meekly admitted I was to blame as well.

The old guy was scared, and he stammered out an apology to me, 'Sorry … sorry.'

I was laughing inside – man was I relieved. This cop really knew how to deal with things. He pointed to the part of my car that had been hit. 'Is the car OK?'

I said, 'It's hard to say before it goes to the repair shop, but the trimmings and the paintwork will need to be done and that's at least three or four thousand.'

The old vegetable farmer's eyes widened and, visibly seized with terror, he produced a pile of wrinkled notes, 2 kuai, 1 kuai, and lots of mao. The whole lot couldn't have added up to more than 100 yuan. He was so distraught that tears were flowing. 'I only have this much, otherwise you can take the motorbike.'

'This old motorbike is only good for scrap,' I said. 'Why would I want it?' The cop had a few words with him in a low voice. The guy shook violently, then opened his jacket and reluctantly produced a square plastic bag. Inside was about 330 yuan: a hundred note, 4 fifties, 3 tens, all folded into a small rectangle. With a faltering hand he gave it to me. His face was running with tears. 'This is to buy fertilizer, it's all I have. I don't have any more money.' I took the 330 and watched as the guy pushed his motorbike away. He tried to start it up a few times, but he couldn't. After that, with one hand carrying the vegetable basket and one propping up the bike, he went off. Blood was still dripping down his face.

The crowd slowly dispersed, and the first cop advised me in a low voice, 'You want to watch the drink, in future.'

'Got it, got it,' I said. 'I owe you dinner.' He didn't reply, just blew his whistle and left. I got back in the car and was just driving around the next bend when I saw the old farmer stopped by a small tree. His face was as pale as rice-paper and his hand was pressed against his stomach as he coughed and coughed. We exchanged glances and then I looked away as if nothing had happened. 'The transport cops have dealt with this,' I thought. 'Why should I go looking for trouble by doing anything for this guy?' I stepped on the gas and continued on to Feng Shan town, thinking that my girlfriend Xiao Li must be worried about me by now.