It's always rather shocking when real life suddenly spins off its ordinary route and takes a more dramatic turn, isn't it? Shakes you up a bit. Makes you think about the what-if and the what-could-have-been in a surreal, did-that-actually-just-HAPPEN? kind of way.
We were coming back from a weekend in Brighton last night on the M4 when all of a sudden a tyre blew on a van about 100 metres ahead of us. The van skidded and swerved and then just flipped right up into the air and overturned, crashing down to land upside down across two lanes. I was still in absolute oh-my-GOD shock but my husband was amazing. He pulled over, stopped the car and got out. "Call an ambulance!" he yelled and sprinted up the motorway to help.
That was his instinct - run and help - while I was in this sort of stupor, stunned, fumbling to get my phone, dialling 999 and still trying to process what had just happened. There's something horrible about calling the emergency services - I've only had to do it a few times and it's one of those highly charged, intense experiences that feels like a dream. I just kept thinking, I bet the driver has died. Surely they can't have survived, the way that van slammed down like that. Is it going to burst into flames? Oh my God, I'm going to see a dead body. I don't want the kids to see a dead body... - and all the while trying to be coherent, saying that the accident had happend just before junction 7 on the M4, no, I couldn't see any smoke coming from the van, I'm running up there now to have a look...
My husband and another guy had managed to get the driver out through the (smashed) window of his door and incredibly, he wasn't hurt at all, just shaken up (understandably). Fire engines and paramedics arrived and dealt with everything brilliantly and after half an hour or so, we were on our way again, all a bit twitchy about what we'd just seen.
I couldn't get over the way my husband reacted though - just running over to help without a second thought like that. I don't want to gush or be melodramatic, but I do find that truly heroic and brave - and just so good. My instinct was far more cautious - I was worried about the van blowing up and I didn't have that same strong urge to spring into action, to run. But he did and even though he shrugged it off a bit later, saying it wouldn't have been so heroic if the van had burst into flames and he'd been injured, the fact was that he didn't consider himself while he was sprinting up the motorway, his basic urge was just to get to the driver. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing. I'm dead proud of him.
Funnily enough, I wrote the opening scene of a possible new novel the other day which concerns the business of heroism. It's good dramatic stuff, isn't it, someone saving a complete stranger's life, but somehow it's much easier to write about than go through...
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