On a raining early morning in late December, I was standing at the window of my home on the tenth floor of an older high-rise apartment building in Richmond, British Columbia. A condominium. The street was not completely dark. There were several high powered streetlights along the boulevard from which the thoroughfare takes its name.
I always keep the window open, at least a bit, and I could feel the cool wet air blowing in from the east. My eye was drawn to a white light on the other side, the east side of the boulevard, just beyond the curb. Its steady, unflickering illumination was reflected in the water slicking the surface of the pavement.
I did not remember there being a light at that particular spot. It did not appear to be an, “official”, light, one placed there by the city to aid in the navigation, or the regulation of vehicular traffic. If it had been yellowish and flickering, I would have taken it for a votive candle.
I wondered if it might have been one of those small battery powered lamps that some restaurants have taken to placing on tables instead of real candles. But, it was not yellow and it was not flickering.
For a moment, I thought the light might be only the reflection of one of the white light streetlamps. But, I could not see how it could have been reflected in the way that it was from any of the nearby ones.
I had known from the first that the little light was shining at the place where the year before a fifty-year-old Chinese woman had been killed by a car. She was wearing black, and it had been dark and raining, and she had been jaywalking. That is, she was running to cross the wide street about ten yards from the place of plausible belief in safety provided by the nearby crosswalk and traffic light.
That night, her body had lain in the street for more than three hours while first the firefighters, and then the Emergency Medical Technicians, and then the police, and lastly the coroner took stock of the situation and gathered the evidence of what was, at least on its face, a straightforward matter. Although they had covered the woman’s body with a shiny yellow tarpaulin, and no more harm could come to her, it had struck me as undignified to be left dead on the street in the rain while men in uniform stood about in raingear. Eventually, a hearse pulled up and the police and firefighters put the woman’s corpse inside.
The next day, when I returned from work, there were a small number of floral tributes strewn about the boulevard. Some, but not all of the bouquets were wrapped in cellophane. I have always found these tributes, if that is what they are meant to be, well, let me say it, vulgar.
I’m certain you have seen the wooden, and in some places even large stainless steel, crosses planted at the spot on highways where someone’s loved one was killed. These makeshift memorials seem an inappropriate appropriation of the common way for a private grief. Some of these memorials were tended and maintained for years. I always felt better when I could see that the zeal of the memorialists had lapsed and a median or borrow had returned to grass.
Was the white light in the street at the place where the Chinese woman had been killed by a car, a votive placed by a relative or friend? I was curious, but it meant going out of my way early in the morning and it would have been a departure from my routine. Perhaps, I really did not want to know.
I watched the light for almost an hour. I made up my mind to find out. I went to see, but there was just a localized white light. I satisfied myself that it was not a reflection or a phosphorescent spill. That was the easy part.
Later, in the covered parking of the building, I heard the voices of water that murmured in the long cast iron drainpipe. I had thought that people were talking in the near distance and I tried to pick out the words, to know what they were saying. I had thought that they were speaking in another language, but they were only speaking in the language of falling water.