We left Bryant Park high with happiness. The kids had enjoyed ice skating so much, and I enjoyed seeing my husband really enjoy something. It's not every day I see him grinning, taking spin after spin with grinning children. It was really special to see him share something he loved as a child with his children.
Small Sun had developed some seriously mean blisters during the fun, so as the crew headed down E 44th St to Le Pain Quotidien for some lunch, I ducked into Duane Reade on 5th. I took the escalator upstairs, found neosporin, bandaids, and a wrap-able bandage before heading back downstairs and stopping at the chocolate aisle before checking out. I picked up a plastic candycane filled with M n Ms, knowing the kids would need a novel treat on the ferry to Staten Island later.
I turned left out of Duane Reade, and crossed E 44th at the light where a guy was selling something on a table on the corner. "Ask the money man" I heard the man on my left say, nodding to a man standing against the building to my right, with his cap pulled low, hood up, eyes averted.
Immediately on my left was what looked like a huge electric truck. "I can't imagine trying to park that in the city!" I thought, and as I reached the front of the truck, sure enough, a uniformed traffic attendant stood nose to nose with the giant vehicle, pen in hand, scratching notes onto a pad.
I stretched my legs out long, striking the pavement with my heels first, my sturdy boots carrying me confidently along the sidewalk. I held my head up, looking down the street, looking for the address I was seeking at the corner. "I don't look like I tourist." I thought, congratulating myself at the way I had broken through the knot of bartering men back at the corner, without timidity, without hesitation.
In the restaurant I set the supplies for dressing Small Sun's wound on the table. I unwrapped layer after layer of New York Winter protection. "I like your sweater" my sister said, seeing what I had on under the coat for the first time. I sidled into my seat, my back to a man who appeared to be studying, pinned into his two person table against the wall by our wall of family, eight strong.
As I settled in and looked at the menu, sirens wailed in the distance. A fire truck went past, and then a police car. The Avenue was small. "If there's any real danger, someone will tell us." I thought. I settled on warm goat cheese and a pear salad with vinaigrette.
People started to hurry past the window. "They're evacuating the hotel across the street." someone said.
I sipped my chai latte, the termeric biting my tongue.
More police cars came. More people rushed past. Barricades went up right outside the cafe door, people were being let out of the street but no one was allowed in. A photographer leaned over the barricade snapping pictures, and police officers waved him away. He persisted.
It became obvious that the trouble was really on our street. At first I had assumed all the officers were going somewhere beyond where we were, that we were in the passing through place, but they kept arriving, settling like so many birds on a wire at dusk.
My sister's boyfriend came back to the table after talking to others at the barricade.
"There's been an accident. A man was run over up the street. There's a white sheet on him now, so he's...they wouldn't put a sheet on if he made it."
My mind flashed back to the blue, or was it black, uniformed officer, standing in front of the truck. There was a red tourist bus parked haphazardly up the street, its passengers were all evacuated past us. Some sat in the back of an ambulance, presumably being treated for shock. My mind turned what I had seen over and over, hoping there would be no edge to grab hold of.
Finally our waitress quietly told us the news. "A traffic officer was run over by a big truck at the top of the street. He died at the scene."
It was him.
Had it been five or ten minutes, or maybe even fewer, since I had walked past him?
He had been doing his job. I had been confident. I think the sky was faintly blue, and the day had rolled open before me with promise.
There's no reason to tell it here, really. I guess I just want to raise my voice as one last witness to the life of Kalyanarat Ranasinghe, may he rest in peace. I saw you there, living and strong, moments before you were gone. Be well.