I woke up this morning to another downpour. The roads were slick with the rain and I stepped in several puddles on my way to the tram stop. The tram arrived and I stamped my monthly ticket because it is the first of the month. I remember thinking that the tram was pretty empty. Then again, it was nine-thirty on a Friday morning. Everyone was already at work and some students had no intentions of going to class.
I remember the tram slowing down for the curve before the stop at Audencia. The tram opened the doors and a few people entered, a few people exited. Then, it was a straightaway. Trams go very quickly on straightaways. My stop was next. I was comfortably seated, looking out the window, when it happened.
The tram, which was going at an extremely fast speed on the straightaway, suddenly began to decelerate. I knew instantly something was wrong. I felt a horrible pit in my stomach just as the tram violently lurched and then shuddered to a stop. I told myself I imagined the sound of crunching metal. I told myself the tram just stopped.
But I knew better. Moments before impact, I saw the faces of bystanders. Two people. One woman, one man. The woman was watching in horror under a black umbrella. The man stood still in his brown jacket.
We hit something. Maybe it was a dog. I told myself.
But I knew better. We didn’t just hit something. We hit someone.
A realization sank in as the already empty tram became silent. There were only twenty of us on board and I was near the back with a young woman and an older man. The older man put his hand over his mouth, as if he had tasted something rotten. The young woman bowed her head. We were all thinking the same thing – what happened? But no one had the strength to ask.
There was no announcement on the intercom. We knew that we hit someone. We knew that we had to stay seated. We were bound by an unspoken rule. The conductor rushed out of the tram and the world seemed to speed up. I watched as the man in the brown jacket rushed to the front of the tram.
Minutes passed in an unbearable silence. We watched as TAN authorities and police officers arrived. No one moved. We sat as if we were expecting to go on to our destinations, but we knew that wasn’t going to happen. Moments later, the conductor climbed on board. She was a quiet woman. I was too far back to hear what she said, but I saw the others walk towards the front. It was the first time we had moved since the accident.
We stepped off the tram and, as we did so, a man asked us if we saw what happened. I don’t know who he was – maybe he was a police officer, maybe a TAN authority. They were taking down the names of witnesses and getting their phone numbers. I was too far back. I didn’t see the accident, but I felt it. I saw the reactions of those who had seen it. But I simply replied, “Non.”
He pointed me to the track and I saw how close we were to my stop. The others were migrating there now, but something more dramatic caught my attention. The tram has a pointed front and I can only describe what I saw as a pencil stabbed into a metal croissant that was twisted the wrong way.
It was a FedEx van, undoubtedly in a hurry. The van was the size of a small SVU and the tram had hit it right in the middle, almost a perfect target. The force of the impact caused the van to curve and bend in an unnatural way. Luckily, the driver’s door was intact and untouched. He walked away unharmed. But if he had been a moment earlier? He could have been part of the twisted metal.
As I walked to class, I realized something frightening. This was the best case scenario. The conductor had been paying attention and was able to apply the brakes. The FedEx van was only carrying packages. But what if… What if the conductor didn’t apply the brakes and hit the van with all of that speed? What if that FedEx van was an SVU belonging to a mother and her kids were in the backseat? What if it had been a student, running across the tracks to get to class? All of these scenarios would have created a true catastrophe and, in all likelihood, a loss of life.
Months before my arrival, a nineteen year old boy was killed right at the tram stop in front of my dorm. He probably lived in the dorm. He was probably a student.
Why am I telling you this? I don’t mean to scare you. The tram system seems very safe here in Nantes. It is the vein of transportation and interweaves through streets and sidewalks and everywhere. What isn’t safe is this thought: I can make it. When you see a tram or a train coming and you think “I can make it,” maybe you can. But then again…maybe you can’t.
It’s not worth the risk.