15. Finally, lost in Brussels

Lost in Brussels_hand

Artwork by Enrique Cropper

“I’m heading out of an office block.
I say Bonne soirée to the guard at the reception desk.
I come out on to a city street.
There are high, glass-fronted buildings around me.
It’s dark.
It’s chilly.
My nose tingles, there’s a hazy smoke in the air.
There are three or four rows of vehicles on the street in front of me.
I decide not to catch the metro, unusual for me to break with my habit.
I tell myself, maybe it’s better to stretch your legs.
It’s been a long day in front of the computer.
I turn in the direction the traffic is heading.
The buildings are tall, on both sides of the street, like walls of a tunnel.
I see a signpost above.
Centre ville.

There’s a long stream of cars, some lorries, stretching down the street.
I notice how bright their red rear lights are.
The white lamps of the lampposts, ahead of me, fade to the distance.
I’m walking alongside them, on a footpath.
On the other side of the street, a cyclist passes at high speed.
I look up to a set of traffic lights.
The lights are red; red, orange, then green.
I turn.
Next, I hear a loud wail of a cry behind me.
I feel a tremendous thud in my back.
I tumble, head over heels.
I glimpse the wheels of a bicycle in the edge of my vision.
I feel my head thump, flat, to the ground.
I cannot move.
My sight begins to blur.

There’s a bent bicycle wheel, just in front of my eyes.
I see a body writhing on the ground a few metres away.
I feel a warm wetness around my head and shoulders.
I sense someone near.
I hear.
Mon Dieu, sa tête s’est complètement écrasée.
I feel someone clutch my hand.
I see a face peering down into mine.
I cannot even blink.
I hear.
Ne vous inquiétez pas, je suis là.
The image of the face begins to fade.
I hear, weakening, another voice.
Ici, Rue de la Loi.
A l’hauteur d’un bâtiment qui s’appelle Info-point, numéro 43 à 45.
Accident de vélo.
C’est le piéton, un homme, il est très grave.
Beaucoup de sang.
De la tête.
Il bouge pas.
Mais venez vite.
Rue de la Loi.
43 à 45.


I sense myself beginning to float.
I feel lost, yet at the same time, I know where I am.
I see a form, of my own body, by now, below me.
Bright, myriad-coloured streams of light emanate from it.
I see the cars, the street.
All in grey tones.
I see other human-like forms, milling around mine.
More streams of light, now in agitated patterns.
I remember my grandmother.
She told my aunt once.
“It’s just like floating away, dear.
There’s absolutely nothing to worry about……”


Brbr had been speaking for ten minutes, without stopping. Mrtn, her co-counsellor, had sat patiently, listening, concentrating with all his mind and heart on the agonies that Brbr had been recounting. Despite the intense emotions of her experience, her voice had been passive, composed, objective throughout.

Brbr turns to Mrtn. I see her explaining to him. “Yes, Mrtn, I see now where these images come from” she says. “I was living and working in Brussels. Yes, of course. I worked in an office. A job with the government. Policy, they called it. Lots of meetings, and discussions, and papers. And that was the end, my end, when I was finally lost. I see, I see now. All this time, this is what has been trying to break through to me.”



Mortality by John Betjeman

The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Shiver and shatter and fall
As the steering column of his comfortable Humber
Batters in the bony wall.
All those delicate re-adjustments
On the one hand, if we proceed
With the ad hoc policy hitherto adapted
To individual need…
On the other hand, too rigid an arrangement
Might, of itself, perforce…
I would like to submit for the Minister’s concurrence
The following alternative course,
Subject to revision and reconsideration
In the light of our experience gains
And this had to happen at the corner where the by-pass
Comes into Egham out of Staines.
That very near miss for an All Souls’ Fellowship
The recent compensation of a ‘K’ –
The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Are sweetbread on the road today.

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