It was a morning like any other, pulled myself out of bed sometime after six. I watched while the rest of the family ate breakfast. (Breakfast rarely sits well with me first thing in the morning.) We read together from 2 Samuel and said our morning prayers together before loading into the car with the night guard to make our morning trip across town. Jenn stayed home this particular morning. I dropped off the night guard near the end of the Petit Marche. It was shortly after seven and morning traffic was starting to pick up but not quite rush hour yet.
I pulled onto the Kennedy bridge—the only bridge over the Niger River in town. Traffic was relatively clear in front of me except for two cyclists hugging closely to the side of the road when suddenly they jostled one another and I saw the full round of a bicycle tire and a rider heading for the pavement. Reflexes kicked in as I swerved and jammed on the breaks simultaneously. WHAM. The taxi on my tail had slower reflexes. The two cyclists stopped and stared at us for few moments before continuing on their way. I checked with the back seat and the boys were fine though a little shocked.
Despite the lineup of traffic building behind me I got out to inspect the damage. I knew that I couldn’t move my car anyway. Local traffic laws stipulate that vehicles involved in a collision cannot be moved until the police come to investigate and determine causes and any faults. My back bumper showed a few scratches and one hole poked in the plastic. (Fortunately my hatch still opens and closes.) The taxi on the hand had crumpled his whole front end—bumper hanging, lights smashed and hood buckled.
Rubberneckers passed slowly by, including other parents who were now returning from dropping off their kids. Eventually an officer showed up to chalk out the vehicle positions so someone could come later to assess who was at fault for any insurance claims. Once off the bridge, the officer took all of our paperwork (driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, insurance cards) saying he had to get back to his post but that someone else would come to finish the process. And so the wait began.
I took the kids around the corner to school and returned to wait. By 9:30, after hearing the sirens of the president’s cavalcade, the taxi driver and I decided to walk back across the bridge to see if we could find the officer who’d told us to wait. “They haven’t come yet? Well just take the good car up to the station—your paperwork is all there.” At the station we headed for a little office off to one side, surrounded by confiscated scooters, motorbikes, cars and trucks. Inside were six desks crowd into a single room with a little crowd of a half a dozen or more people standing in the little space between them. A man by the door directed us to the main desk in the centre of the room where most of the people were gathered.
“Yes, what do you want?” said the man behind the desk
“We had an accident. We’re here for the paper work.”
“I haven’t seen any paperwork. It’s not here”
“I had it in a clear plastic envelope like this one,” I said, pointing to an empty envelope on his desk.
“I’ve been here all morning and I haven’t seen it.”
“Yes, you did, I remember seeing it come in,” said a man sitting at another desk.
“I’m telling you I don’t have it. Just go outside and wait.”
Obligingly, we headed outside and found a bench by the impounded vehicles. We waited. We watched officers go through their paces in the courtyard. (“Attention. Eyes front. About face… ) After a while the officer from the accident came in and noticed us sitting outside waiting. “What are you doing out here? Just go on in the office, I’ve already dropped off the paperwork. It’s there.”
As we headed back in I noticed the numbers waiting around the desk had doubled to about a dozen or so. “What are you all doing in here?” exploded the man behind the desk. “I can’t work with you all standing around here! Well what do you want me to do?” he said, as those waiting looked sheepishly around at one another. “Well, do you want me to just leave you?... That’s it, I’m going!” and he pushed through the crowd and disappeared across the courtyard. As everyone slowly drifted back out the door, I realized I’d lost my spot on the bench.
At eleven the investigating officer returned once more and saw us still outside waiting. This time he lead us back to the office himself. I hesitated at the door, as I saw him exchange some rather sharp words with the man at the desk.
“What is your license plate number?” asked the man at the desk. “Is it this one?” pointing to a page in big book on his desk.
“Yes, that’s it I replied.” Recorded there was the all the information from my paper work.
“Oh, I did this first thing this morning. I gave your paperwork to the guy who sits in that desk but he’s gone out and I don’t know where he is.”
Fortunately, the officer pulled out his cell phone and made the call, assuring us he would be here shortly before heading out once more. Eventually, the taxi and I visited our respective insurance offices together to make statements before reporting one last time to the police station. I made it home just in time for lunch.