Michael sat down in the middle of the road and began to cry. Cars slowed and curved in an arc around him, respectfully. He leaned forward as if in deep prayer, forehead against the hard, rough surface of the road, arse in the air. Then, slowly, dropped to the side, bottom first, rolled slowly further into the traffic.
One car bipped at him as it slowed, but otherwise they casually accommodated him. After all this was the road for it; the A725, a dual-carriageway also known as Suicide Alley.
Almost nobody died on Suicide Alley any more, despite it still being a moderately busy road. It’s the best route between two parts of town, even with the odd… disruption, so drivers weren’t willing to sacrifice it.
After a few minutes of lying there undead Michael’s dismay crested and broke. Still he didn’t have it in him to get to his feet. He crawled over to the central berm between the south and north lanes. Raised a hand and whispered ‘sorry’ to each car that passed. Found a lamppost to sit against.
It was incredibly rare that one of the forewarned drivers ever actually hit one of the shambling men – usually men – who drifted out into the road here. And very few of the triers who stumbled out here had the energy or conviction to keep trying after their initial failure.
This short stretch of the road was bound to the west and east by dull, grey buildings. Government and government-affiliated office blocks, medical administration places, a satellite office for a university. Hundreds of people with ambiguous job titles, employers where the tangible stakes were low or remote, so the people-politics flourished and had an extra tinge of futility. People crushed and fossilised by the accreted layers of middle-management and abstracted, dispersed consequence.
A whole demographic of workers perched between a state of ‘can’t complain’, and the grind of ‘mustn’t grumble’. Office hours were too short and maudlin to provoke actual rage. Days too tragically easy to inspire the exertion of climbing a clocktower.
Still, for a relatively high percentage of the people working in these buildings, after another day pushing priorities around listlessly, it seemed worth an effort – if only a vague one – at abbreviating their careers with a slow tarmac retirement. Around two or three people a month walked out through the automated double-doors onto the street, looked down or up the pavement to where they’d catch their bus home to a drowsy spouse or grudging pet, where they could eat and sleep ready for the following day in the office, and decided that stepping down off the kerb into traffic might get them where they needed to go quicker.
These weren’t highly motivated suiciders; mostly they gave up after a few minutes of doing what Michael was doing and went home. Nobody ever asked them, but it’s possible that some just liked the idea of maybe spending some time laid up in a hospital, saving themselves some holiday days.
People with more intense lives want things more intensely. Michael was a low intensity kind of guy.
Michael’s leg was resting off the kerb and in the road, and he knew it was time to go when a car came too close to his foot and he flinched. He resolved to brush himself off, pick his way across the carriageway, and go home. After all, tonight was risotto night. And it was getting cold.
Hugo changed up a gear and began to cry.
He was in the eleventh hour of his legally mandated nine hour shift, driving pallets of vitamin supplements to a warehouse in Manchester. He would have to stop somewhere soon to sleep, he realised, but he didn’t like to do that in this country. In this country he sometimes felt that people didn’t like him. His voice or his face. It set him on edge.
Hugo was also afraid of getting stopped. His lorry couldn’t go over fifty-five miles per hour, but he still feared being pulled over. He knew he’d been driving for too long, and that the amphetamines in his system could land him in a strange prison in a stranger land.
He didn’t like drugs, and he was scared of the police. And he didn’t like driving this tired. But the company he worked for had things all sewn up; they had the drivers registered as private contractors so that it was Hugo who had to deal with the legislation, and they fined you if your cargo didn’t make it to its destination on time. And the deadlines were punishing.
So Hugo pushed against the law, and it stretched him thin and ragged. And desperate and tired and looking forward to a lifetime of this.
That lifetime seemed too long. And he was so tired.
Through bleary eyes Hugo checked the road. There weren’t many vehicles around, and for some reason nobody was driving that fast on this two-lane stretch.
Hugo touched the little Jesus on his dashboard. He was religious, and the rules about giving up on impossible journeys were as strict at church as they were on the road.
But having a rest on your journey was surely allowed, Hugo thought. He let his eyelids drop, and let his hand pull the steering wheel down to the left, hard, turning the lorry across the lanes, toward destruction.
Had he seen Michael getting up off his knees in the path of his lorry, he would have tried to save them both. But Hugo’s eyes were closed.