Last weekend , I was involved in quite the ridiculous traffic accident. My wife and I had been invited to a family hanami party along with my parents-in-law. My father-in-law reached the limit of his lifetime’s allowance for booze a few years back and thus is now the designated driver for all occasions. It is an arrangement I like very much; he never has a reason not to drive, I never have much of an excuse to refuse a drink. Anyway, I was sitting in the back of the car as we drove slowly along one of Japan’s many narrow streets and our conversation was interrupted by a small bang. It wasn’t the sound of a great collision but was loud enough for us all to turn and ask what it had been. I looked back up the road and noticed our wing mirror casing lying in the road and a small car which had been travelling in the opposite direction pulling over to the side of the road.
My father-in-law pulled over and we got out to inspect the damage. Nothing much – just the wing mirror casing. From the other direction a young man approached with a jauntily angled baseball cap and one of those faces that says, ‘Not much point having sensible discussion with me – I’m as thick as they come.’
The man called the police. Then he said, ‘I’ve called the police. It will take them an hour or two to get here. That’s no problem, is it?’
‘One or two hours?’ said my wife.
‘Of course!’ he said. ‘That’s normal. Of course it will take one or two hours. Maybe more.’
He sat down on the kerb and pulled out a cigarette.
‘Maybe I should call an ambulance,’ he said.
‘What for?’ asked my wife.’We’ve just bumped wing mirrors. We barely felt it. Nobody’s hurt.’
‘What about my kids?’ he said.
‘What about your kids?’ asked my wife.
‘They’re in the car.’
Are your kids injured?’
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘That’s why I should call an ambulance.’
‘Nobody could possibly have been injured by that bump,’ I said. ‘We barely felt it and the cars are hardly even damaged.’
‘If my children die will you take responsibility, then?’ he said.
‘What are you talking about?’ asked my wife. ‘You think your children might die because we bumped wing mirrors?’
‘It’s possible,’ he said.
‘It’s not,’ I said and we all began walking towards his car to check on his kids.
He had a tiny crack in his wing mirror. His wife was in the driver’s seat of the car and his two young children were sitting happily in the back. If they were hurt, they were remarkably good at smiling through pain.
‘Are you all okay?’ my wife asked his wife. She smiled a timid smile and said, ‘Yes.’
The man called an ambulance.
Meanwhile, some fifteen minutes after the collision, the policeman arrived.
‘Can I ask you something?’ asked my wife.
‘Go ahead,’ said the policeman.
‘Did somebody tell the other guy that you would take an hour or two to come?’
‘No,’ said the policeman.
The policeman had a look at the cars and said it just seemed like a minor bump, nothing major, and the insurance companies could sort it out. He asked the guy to move his car slightly.
‘I’ve been drinking,’ said the guy. ‘My wife was driving. She will move it.’
His wife moved the car. I don’t know if she had been driving or not. None of us had noticed and by the time we had pulled over and checked our car the man was already walking towards us. She could easily have changed position in the car. There was no way to say, though, and we had to take him on his slightly inebriated word.
An ambulance came screaming down the street, lights blazing and siren sounding. The policeman looked surprised.
I pointed at the chap with the cap. ’He called it, ‘ I said.
‘The paramedics got out in a hurry. ‘Where are the injured people?’ one asked.
‘There aren’t any,’ I said. ‘We bumped mirrors.’ I pointed to the crack.
The paramedic looked at the policeman as if to say, ‘What the fuck are we doing here?’ The policeman shrugged.
The guy explained he was worried his kids were hurt and thought an ambulance was required. The ambulance took the somewhat bemused children and their dad to the hospital to get checked out, leaving just the man’s wife and us to sort out this overblown mess.
‘Well,’ said the policeman. ‘This looked like a simple bump, but because an ambulance has been called it is now an accident with injury to people so I need to call a superior from the station.’
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ I muttered in my native tongue. I bought a coffee from a vending machine and we waited some more.
The senior policeman arrived and we had to explain everything again in laborious detail. He examined the cars and noted that there didn’t seem to be much wrong. He told the man’s wife that if this is treated as an accident involving human injury then one or both parties could get points on their licence. If, however, it is simply a bump with no injuries nobody would lose any points and it could be sorted out simply with the insurance companies. ‘It seems your children are probably fine,’ he said. ‘If that is the case we don’t have to treat this as a human injury case. Are you sure you don’t want to just treat it as minor bump?’
She didn’t know what to say. ‘I’ll talk to my husband,’ she said.
‘Yes, do that,’ said the policeman.
Both policemen basically said everything seemed to have been blown out of proportion and told the wife of the man that after he gets back from the hospital he should call my father-in-law to tell him how the children are.
An hour and a half after that initial bump, we were back on our way to the hanami. Whilst there, the guy called. My wife spoke to him.
‘How are the kids?’ she asked.
‘They haven’t found any problems, so far,’ he said. ‘But we should probably wait two or three days in case anything shows up.’
My wife explained the situation to her parents and we all carried on trying to enjoy the party and hoping there would be no fatalities from a minor touching of wing mirrors.
Three days passed and the children hadn’t died. Phew!
I fear, however, there is little hope for their father.