Overcast sky, rain in torrents, frequent derrumbes or landslides from above, occasional breakdowns at the side of the road impeding traffic flow and heightening driver frustration: the highway was treacherous, winding in and out of the shoulder of the vast mountain-side. Traffic should have been travelling slowly, matching its pace with the inexorable, inflexible demands of the rainy season, rather than trying, lemming-like, to rush heedlessly and suicidally along an invisible conveyor belt to the city glittering through gaps in the fog below.
And then it happened: a light truck swaying with its unbalanced overload of campesinos, farm hands, standing upright on the loadbed, and clinging, white-faced, to grab rails, doubtless impatient to get home before dusk, overtook the Rileys’ Pontiac and two other vehicles in front of them on a blind curve, to be met by the Valencia express bus coming straight at it, horn blaring in a frantic effort to warn the oncoming driver. The doomed truck swerved, crashed through the flimsy barrier at the edge, launched itself into space, and disappeared below with its human cargo. By the time, only seconds later, that the Riley family reached a stopping-place scooped out of a rock-face, there was only a swirl of dust, panic-stricken faces, and drivers and passengers of other vehicles gesticulating wildly in a vast confusion reminiscent of a nest of hornets stirred up by some great internal catastrophe.
‘I’m not a doctor or a policeman,’ said Mr. Riley. ‘It’s not safe to stop here. Someone else will know what to do. We must press on.’ And it did look as if they would be of no help. The road behind them was full of a vast surging crowd of onlookers, pressing forward to stare into the abyss into which the truck had plunged, as oblivious of the danger of oncoming vehicles as the truck had been. As the Pontiac moved off, young David felt the spectral hand of death touch his arm, but it was only a wet trailing creeper caught by an open window. He shook it off, and shivered, and rolled up the window. He knew he would be haunted by the memory of those white faces, glimpsed in a second, but never to be forgotten. Those poor men would never get home again…He wondered if his father should have stayed. Perhaps he could have done something to help.