Down in the valley, traffic was in gridlock, inching forwards on the autopista that cut through the heart of the city. In an effort to circumvent the jostling crowd of cars, battered vans, impatient taxis, gargantuan transport trucks with their acrid diesel exhausts, and motorbikes and scooters weaving erratically in and out of lanes, Mr. Riley, following the example of a convertible in front, swung the Pontiac onto a disused service road which he knew led to an exit ramp. At first inclined to congratulate themselves on their initiative, the family saw to their dismay that there was another traffic jam ahead. They came to a stop at the summit of the ramp as it crossed over the highway, behind a cattle truck, and glanced idly over the retaining wall of the ramp to discover, to their shock, what was the reason for the gridlock below.
The twisted remnants of a red Volkswagen Beetle lay like a crushed insect beneath them. Parts of the car were scattered over both westbound lanes. Something vastly heavier and more durable must have eviscerated it. No-one in it could have survived such an impact. The accident had happened some time before, as there was a white sheet covering something on the road, around which the predictable crowd of ghouls had gathered. There was no sign of an ambulance or police car. From under the sheet, and all over the road was a lake of blood, staining the conscience, it seemed to David, of every road user in eternity. He was aghast. He could not bear to look, and yet he could not avoid looking.
‘There’s blood all over the road,’ he told his family. His mother, seeing her son’s discomfiture, murmured, ‘Say a prayer for those poor people, David.’ But his father at the wheel said, ‘It’s probably only red paint.’
Just then, the traffic began to move, at first painfully slowly, but soon thereafter the way ahead was clear, and the Pontiac was in the market district, among familiar sights. They picked up some groceries, and were home before long. While mum prepared supper, David, still shaken, went out into the garden. His father was squinting at the sky.
‘Zopilotes,’ he said, pointing. A ragged flock of large birds was circling against the grey sky.‘ Vultures. They smell blood from a distance, and then they come. You were right. But don’t tell your sister.’
So it wasn’t red paint.
That evening as he lay awake with his young sister asleep in the bed next to his, he knew he had joined a fraternity of adults, but it was not the easy freedom he had expected. Something within him was broken; it would never be as it was, and he mourned the loss of what he would come to understand was his innocence. Mortality had laid its chill hand upon his soul.