The English Pedestrian In Poland

Dark and damp was this chilly mid-November evening. Anxious to get my hungry belly home, I was shuffling through the streets on the crooked pavements of Bydgoszcz, a rather quiet city in Poland. Though, this night more quiet than any other. A dead Tuesday evening. All the lively events of the weekend had faded into nearly forgotten history. Footsteps soon came to a sudden stop as I approached the final crossing, moments away from home. I could even smell my dinner in the oven, at least I imagined so.

But there was one thing that came between me and my journey – a shining red man. This man was like no other. This man had no life in him. Cold and dead, yet in total control. It was just a red light in the shape of a man above my head, and it was he who wouldn’t let me get home. He looked at me, bright and red, mocking me as I just stood there helpless and still. It was so quiet I could hear my heavy breathing, my deep sighs. I looked up, not a cloud in the sky, stars, so many stars. I looked down again, left, then right – not a soul in sight.

I was alone, just me and my thoughts. I remember my wife (and Polish guide) saying to me, “do not, I repeat, DO NOT cross the road unless the man is green.” So I listened, I obeyed, I stayed… But my thoughts would not rest. They grew louder. “Rob, what on earth are you doing? why are you standing here like a mindless robot? would you be doing this in England?” I looked left and right again. There was not a car in sight, and there had not been in over a minute. So why was I just standing there, waiting, waiting for nothing, waiting for a man to change colours.

This would never happen in England, or at least in London! We, pedestrians, are like the sacred cows of India. It is the pathetic little cars that stop for us as we stroll across even the busiest of roads. Zebra crossing or no zebra crossing, green light or red light, sunshine or moonlight, we cross the streets when we want, where we want, and how we want.

Yet I was still standing still, still as a statue, alone on this cold November evening. The man was still red. How long does one have to wait. There were no cars. None at all. Was it not just pure common sense to walk across the road? Was it criminal of me to want to get home 2 minutes earlier? Not harming anyone, not committing any sort or immorality. Just crossing the road.

What’s that I see? Two men, two living breathing souls across the road had also appraoched the crossing. I looked at them. They looked at me. Feeling like Clint Eastwood in a gun fight, I looked into their eyes, then at the red man, then back at them. My feet edging towards the white paint of the zebra crossing. The light was still red. There were still no cars in sight. And we all were still standing still. It was quiet, too quiet as the cliche would have it.

Enough is enough! I took a deep breath, clenched my fist, and marched across the street. They might have thought I was a mad man to cross the road under such circumstances – the red light. I thought exactly the same of them. The circumstances of there being no car in sight. I started marching faster., storming across, almost breaking into a jog.

The men on the other side were dressed all in black. Blacker than the November sky. One was big and bulky, quite intimidating. The other was short and skinny. But they were the losers still waiting for nothing. I was on my way home. Free at last, free at last! But as soon as I got to the other side, they stopped me in my tracks. I suspected  trouble. Hoping and praying they weren’t going to mug me or beat me up, I prepared myself for the worst and clenched my fist again. I was ready, pumped full of adrenaline.

They looked me deep in the eye, especially the big guy. It was like being squared up to a gorilla. He opened his mouth revealing his yellow teeth. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. That’s when I knew that my wife was right. – my wife is always right! The big man opened his mouth like that of a great white shark ready to devour me, and then he said those dreadful words:

STRAŻ MIEJSKA! MANDAT!

Learn My Language

-Rob Wolff

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