Chapter 17

A flowerpot can fall on everyone's head

Illustration de Paloma Agüera

As every Monday at 6:37 p.m., a traffic jam forms along the streets that occupy the city between the promenade, the alameda and the avenue, which the city council has been trying to fix for years. The rush hour, as they call it in many parts of the world, is an arrhythmic concert of screams, horns, hands-free phone calls and reggaeton with the windows rolled down. Those who don’t know it, the newbies, even if they think they are the smartest, walk through the narrowest streets, but the delivery drivers, the new traffic lights that were put in a couple of months ago, the self-propelled bus and the school exits, end up by completely clogging the asphalt for about 5 or 6 blocks. There is no physical escape or mobility.

On the 3662CYJ, the driver grips the steering wheel, but he’s not really on the road. He has spent the entire traffic jam mentally reviewing the probabilistic death of everything around him. He bites his nails, anxious, and turns down the music as if by doing so he could concentrate more on his thoughts. Engaging the clutch and shifting gears is an automatism, a behavioral effect of hearing the honk of the car behind when the one in front has moved a little.

Life, the real one, the one that is happening beyond his thoughts, which could be an escape from this immovable situation, is only those seconds of movement in which his eyes, through the rearview mirror, cross with his neighbor, who keeps honking at him so that he does not forget to move forward next time. The brake is the warning to keep on wondering.

Right now, that electrician could be electrocuted by the high-voltage cable. That child who has crossed the road without looking, trusting that the jam will continue to be stopped, could be run over by one of the motorcycles that zigzag between the cars trying to get around the standstill. I could also die now, the car could catch fire, the one behind me could forget to brake, from the east-facing streets there are cars coming down at high speed that must not see much now with the sunset against them.

Clutch, first gear.

A pedestrian steps out into the road to avoid walking under some scaffolding, another does the same to avoid a ladder. Jack Nicholson uses his tiptoes to avoid stepping on the lines that break the sidewalk. Another covers his eyes when a black cat comes out from under one of the parked cars.

A lady slowly crosses the street with a walker and the cars, impatient, avoid her as best they can. A young man approaches to try to help her and grabs the frightened dog with one arm and tries to direct the traffic with the other.


I could die in an accident today, life is so fragile. Leaving the gas on, leaning out more than I should when watering the plants outside my window, ignoring the red flag, the heat waves, the storms in the mountains. A cancer, an attack, being a rock star and overdosing with drugs at 27. Who can assure me to die the way I think?

The one in the back, who is already honking, would want to kill me. I notice it in the look that sticks in my rearview mirror. Me and all of us around him. Maybe one day he’ll go into a school and kill some children. Or into my office. Or he gets out of the car now and takes his anger out on me alone. He could kill me, or he could be crushed to death by two cars trying to change lanes.

Green traffic light.

An ambulance treats a homeless man for hypothermia, the lady with the walker, seeing him, makes the sign of the cross on her chest and urges the nurses to live, because life is too short. On the radio, an insurance ad ends its commercial saying that any day, “a flowerpot can fall on your head”, the one in the 3662CYJ listens to it, lowers the volume and, mentally adding up all the possibilities of dying, none of them reaches the 50% that he already has written on his chromosome.

A honk takes him out of the sum when he thought he had the number that would not make him feel so bad, so alone, so disadvantaged in relation to all the possible deaths of those around him.

But he must go on, the traffic jam has moved a few meters. 

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