It was a night much like any other. Pitch-black from the lack of streetlights, not much traffic. I was driving from my apartment in La Bonita with my girlfriend, Irene, when we ran into a sudden traffic jam.
With traffic in Caracas, it’s never normal. There’s always a thing. Someone’s car broke down, someone crashed, some brilliant mayor decided to have the street re-paved at rush hour. I couldn’t see what was causing this particular jam, and I was even ready to take a U-turn back when I saw some card moving, turning right to avoid something.
Exactly what they were avoiding wasn’t clear until we got closer. And then I saw it.
Two motorizados on the floor, one of them -—the parrillero— with the bike on top of him, the other scrambling to get to his feet. No car seemed to have hit them. Maybe it was a hit-and-run.
The two men were quite alone. When I got close enough, I saw a lot of blood. I said something to Irene, which I can’t remember, and she asked me: “well, what should we do?”. “We should really stop”, I answered.
She was scared. It was night time, and these were two strangers on a motorbike. Before we’d made up our minds, we were past the accident. I was uneasy.
“What can we do?” she asked.
“We can stop.”
“Fine, fine. Let’s stop.”
I turned the car around. One of the two stumbled as he tried to get up. The other was motionless. Conscious, but still. I put on the blinkers and stopped the car on the side of the road. Irene locked herself in and shifted over to the driver’s seat. I walked to the motorizados.
It was cold; a light drizzle dampened the road and my skin. A knot twisted my stomach. I was terrified, something felt wrong. I approached them while the driver was getting the bike back up. It wasn’t just a lot of blood, it was too much. The driver’s clothes were drenched in it and his parrillero, still on the ground, was covered head to toe. His forehead was still bleeding profusely. I had the distinct notion that this man was going to die.
The driver started to try and get him up. I’m no doctor, but I do have first aid and CPR training, and I didn’t think he should be standing quite yet. Next to the street was a little futbolito court, and the men who had been playing were watching the sight. One of them yelled to me “an ambulance is on its way”.
I thought the best thing to do was to try and stop the bleeding, clean him up a little, and wait for the paramedics. His friend disagreed. He neither spoke to me nor responded when I spoke, he just went on with his task of getting his partner up.
“Just let him lay down, wait for the ambulance, he’s in no state to ride”. He looked at me with hollow eyes. Maybe it was shock, maybe he was on something. Maybe both. My words didn’t seem to register.
He finally got his friend off the ground, and immediately he started to stumble. I grabbed him. He, at least, was more talkative. He kept mumbling “abrázame, varón”.
“Hang on to me, big guy”.
I held him up while I insisted to the driver that we should wait for an ambulance. No dice. He got on the bike and helped his parrillero back up too. I helped him grab on. They rode off.
I was still petrified. I was standing alone in a puddle of blood in the middle of the street at night. I walked back to the car and prayed to God they made it to an ambulatorio before it was too late. I got back in. Irene gave a little gasp: “look at yourself”. My hands and forearms were drenched in blood. She gave me some wet wipes and I got it off while I drove. Not fifteen seconds after we left, the ambulance rode right past the spot. We chased it and told them what happened. They thanked us and went off to chase the motorizados. We went on out merry way.
At least two hundred people must have passed that spot while they were on the floor. They rolled down their windows, they stopped for a second to look. They made eye contact with me. They drove on.
This isn’t so rare, though. It’s called the Bystander Effect, and it happens all around the world. Everyone assumes someone else will help, so no one does.
I’m not a sociologist or a social psychologist. I can’t tell you exactly what was at play that night. I can only tell you what I felt.
I was scared the whole time. I was thinking I might get robbed, I might get kidnapped, I might get killed. I went as far as to think it might have been a set up. I’m paranoid, but I know only the paranoid survive.
It’s scary to see these things. It’s scary to stop. It’s scary to help.
It’s a scary country.