Almost everything about Wednesday evening was strange. It started with the terrible traffic on the Panamericana motorway, heading north out of Santiago. Most days nights at around six o’clock, things start to get busy on the main arterial route that serves the city’s north western suburbs but this night was different. It took half an hour for the 307 bus just to make it onto the motorway. The queue of vehicles would sit perfectly still for five minutes then creep forward five metres. It was painfully slow.

Two young sisters on the bus grew wrestless and started playing a game that involved running up and down the aisle, with lots of laughing and shouting. The rest of us tried to ignore them as we pretended to look out the window and fiddled with our iPods. It was all too much for one student who walked up to the driver and asked to be let off in the middle of nowhere. At first the driver seemed to object but he quickly changed his mind and opened the door. What was the point of sticking to the rules under these circumstances? The student hopped off and disappeared into the night. We waited for another five minutes before shunting forward once again. After a few metres had been gained the driver lurched to a stop and we all leaned forward. White knuckle driving at 5km/h.

The trip seemed to drag on forever but an hour and a half after I had boarded, the bus reached my neighbourhood. By now it was eight o’clock so I got off three stops later than normal and went straight to church for the weekly devotional and prayer meeting. It was cold outside but I was glad to be off the bus.

Feeling just a little fed up after my epic journey, I walked inside the small chapel hoping for an inspiring and uplifting meeting but the trying circumstances just kept coming. The short message was all about accepting criticism and rebuke in the right way and in my exhausted state, I found it difficult to join in. Making it even harder to pay attention, there was a group of young guys hanging around on the street corner outside. They told raucous jokes and laughed loudly as they loitered and we tried not to listen.

When the pastor got to the end of his message, he turned to Raul, one of only two people in the church who has a car, and asked: “Did you drive tonight?”

“Yes,” Raul replied.

“Just go and check your car because they seem to be getting a bit out of control out there,” the pastor explained.

We paused as Raul walked to the back of the church and popped his head outside. When he returned he gave a thumbs up and we resumed the meeting.

As usual, we started talking about prayer points among each other. But after our first ‘thanks’ point, an older gent named Nehemias, piped up what I thought was an absolutely bizarre question.

“Pastor,” he said. “What would you do if a gang of delinquents surrounded your house and threatened you and your family and tried to rob you? I mean, as a Christian and a pastor, how would you respond?”

Unlike me, everyone else at the meeting seemed to think this was a perfectly normal question and they spent the next half hour sharing a wide range of mildly interesting hypothetical and true stories of muggings and hold ups. I listened along in Spanish for a while but then I zoned out. The prayer part of the meeting had fallen right off the agenda.

Shortly after nine o’clock, when the Wednesday evening meeting usually finishes, the conversation was interrupted by a loud noise. Thud. It sounded if someone had been thrown against a wall. We all looked up. At first I thought something had happened to Raul’s car but peering through the glass door it looked fine, sitting up there on the footpath. But beyond the car there was a girl standing in the middle of the road. It looked as if she was bending over a body, lying on the ground. Raul and the pastor got up and hurried to the door. The rest of us followed.

Lying face down on the road in the middle of a zebra crossing was a small body. To its left, there was a 308 bus, stopped in the middle of the road, with a nasty crack in the lower left-hand corner windscreen. A small crowd had already formed and we pushed in to get a closer look. The body belonged to a small girl, eight to ten years old, and it wasn’t moving. The other girl, probably her sister, was calling out: “Caro! Caro!”

Caro didn’t reply. Her sister kept searching for a response. It was dark and people kept crowding round so I couldn’t tell if there was any blood. To be frank, I didn’t really want to look that closely.

“Has anyone called an ambulance?” cried another voice.

I wanted to do something but I didn’t feel very capable. I couldn’t even remember the number for an ambulance in Chile so I handed my phone to Raul. He started to dial but he didn’t have to. At least half a dozen people were already doing the same, including the pastor. I stepped back from the crowd.

Someone gently prodded at Caro trying to get a response but she remained motionless. I presumed she was still breathing.

Hay una frasada? Hay una frasada?” yet another voice yelled out. “Is there a blanket?”

It was very cold. I noticed I was shivering. I looked down at the small, still body then lifted my gaze to the crack in the windscreen. I wanted to cry.

The first vehicle to arrive on the scene was a patrol car from the municipality’s security team. A security guard hopped out and looked around but after the surveying the scene he stood back, as if he was waiting for someone else to arrive.

People in the crowd started muttering among themselves: “No-one ever respects the zebra crossings around here,” someone said. “No, it was only a matter of time,” someone else replied.

Both Raul and the pastor had been in the the thick of the crowd but now they stepped out. I couldn’t see my phone so rushed over to Raul to ask if he still had it. He reached into his pocket and gave it to me. I told myself off for getting so concerned about such a trivial matter.

“Let’s go inside and pray,” someone suggested. We all agreed. In the relative warmth of the church, we stood together in a circle and spoke to our loving Father. We prayed for the girl, for her family, for the people who had witnessed the accident and for the bus driver.

As we said our Amens, we heard a piercing siren. The ambulance had arrived. By now it was about twenty past nine so we said our goodbyes and stepped outside. There were more than 50 people milling around and the paramedics asked them to step back as they moved in to help Caro. Another siren drew closer. It was the police.

I decided to leave seeing there was nothing more I could do and I began to walk home. When I came to another zebra crossing, I checked very carefully before stepping down from the kerb. It was hard to stop thinking about Caro’s body, just lying there on the road.

My bus dramas from earlier in the evening didn’t seem so bad after all.

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