In July 2004 I was involved in a motor accident in Montpellier, France: I was in a (hire) car and the other party was a motorcyclist, who was badly injured.
The case went to court in France, but I wasn't obliged to attend. I was charged for 'failing to look right at a junction', fined very lightly (65 Euros - then about £40) and banned from driving in France for two weeks. Since I lived then, as now, in London, and the court knew that, this last was no penalty at all. It seemed over all that I'd been given just about the lightest penalty possible, so I assumed, though I did not know, that witnesses had confirmed the lights at the junction had indeed been green, as I'd told the police, that the motorcyclist had jumped it, had maybe been going too fast, had maybe occupied the wrong lane of the carriageway (these things were hinted to me, but never confirmed). All I heard about the motorcyclist was that he had been in and out of hospital for most of the year that followed, maybe would not walk again. It was a hard thing to think about, and mostly I tried not to.
I've never forgotten what happened, of course. I've never forgotten what I saw of the motorcyclist's injuries, and how often I'd asked if he'd be OK and him crying, in shock and pain, 'You didn't have the right of way'.
I still have a folder - 'Accident' - on my computer, documents I'll never delete.
But as summers passed, nearly ten of them, I rationalised I'd hear no more about the accident, the 'case', the motorcyclist.
I didn't feel entirely sure of that, to be honest.
Well, last night at about 8:30pm the motorcyclist called me and left a message, in English, on my phone (an 'international number', I'd ignored the call, thinking it was one of those spam competition things we get plagued with in the evenings).
He 'didn't know if I would remember him' (!)
He wanted me to know that before the accident he had been a rower. He wanted me to know that it had taken him two years to learn to walk again after the accident, never mind to row. He wanted me to know that he would be rowing in the French coxless 4s team at the London 2012 Paralympics. He wanted me to know that he 'did not make a judgement'. He wanted me to know that he would be sending me two tickets and would like me to watch him. If he didn't hear back from me, he would send them anyway, and I could do what I liked with them.
This afternoon I spoke to him.
He is sure he wants to do this.
He wants to know I am there watching him do this.
So I am going on Friday - to the first of the heats at Eton Dorney: how can I not?
['Spirit In Motion' is the motto of the Paralympic Games]