It's quite incredible the way you consider the presence and company of strangers who share nothing more with you than the foothpath when you believe that, at any minute, you may be gasping for air at their feet. Would they look the other way? Would they, by association, be too afraid to come to your aid? Would they know what to do? It's a strikingly theatrical and filmic concept. I recommend it.
My first thoughts are that there is every possibility that I am not going to make to Emergency. The sun is impossibly bright and my skin is coated in an almost icy layer of sweat. My left leg is numb, and my left foot drags ... causing me to stumble over my own toes. My mobile phone crashes to the ground and my wallet glides effortlessly a foot or two away. The vision of a fat poof sprawling chaotically over this trissy South Yarra side-street makes me laugh ... but it hurts to laugh.
A young girl walking in the same direction as me on the opposite side of the road pauses. Her instinct is obviously to be sure I intend to do her no harm. She glances, briefly, in my direction and then resumes the urgent rhythm of her own life ... as, I suspect, we all do when we have ascertained that the result of another's sudden erratic jolt in our discernible collective rhythms is a return to the status quo.
It's all about direction. My senses are incredibly finely attuned to the direction the people around me are heading. I am, at once, calculating both their distance from me and their proximity to each other. It is like I have just directed a scene in a film and all the carefully choreographed 'background action' is being run through before the first take ... when the star falls helplessly to the ground, clutching his bragging, thumping heart ... and being silenced by his humility in the face of a painful death.
On my knees, I collect my mobile and my wallet ... dragging them back to me like precious icons. My eyes hurt and water. My wallet falls from my hand because there is no sensation in the fingers of my hand. I watch it fall and bounce off my knee and onto the ground.
It feels as though someone is behind me, holding me ... their arms wrapped tightly around my chest. I flex the fingers of my right hand ... the tips of which are white. Like marble. Like playing the piano in mid-air. I reach out for my wallet again and slide it toward me. Gripping it tightly, I slide it up my leg and into my coat pocket. It's like sliding a brick along the ground with cotton wool.
I am alert enough to know that I should not make any strenuous movement ... like standing up. My heart is thumping. I slide my hand inside my jacket and place the palm of my hand over my heart. It's like someone is trying to wake the household up at 3am because they've lost their keys and can't get in.
I look down toward Chapel Street and see pedestrians. But they are no longer anonymous bodies and faces ... they are like the people who may come to my aid. Or not. But these particular people will have long passed by the time I get down there. They'll read about it in the newspaper, possibly. Or they'll hear the ambulance. Maybe they'll go into a shop and come out ten or fifteen minutes later and see the crowd gathered around my relieved and grateful barely breathing body. Maybe one of them will ask a shopkeeper for a blanket ...
They are not doctors or nurses these people. Nor are the people who are yet to arrive at ground zero. I imagine them fifteen minutes or so further up Chapel Street ... wandering aimlessly along the footpath without any knowledge of the extent to which the heart attack victim is about to really spice up their dinner table conversation tonight.
It's an almost impossibly intimate concept - dying. I'm 43 years old. I'm a poof. I've smoked since I was seventeen. I have a bad heart. I'm carrying too much extra weight. I don't exercise. I eat meat pies and chocolate for lunch - in that order. I love fried food and I drink coffee to Olympic Gold Medal haul standards every day. Of course I am not going to survive this!
I decide to try standing up. The circulation in my fingers has returned and my fingers now ache because I am clenching my wallet so tightly. Slowly, I stand ... and the pain in my chest gradually begins to subside. I can almost see it leaving. I lift my head ... higher than it has been for the past few hours. I slowly inhale ... deeper. The pain has a weaker grasp of my chest. No intention. No control. I dare to breathe ... inhaling ... carefully. I take a couple of cautious steps toward Chapel Street and then stop. The pain in my chest is gone. Not entirely ... but almost. Now, it feels like a ill-fitting jumper. Polyester. Tingling. Nylon. Tight.
I have so much work to do. My little creative agency is literally bursting at the seams. I have nineteen 'live' jobs and, for the first time in the life of my small business, so many of the processes associated with the success of a small business are in place. I love my little office. I have a whiteboard with no more room on it. There are three jobs waiting to be dispatched ... which means invoices ... which means paying bills - and tax - the square root of the delay I have enforced on my life for at least five years. Maybe more.
Since I have come back to Melbourne, I have learned more about how important the success of my little business is than I ever imagined. I do good work. Sometimes I do great work. And right now, I'm doing really good work. I have new clients that I can nurture into major ongoing workflow.
I am not going to drop. Not today.
I turn the corner into the street that runs parallel to Chapel Street. There's a car detailing place on the corner, littered with jobbers polishing BMWs and ridiculously big artless cartrucks. I decide to walk around the block and go back to work. I slowly increase the pace of my strides ... not pushing it, not showing off to myself. I am determined to get back to my office and continue to work. I have deadlines to meet. People are relying on me. I love it that they do ... almost as much as I love it that they can.
It would seem that I am going to spare My Strangers their little bit of death today.
By the time I get back to my office, the pain in my chest has entirely subsided. Just the occasional stab ... one or two teeth-clenching bursts. I imagine that when it finally does happen, like it is bound to, it will be so immensely painful that death will be the only relief.
But no more of a relief than the DO NOT RESUSCITATE card I now have in that pesky little wallet of mine.