By Teresa Michaud
Nicholas was born on Christmas day so it only seems fitting that they name him after Saint Nicholas. By the second week of December, he was still only four years old. He was a shy, quiet boy; very well behaved, thoughtful and polite. He had walnut colored eyes and dark, slightly wavy hair. He had beautiful olive skin and a small beauty mark on his left cheek. Every morning, he waited for the bus alone in the dark. There were never any lights on in the house and no street lamps near his home. He always wore a dark blue snowsuit with a Montreal Canadians bonnet and matching book bag. He would stand in his driveway the suggested ‘seven giant steps’ away from the road. He waited for the bus to stop and for the lights on the bus to turn to red. He waited for my signal before proceeding across the road to get on the bus. He was small; so small that in order for him to climb the bus steps he had to place his knee on the first step to reach the handrail.
Every year the school district chooses a school bus driver to go and give a course called Dinobus to the kindergarten students in the different schools in our area. They chose me to give the very first pilot Dinobus course twelve years ago. They scheduled it right at the beginning of the school year. I remember the media was present. The school district allowed me one hour with the kindergarten students in the school gym followed by a school bus ride. I remember really enjoying teaching these students everything they needed to know about being around and in a school bus.
On Monday morning, the second week of December of that year, I was picking up my morning students. Nicholas lived about 400 feet before Cote Crossing. I turned on my amber warning lights and started down the steep hill towards the CN rail tracks. The lights danced in the darkness reflecting off the steel potato loading sheds on the other side of the tracks and the cross bucks at the tracks. I could see that Nick was waiting in his driveway in the dark.
A vehicle was approaching from the other direction with its headlights set on bright. As I arrived at Nick’s driveway, I stopped the bus, opened the door and pulled the parking break. The red lights came on as well as the crossing gate and red flashing stop sign. The red light system lit up the night and reflected off everything. The approaching vehicle was coming up fast. It jumped the tracks at a ridiculous speed. I knew he wasn’t going to stop at my lights. It was a pickup; brown! Yes, it was a brown pickup. It had an old-fashioned metal truck cap on the back that had slider windows on the sides. A frame of square tubing topped the box. The blinding headlights kept me from getting the plate number but experience told me, by the shape of the lights and the position of the parks, it was a Ford Ranger 1990. I saw Nicholas walking towards the bus with a little spring in his step. I laid on the horn. My own headlights gave me a flash of the driver. He was wearing glasses and had short, dark, curly hair. I saw Nicholas step out onto the road. I heard a shrill scream and realized it was coming from me. Sheer terror gripped my heart as Nicholas vanished under the blinding lights of the vehicle.
In horror, I double checked the parking brake and unhooked my seat belt. I was now in emergency mode. I snatched up my cell phone. Thoughts of little Nicholas flung in a lifeless heap flooded my mind. As I got up out of my seat, I glanced towards the house. There was Nick standing there, on the road, two feet out from the driveway, waiting for my signal to cross. I let out a wail of relief and the tears began to flow freely. I waved, with a trembling hand, for Nicholas to cross. He moseyed happily across the road. He will never know how close he came to being killed. I wiped my hands over my face and said a prayer of thanks to God. I took a deep cleansing breath. Nicolas set his knee on the first step and reached for the handrail, step-up, step-up, step-up. “Oh Nicholas,” I said, “I am so proud of you! You are so smart to have waited for me to wave you across.” He smiled shyly as he took his seat. Perhaps he felt a little embarrassed by the attention.
I finished my run and unloaded at the schools. The principal was outside. I drove around and parked my bus out of the way. I went to see the principal and asked if I could speak with her. I needed to debrief. We went inside to her office. She closed the door. I said, “The Dinobus course that we gave earlier this fall saved a life this morning. Four-year-olds do not look for cars. They just don’t. I am so proud of Nicholas!” The tears welled again and I began sobbing as I recounted the incident.
Nick will be graduating this coming spring. He is very tall, slim and has become a fine young man. I often think of that experience when I stop at his driveway especially on those short winter days when I must pick up my students in the dark. I am sure that if I mention it to him he would have no recollection what so ever of that incident. I, on the other hand, shall never ever forget.