It’s one thing to be told that someone has fallen from a high-rise building, but another to watch a man crash to the ground and die in front of you.
This reality hit home as my colleague Constance and I were standing at a first-floor window in the Independent Media building in Pixley Seme Street, watching the commotion outside the Bank of Lisbon building on Wednesday morning. From the office window, we deduce that the building is on fire.
But we don’t look up. Not until the fireman in blue overalls comes tumbling down.
For a split second, all I see are the blue overalls with yellow stripes hit the ground.
There is a huge thud. Constance screams and leaves the window. A firefighter goes to the body in blue overalls now lying motionless on the ground and leaves quickly, as if not sure what to do. More emergency people converge on the spot. It is then that it hits me, a man has just lost his life.
Someone brings silver foil and covers the body. But the wind blows it away from the man's face. One or two firefighters take turns and stop at the body. Another seems to be praying. At some point, about five people surround the body.
They tuck him in around the sides. I think they are placing rocks so that the foil isn't blown off. The time is 12.30pm. It’s two hours since the firefighter fell to his death.
Another hour passes and someone else puts a white sheet over the body. Then water seeps from the building. Some of it runs underneath the body. Have they already forgotten that the man had a name, as they go about as if he isn't there?
My colleague Sheree and I decide to confront someone about the body - three hours after the man's fall. What happened to human dignity? What upsets us is that the man died in the line of duty, trying to save lives and he works for the very emergency services that are ignoring his body.
A man wearing a helmet apologises, and tells us that the body can’t be moved until forensic staff arrive and take pictures.
We go back to the office, dejected. From the window, I later see another person in overalls with a camera at the scene. She clicks away. A while later, the body is gone as if it was never there.