Life This morning, I helped to save someone from killing themselves.
It’s about half nine and I’m waiting as usual for my bus to work. Half of my attention is fixed on the road, the other half on the recording of Debussy's The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian which was this month’s freebee with BBC Music Magazine. The narration read by actress Irène Jacob is in French and I’m intensively trying to utilities the fragments of French I’ve learnt from watching the Three Colours Trilogy and whatnot to understanding the narrative. The bus stop quietly stacks up with people around me, or at least it seems quiet because of my noise-cancelling earplugs.
The bus comes. Actually two buses come but before I can dash and stop the empty 80 behind it drives past which means we’re all going to be piling onto an already full number 74. Hesitation means I’m not the first person on, so I’m left with the seats at the back and work my way up between the seats, over the step and into the back I see that there are seats free in a set of four. Except there’s a young man there fast asleep, both feet up opposite. Thinking best of it, I take a seat at the back, after an older man who’d been sitting opposite the sleeper has taken his opportunity to move away.
Once again I’m ensconced in Debussy and Jacob’s sonorous reading (“Is that Stigmata?” I wonder) whilst watching the continuing commuter politics further down the bus as some passengers force the sleeper, now broadly speaking awake to move so that they can sit. He’s fairly groggy and does that annoying thing of sitting on the outside and moving his legs just enough so that another person can take the window seat. I imagine there to be much tutting, not that I can hear it amid soprano Elizabeth Atherton’s heartfelt rendering of her text.
Then I realise I’ve made the mistake of watching the debarkle with the ex-sleeper for just too long and I’ve made eye contact with him, and his body language gives every indication that he might not like that very much. I quickly look past him again, up the bus and through the front windscreen (mildly considering that might be my final destination at this point if I’m not careful) but he continues watching me, even as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a cigarette. I become mildly aware that if he’s not drunk, he’s high, as he misses his lips with the fag the second time.
Mansion 1: The Court of Lilies (track one) is about half way through and we’re a past the next bus stop when the ex-sleeper decides he wants to make friends with the person sitting opposite him. He unsteadily puts his hand up and asks for a high-five like the millennium didn’t happen, but the other passenger is having nothing to do with him. Ex-sleeper grins at him and continues grinning as he, returns his attention to me, then what I'm looking at, the front of the bus. I close my eyes and though by now I’ve decided he’s intrinsically harmless, I’m also a wuss.
By the time I open them, he’s on his feet. He’s on his feet and he’s walking towards me. More precisely he’s walking towards the back of this moving bus gripping the seats and people on either side him so as not to fall over. All kinds of scenarios are blasting through my mind, for the first time not really paying much attention to Saint Sebastian’s condemnation. He’s going to try and sit up here isn’t he? Well there isn’t much room. Between me and the person sitting on the end of the seat I’m not sure where he’s going to go. Fuck, fuck, fuck!
Then he lunges for the handle for the emergency exit which inevitably swings open, taking him and half his body with him. My first thought is, “He’s not going to try and smoke out of the exit is he? We’re moving.” There are shrieks amongst the other passengers. Luckily the first thought of the older man sitting next the exit is something like, “Oh he’s going to fall out, I’d better grab him," which he does before most of the ex-sleeper’s body can fall over the threshold. By then I’d realised what was happening and dug my fingers into his jumper, my other on his shoulder, I think.
It all happens far faster than it took me to write that paragraph, but not so fast that I don’t also shout a useless “Hey, hey, hey…” as if that's going to stop him. There is enough alarm that the driver stops the bus. The ex-sleeper, who despite everything has been struggling to free himself from us finally succeeds and leaps off the bus onto the road, only just managing to avoid being hit by oncoming traffic. His cigarette I notice now, has been his mouth the whole time as though he's put it above his own personal safety.
The older man, the man who really saved the ex-sleeper’s life, pulls the emergency exit closed and the bus is moving again. As we watch, the ex-sleeper strolls nonchalantly across the road to the opposite pavement and begins walking in the same direction as us, waving and giving us the thumbs up. I giggle. I can’t help it. It’s the most exciting thing which has happened on the morning bus to work since I began this job, not that I’d be entirely pleased for it to become a weekly occurrence. That would be repetitious.
Only afterwards have I realised how badly it all could have gone. If the older man's hands had slipped, if the jumper had slipped from my fingers, if the ex-sleeper had been stronger for all his lack of consciousness, he would have fallen forward and if the back wheel of the bus hadn't hit him, the other cars on the road would have. That's when some version of shock kicked in, about ten minutes after I got off the bus and it's been a slightly off day ever since. But it could have all been much, much worse. Especially for him.