THE BLUE PLASTIC SHEET ON A BEAUTIFUL DAY
Ian D. Robinson
The bluest of deep blue skies stretched across the city and over the forested hills above as I walked towards the station. The cold brittle clear morning was a winter treat after days of unsettled clouds and blustery winds. Despite the chill and even to be going to work it was a delightful, almost thrilling, day to be out.
Engrossed with the weather at first I didn’t notice the train had slowed to a crawl, nor did I pay attention to the conductor’s announcements as to what was causing the delay. Before long the train had come to a complete stop a hundred metres from the next station. People shifted in their seats and looked annoyed as they impatiently checked their watches, some started making calls to inform whoever they were heading toward they would be late. One man walked to the front of the carriage and knocked on the driver’s door.
“How long are we going to be here?” He demanded, “I need to go to the toilet!”
Through the front windows of the driver’s compartment I could see clearly down the tracks to the station. Waiting passengers stood on the platform but looked ahead in the direction the trains travelled. Another hundred metres past the station another train was stopped. And before that a blue plastic sheet lay across the lines.
The train I was on limped forward until the very front doors of the first carriage reached the end of the platform. They were opened and an announcement made that passengers could leave the train to use the bathrooms or to make alternative travel arrangements. I’d left home early and wasn’t overly concerned by the delay. I sent a message to my school but stayed in my seat. It wasn’t my fault I was going to be late, there was no need for stress on my part. Meanwhile almost the entire train trooped past me and exited the doors.
After several minutes I followed them. People stood about on the platform much as they had done in the train, looking at their watches and making calls. Others tried to get information from station employees who naturally had none to give other than that normal services would be resumed as soon as possible. They apologised for the delays, bowing constantly. Approaching from a distance I could hear the wail of sirens.
On the tracks ahead policemen stood around the blue plastic sheet. Occasionally one of them would lift a corner and peek under as if to check on whatever, or more obviously, whoever was beneath. I thought that by now there could hardly be anything to check on. From where I stood the sheet looked almost completely flat to the ground as if there couldn’t possibly be anything underneath. There was an unmistakable lifeless quality in the way the sheet lay, almost as if whatever it was covering had never even been living.
Three policemen walked down the tracks and climbed onto the platform. One, a short rather chubby officer, had a camera hanging around his neck. Something about him made me think he liked his job, there was nothing in his expression that spoke of him being disturbed by the event, it was just his job. The second officer, a tall man with a harrowed face appeared to be stressed and in a rush. He carried a clear plastic bag with little numbered black plastic signs inside. At a point on the platform he took one, No. 1, from the bag and placed it next to a chalk drawn X on the concrete. The photographer took photos of the No. 1.
The third policeman was the youngest. He carried a long tape measure on a reel. Every time the other officers moved he hurried after them holding the tape measure and trying to be helpful. His eyes were wide and they seemed to dart about nervously. He was obviously new to the force and I wondered if this was the first such incident he had witnessed. How did he feel? Had he thrown up? Would he later? Would he go back to his barracks tonight and cry? Was he now questioning his decision to become a policeman?
The chalk X on the edge of the platform marked the point from which the person had made their final step which had taken them from life to death. A group of excited school boys stood next to it, looking down the tracks at the blue sheet and making morbid jokes, laughing and whispering. The policeman with the camera barked at them and they scuttled away to continue their gawping and giggling from a safer distance.
The three policeman climbed down onto the tracks one by one. The older two went first, lowering themselves cautiously, but the younger man jumped down after them in one go. Upon landing he lost his balance and nearly tripped over, his seniors looked at him blankly and then the three started walking single file along the rails towards to the blue plastic. Every few meters they would stop and place another number to mark something I couldn’t see but what I guessed must be blood, No. 2, No. 3. The short officer with the camera took photos at each point. I was surprised that the aftermath of such a mishap wasn’t so terribly obvious.
More policemen stood around the blue plastic sheet now. The sirens had stopped but the red lights of the emergency vehicles flashed angrily. The person, or the body of the person, had been carried a distance of at least fifty metres, it must have got trapped under the train and been dragged until it was released from the rear.
In the glass walled waiting room other police had set up operations to interview witnesses. One officer sat with an older man, another with a middle aged woman. Both had clipboards and notepads on which they wrote the details of what the two had seen. The older man and the woman looked bored and totally unaffected as they described what had happened. I couldn’t quite imagine what they would have to report other than; ‘I saw the man /woman standing on the platform and then he/she stepped in front of the train. No, he/she didn’t say anything before he/she jumped. No, I’d never seen him/her before. No, I don’t have any more details to add.’
Apart from the expressions of annoyance on the faces of those around me no one appeared to have any other feelings about the incident and the person who had chosen to end their life in such a horrific manner. I didn’t feel anything either. I tried to think of the person walking towards the station just a short time earlier, finally ready to face their final act after being driven by whatever desperation had filled their lives to the point at which they could no longer bear the pain. Had they bought the cheapest ticket that would allow them onto the platform? Was the ticket still in their pocket? Why hadn’t they taken their own lives in privacy and with dignity? Why had they decided to act so publicly, and selfishly, ruining the day of thousands of people by making them late? Why did they see fit to traumatise the passengers who had watched them jump, the driver, the police who had to clean up the God-awful mess, not to mention the shame and grief of whoever they were leaving behind?
A few minutes later an announcement was made that the rail company had arranged busses to ferry passengers around the incident to the next station where services would be resumed to take people to their intended destinations. By the time I had left the station the busses were already arriving and everyone was on their way. The looks of anger and impatience faded from everyone’s faces, some even dozed off on the short ride. I looked out at the sky; clear, bright and perfectly blue. Why had that person chosen to kill themselves on such a beautiful day?
17 January 2014