The man on the edge of the bridge looks like a puppet. Limp like old salad leaves, his arms flop about his sides like he has wires beneath his coat, like he’s suspended from some invisible and giant hand way up high, hidden in the darkness of this starless cloudy night.
The man has no choice about what he’s about to do. Poor sod, I think. But who cares? I stop and watch, rest my arms on the edge of the wire and watch as he looks down, then looks up, then with a shuffle of his feet moves closer to the edge, and then looks down again.
I know why he’s here. He does too. Yet now he’s not sure, he’s scared, scared because he knows deep down that he can’t do it. It’s his decision now. It’s his move, and his move is the last move. Everything that has brought him here, all the bad decisions, none of which were probably his fault (not really), all the events that were out of his control, all that has led him here, none of it is helping him now. He has to make the last move himself.
I have a strange feeling of pity for him, a strange feeling that I’ve seen him before – his size, the slump of his shoulders, the thickness of his neck, the thick and ungainly cut of his hair. And from somewhere deep down in the pacific trench of my mind, all that clutters there, unwanted and forgotten, I think I recognise something, a memory I’ve discarded years and year and years before.
Then I think,-
It’s him. I know him. I need to help him.
‘Stop!’ I shout, at least I try to shout. My voice locks on my throat, trapped air. Suddenly it feels like I’m choking. I mean for real, closed throat, open mouth like a fish, goggle eyed, numb and sweaty palms. I drop to my knees and jam my finger into my mouth.
Vomit, that’s all I can do. Vomit for endorphins, rushing to my brain. But my fingers taste foul and I have to spit them out.
Street dirt, soot blackened skin, sweat and spit and dried blood. I realise, an unexpected flash of clear thought, clear as a mountain stream, how dirty I’ve become.
I gag and then my eyes fill with water and unexpectedly I’m down on all fours, and I do vomit then, vomit on myself, vomit pink because of the wine I’ve just drunk and the bread-rolls I bought. And I don’t move, not for a minute or more, not until my eyes have dried and the acid taste in my mouth has almost disappeared. And then I look up. And I see that the man is gone.
I know before I’ve staggered, crawled on my feet and hands like a ached-back spider, that he’s not down below. He’s gone. He was never there at all. I imagined the whole thing.