The book on speaking Italian was of no interest to him, despite looking at it with apparent interest. He was in fact, surreptitiously looking through the shelves of books in the library at the computers where he had a good view of what people were looking at on the internet or just in general. Michael Booth was 62 years of age, and looked quite a few years older. He had grey, wavy hair, and was fairly plump. His belt was always straining at the last notch, and he always told himself he should get down the gym and try and slim down, but he always made excuses not to, because deep down, he didn’t really care.
Around this area where he lived, he had garnered quite an unwelcome reputation of being rather nosy. He was always poking his nose into other people’s business, asking personal questions, and never saying anything of his own affairs. It was a habit, and he knew it, and it was also another thing he didn’t care about. He enjoyed it, and stood here in the library in the languages section was a good spot to spy on people on the computers even though each of them was segregated by a wooden partition. Mostly people were always on Facebook, or reading emails, or playing games. No-one really looked at anything nefarious, as he knew the libraries had a strong firewall. Still, though, he could see clearly enough what they were looking at, and even read the text.
One in particular, near the wall, had caught his attention. The man sat there, looked like the type of scruffy individual for whom life had pressed a considerable weight. Literally, as his shoulders were slumped forward, his hair was sparse and thin, and his clothes looked to have been taken directly from the waste bin, all crumpled and torn. From the back, Michael could tell he was around half his age. He’d never seen him before, and could see he was engaged in some sort of email conversation.
‘Like I said,’ the man typed, ‘If this is how it is going to be, then there is no point me being here.’ He clicked ‘send’, and Michael read another page of Italiano before seeing that there was a reply.
‘Look Scott, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you before it sinks in. I’m happy here. It would not have worked between us. Just get over it.’
He began to type a response. ‘Don’t you know how hard it is for me? I can’t take any more of this. Please, a thousand times. Take me back.’ Send.
Michael managed another half page of uninteresting waffle on Italian before another response came through.
‘Scott, we were never a couple, and just to appease your confused brain. If you think we are couple, then we’re finished, and that’s that.’ He audibly sighed, his shoulders slumped even further, and for a few moments, he just stared at the keyboard, as though his batteries had run out. He began typing again.
‘If you don’t get back with me. I’m going to do something stupid. I’m going to leave this library, go straight to the railway bridge, and throw myself under the next train, and guess what? It’ll be all your fault.’ He clicked ‘send’, and a response came quickly.
‘No you won’t,’ was all it said.
The man stood up and walked quickly to the exit. Michael realised he was the only one who knew about it. Other people were busy clicking away on their games or reading papers. Scott left, and Michael was still stood there, contemplating. Would he do it? Is he going straight to the bridge now? He turned and quickly headed to the exit, leaving the book on a self-service machine as he passed.
Outside, he spotted the man marching up the road towards a main row of shops. He hurriedly followed, sure that he could keep a fairly safe distance away without arousing suspicion.
He watched as he entered a shopping precinct, so hurried to find him, and saw him still striding intently onwards. Michael guessed that even if he was walking next to him, he wouldn’t be noticed.
He left another entrance and walked a long road towards a bridge spanning a motorway. Michael, although still keeping his distance, found he was getting more and more out of breath, and thought that perhaps the man was simply walking off his anger, and was probably on his way home. Still, he persisted, and walked onto the bridge as the other man left it.
They walked along two more winding roads and found themselves on the edge of a housing estate, where another bridge crossed a railway where the trains speeded along, bound for London or Glasgow. Michael stepped onto the bridge, only to see that the man had stopped midway, and was looking over the wall at the tracks. He watched as he clambered up and sat with his legs dangling over. He also watched as he continued, and walked quickly forward towards him, not really sure what to do. However, he saw that the man was standing with his hands grasped onto the wall. He assumed there must be a small ledge or something to stand on.
'Now what?' he thought. The man simply stood there. Was he waiting for a train to throw himself beneath or was he waiting to find the courage to leap onto the electrified tracks? His sense of moral duty or obligation kicked in, and he approached him.
“Excuse me,” he said, “Whatever your problem is, you don’t have to do that.”
Scott looked at him.
“Yes I do,” he said, “It’s the only answer I’ve got left, so don’t try and talk me out of it.”
Michael approached the wall, only four feet away from the man. He was surprised to find himself this close. In books and films, the potential suicide victim always said that if they came any closer they’d jump, but this one simply looked at Michael with a dour expression of utter despair. Maybe this was all he had left.
“I’m going to do it. I’ve made my mind up.”
“Come on now, is it really that bad?”
“Yes, it is, my girlfriend ended our relationship to take up with Richard, a night club bouncer.”
Michael decided a more sympathetic approach might be in order, so he decided he would attempt to get closer in a kind of considerate gesture. He saw that a missing brick in the wall provided him with a leg up onto the wall so he could sit with his legs dangling.
“I’m just waiting for a train so I can jump under it,” said Scott.
“That’s not the way to go. Can’t you just come onto the road and we can talk about it properly. I’ll take you to a café and buy you whatever you want.” There was a few seconds of silence.
“D’you think it’ll be painful? I mean, it won’t take that long to die. A few seconds maybe.”
“Surely there are plenty more women out there, why wait for her?”
“She’s it. She’s the only one who I know would go with me. Look at me. I’m hardly fucking prince charming. I just fell in love with her, but she’s with bloody Richard. Richard the fucking dick. They split up you know, and I thought that that was it, that was my chance, but no, she’s decided to try again with him, and now tells me it would never work between us. Well, it would!” he shouted, “It fucking would!”
Michael decided to clamber down onto the small ledge. He stood about three feet away from the man, and looked down the forty feet to the shining tracks. He heard the rumble of a train, and saw it in the distance.
“Who are you anyway?” Scott asked, “Why are you so interested in me? Have you never lost anyone? Have you never suffered?”
Those words were like bullets into Michael’s brain, because they blew the lid from memories he had successfully managed to keep suppressed for six years.
“Yes, Yes I have,” he said, as thoughts of his wife and daughter came flooding into his mind.
They had been volunteering for a charity in Ghana when there was a limited outbreak of typhoid. They both died, leaving Michael with an only son with whom he had fallen out with years ago when he had emigrated to Australia. He didn’t bother to let him know, and two weeks after that, his dog, a border terrier was crushed under the wheel of a hit and run driver.
That was it, he couldn’t take anymore, he had pressed a Stanley knife to his throat with the express intention of slicing it across, but as it had touched his skin, however, it had hurt and drew a trickle of blood. He had thrown the blade to the side and then basically forced himself not so much to forget, but to accept that that was how things were. He had suppressed his emotions so much, like pressing down on a spring coil, that Scott had simply lifted the lid on the bottle holding his emotions down, and now they all came spilling out.
Their faces and the dog swam around in his mind’s eye, and he opened his eyes and saw that the train was thundering closer, and the man was holding out his hand.
“Together, let’s go together.” Tears streamed down Michael’s face and he nodded, and gripped the man’s hand.
He saw the driver’s shocked face in the window, then leapt down into the air. It took two seconds for him to hit the ground, bones cracking in his legs, and in the split second before he went beneath the wheels.
When his head cracked into a girder, he saw above a terrified Scott still standing up on the bridge, with a white, ashen face, gripping onto the wall, not able to hear him saying, over and over again, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it…’
Michael was torn asunder the train, and the man clambered back over the wall as he heard the loud screeching of the train braking, and ran without stopping, the three miles it took for him to reach home, telling himself that being single might not be so bad after all.