A clumsily dressed, thin young man in his early thirties stood motionless on the old bridge, like a young rabbit caught in speeding headlights, mesmerised by the swirling torrent far below as it rushed headlong in search of the dark and all embracing mother ocean.
By two in the morning all was graveyard silent; he was still there lost in thought, the air was warm and his frayed T shirt and old trousers were all he needed that night, or any night . . . his body and soul braced forlorn on the wrong side of the railings.
Suddenly a voice shattered the silence and with it went any semblance of peace he might have had. The young man nearly jumped out of his skin, for he’d not seen or heard a soul for three hours or more. ‘Steady on mate,’ said the voice, ‘didn’t mean to make you jump.’ The young man gripped the railings even more tightly with both hands, pulling his back firm against the bars, his mind now in turmoil, for he’d hoped to end it all alone.
There was something of an Aussie twang to the voice from the dark; its owner came closer, stopped a few feet away, rested his folded arms on the parapet and continued talking as though finding a walker, never mind an erstwhile jumper, on the bridge at this god forsaken hour was quite a normal occurrence.
‘So, what you doing here then, young fellah? Sure is a lovely night and what a beautiful view you’ve got yourself here. . . betcha that river’s full of life down there, them crabs and fishes don’t sleep at night yer know.’
The young man didn’t know what to say, in fact he didn’t want to say anything, he just wanted this bloke to clear off to whence he came. He’d been content with his prior misery. However, curiosity had the better of him and he sensed a non judgemental calm from his surprise visitor, ‘Crumbs, you made me jump, no pun intended, what on earth are you doing here at this hour?’
‘Well young fellah, I could ask you the same, but me, I’m what you might call of no fixed abode, a gentleman of the road, homeless if you like. It’s not so bad you understand, though it was before, loads of things went wrong before, lost the missus and kids, parents died, injured at work … in the army I was you know. Oh they paid me off all right but pound notes were no compensation nor cure for my ills back then.’
‘So what brings you to this road, this bridge, tonight then?’ the apprentice jumper asked again.
‘Oh, dunno really, just going with feelings, always follow the good feelings I say. It just felt right to go further south, more rural, nicer people; chance of a few jobs on a farm or something. Food in the hedgerows, berries and the like – yeah, that’s about it really – just feelings and as it was a warm night I thought I’d take advantage of the cooler air and quiet road. Then I met you, nature watching from your fine perch on my bridge.’
‘Sorry about that,’ said the reticent jumper, who somehow felt empathy for the ex-soldier and his losses in life. In fact, this happy tramp had suffered far more than he ever had himself, ‘You never thought of ending it all then?’ he enquired. ‘Yeah mate, I thought about it but when I got there some young fellah had nicked my spot – you gonna be long?’ the jovial tramp’s smile could just be made out in the moonlight.
For some peculiar reason, perhaps contagion, it appeared funny to the would-be jumper and he smiled back, ‘Oh yeah, good one, very droll,’ he said. The strange thing was, the thoughts that drove his racked body to the bridge were changing and as the thoughts changed so did his feelings. In fact, the tramp was right, it was a beautiful view, it was a great night, the moon smiled down on a land at peace with itself and he, for that moment felt part of that. What had possessed him to ever want to throw such beauty away? ‘I’m coming back over,’ said the reformed jumper.
‘No mate, stay there, you’ll be fine, in fact, I’ll join you over there – that little bit of fear, the adrenalin rush just spices life up a bit at times, makes you feel more alive than ever – come on, shift over a bit, give us a hand.’
The pair of them nattered away for ages, like two reunited long lost pals.
Interspersed with tales from down under, of joys and woes, the gentleman of the road implanted his wisdom and set the seeds of hope and resolution in his young friend’s mind. Good thoughts began to bring the young man good feelings and they filled his very soul and body.
‘Well, I reckon I’ll thank you kindly for all your help and wisdom and be on my way home now, for tomorrow I have much to begin.’ So saying, the young man clambered roadside of the railings, his body and spirit lightened from the burdens he’d earlier carried to the bridge. Now it was as though he’d dropped them into the swirling depths below to be lost forever. He was now free and felt it, like somehow he’d paid off some long outstanding debt at last.
‘So long mate, I’m gonna stay a while longer, then I’ll make my way to the other side. You be good, you think happy, feel happy, don’t waste yer life …live it well.’
As the young, now rehabilitated, jumper reached the end of the bridge he suddenly realised he didn’t even know this saviour stranger’s name, he turned and started to shout his question but there was no point in finishing it, the kindly stranger had already gone. ‘Oh well,’ he thought, ‘After his good deed tonight I hope at last he finds somewhere to rest in peace, he’s obviously decided not to wait any longer on the bridge after all.’
That young man went home, made a better life, repaid that good deed a thousand times over and never forgot his friend the tramp, well met on the bridge to the other side. He resolved to share his story with anyone who would listen, just like he had listened that fateful night so many years ago.
. . . . And now you have heard it.
I must leave you now, for there are others waiting in darkness, on bridges they built for themselves.