(A short tale inspired by a song, and soon to be part of a Filmic Cut. Hope you enjoy… – OJ)
Looking back, it was a beautiful day, especially given it was April in England. The blue sky was barely punctured by cloud, and the breeze was cool but not cold. It wasn’t quite T-shirt weather yet, but it was decent enough.
Which made the image of the man perched on the edge of Denton Bridge that little bit more chilling. It added an atmosphere that was completely at odds with the day’s surroundings, one that made the air feel a little cooler, and that added a dark silhouette to the clearness above him. By the time I had arrived, a crowd had gathered both on the Bridge and at the various points below that flanked the deep, calm waters that the Bridge crossed. The Denton River wasn’t a giant ocean, but it was a deep, watery cut that had taken many lives before; and today, in spite of the Samaritan warnings and call-boxes they had placed on the Bridge, it looked to take another one.
The curious thing that rippled through the crowd, however, was that the man had been sat there for almost an hour, and had still not jumped. Not that I was well-versed in the art of suicide, but I had read articles that said that most people who attempt it in this fashion had that moment of doubt that kept them clinging to the edge for a long time. Usually, this would end with someone talking them down, and then a happy ending had by all. After all, as one woman said to me, if he was serious about it, he would have jumped already.
A morbid ideology, for sure, but one that fitted the macabre audience he had attracted.
By now the Bridge had been closed off, and the emergency services were figuring out the best tactic to get close to the man, and persuade him off his perch. It struck me as how sad it was that no one had bothered speaking to him before, but here we were I suppose, and that was just something you accepted and then filed away in the back of your mind. The ‘proper’ authorities were here, and they’d know what to do.
So we all stood there, and watched as the man remained seated on the Bridge, and a police officer had drawn the short straw and began to approach him. Mutterings of discontent rippled through those around me, with some complaining about how ‘selfish’ the man was, and how his commute that day had been disrupted.
Priorities are a funny thing, sometimes.
Most were more morbidly entertained by the show that was presented before us. Some – although I refuse to say who – were actually taking light-hearted bets on whether the man would jump or not, or even if the officer would reach him in time. As it was, the officer did manage to get close enough to the man to talk to him, much to the slight disappointment of one of the gamblers.
We watched as the police officer began to try to talk to the man, edging as close as he could without scaring him. Eventually, we saw he managed to get close enough to possibly pull him off the bridge, but not quite. He still needed to take another step, another couple of inches, before he had a sure way of securing the man’s own safety.
And then, the man spoke back to the officer, and at length. Once he finished, the police officer stood there, no longer taking care in his stance, and climbed over the edge of the Bridge and fell limp into the water.
The gamblers didn’t really say anything after that, no one did. We were all just too shocked.
There was a sense of quiet after the splash of the police officer was made, before all attention went back to the man. Those watching would tell you that he had not touched the officer, nor had made any motion to suggest the officer felt he wasn’t safe. All he did was respond, and then the officer took his own life.
Dead as soon as he hit the water, most reports suggested.
Confusion became the overwhelming emotion after this, even from those taking charge. The police remained away from the man, and informed the other emergency services that they should do the same. Over the course of the hour, there was a lot of discussion while the man remained sat on the edge, seemingly moving from being on the verge of killing himself, to just waiting for something.
Nobody would really know what, not even after.
The crowd dispersed a little, but a core group remained with me, watching intently to see what would happen next. Eventually, we watched as another gentleman ran toward the police, and frantically started speaking to them. Rumours mutated that he was a friend of the man, who by now was being reported on by a number of local media outlets.
Fame seemed to come from a number of curious directions.
Eventually, the friend was allowed to enter the secured area of Denton Bridge, and started making his way to the man. We watched again as he spoke in slow, inaudible words, and tried his best to reason with the man, gesturing as emotionally as one could. Then, as he got close enough to hear the man himself, the same thing happened again.
After a quick bout of impassioned pleading from the friend, the man spoke to him, not changing his stoic look of the water. He spoke as calmly and as long as he had spoken to the police officer, and didn’t even acknowledge his friend as he climbed next to him and grimly fell below.
His drowning, and death, was also quite sudden.
By now it was established that no one should go near the man. Any early sympathies from the crowd were replaced by an overriding feeling of fear and disgust at him. Some no longer labelled him ‘selfish’, but a ‘terrorist’, implanting dire thoughts into those that approached him. They claimed his visual act of wanting to jump himself was just a trap, a lure, to get those to die before him. It turned into a game of Chinese Whispers that was hard to get focus on, instead just leaving you to grab the morsels that occasionally came through the verbal static.
As much as the emergency services no longer wanted to approach the man, there was still a desire to speak to him. To make sure he was OK, and that he would leave his mount at the edge of Denton Bridge. The crowd – now back to a larger grouping – listened as officers spoke over megaphone to try and reason with him, to try and get him to back down. The man didn’t respond, didn’t even turn to them, just continued to look down in the water, and wait.
For what, nobody really knew.
There was a quick plan to give the man a mobile phone, to communicate with him rather than just bark commands for him to stand down, but no one was brave enough to get that close. Even throwing the phone to him wouldn’t guarantee that he would take it, so in the end it was decided that an officer would give him the phone, whatever the risk, and try not to listen to anything he would say.
It was darkly ridiculous in a way, looking back.
Anyway, another safeguard was put in place with the authorities sea patrol – or whatever they are called, I can’t remember – being stationed below to catch anyone who took the dive. Again, it was surreal and had a hint of black humour about it, which of course meant we all waited and watched to see what would happen.
In a scene that was becoming gradually more familiar, the officer reached the man, placed the phone by his side, and then went to leave. Unfortunately for her, by the time she had gotten close enough to do her duty, the man had said enough for her to follow the same routine as the two before. Except, of course, this time there was someone waiting below to catch her.
So naturally, she ran to the other side and jumped off there.
It was unbelievable.
It’s hard to put into words the emotions that generate when seeing such things. For me, there was nothing, just a fascination in what I was seeing, but people around me were openly weeping, laughing hysterically, and just standing there shaking their heads. It had been at least 3 hours now, and we’d seen 3 different people kill themselves, apart from the person we all expected to. There was no other way to describe it, other than just state the facts as we saw them.
By now, the man on the Bridge had the phone the authorities provided, and we all watched and waited until he spoke to them. We saw them call the phone, and hope for an answer, but for the first few rings the man just remained seated, looking into the water.
Then, almost in a moment of resignation, he picked up the phone and listened. The person on the other end – a psychiatrist possible – said the same words that had probably been said before, but in a more professional way. They looked to be wanting to know the whys and whatnot, but instead the man just sat there, listening.
And then, when he did speak, he did so calmly and carefully, before putting the phone down.
What followed wasn’t what we had seen before, with people inexplicably leaping from Denton Bridge, but was nothing short of madness. The psychiatrist handed the phone to an officer, stood in stunned silence for a moment, and then tried to go for a nearby officer’s firearm. The struggle was as chaotic as the man had been calm, and gave the crowd a bit of action that was, strangely, a bit more exciting than watching the man sit on the Bridge.
The blue of the sky was giving away to a dead grey, and the wind was bringing the chill off the Bridge down to us. People shivered, and huddled themselves into their jackets and each other, but we still watched, still waited, alongside the man on the Bridge.
Nobody else approached him. Nobody wanted to take that risk. In the end, it was decided to see if the man would take the leap, but over the next couple of hours, he didn’t move. Instead he remained sat there, waiting and watching the water below.
Eventually I left, because what more was there to see?
The story appeared, naturally, in the papers the next day. They gave no details on the man, except for his eventual fate. In the end, it seemed someone had taken umbrage with his actions, and had shot him from some distance, causing his body to fall back onto Denton Bridge. The shooter was arrested, and derided for his actions by those on the side of the man on the Bridge, but then the whisperers in the crowd that day would probably put it down as a mercy kill. Not much else was said about the man, and instead the focus was put on the why. The story continued by giving details about the psychiatrist, the only one not to fall under whatever spell the man was casting. The reporter gave details about how they were in a state of shock, about how they sat in the back of an ambulance, staring into space.
And then, when asked about what the man had said to them, they simply gave this quote:
“He said, ‘the fortune teller told me…’”
And then, the psychiatrist said no more, instead just crying softly to themselves.
Or so the story goes.