Thursday, 13 January 2011

An Almost Scary Incident

My regular readers know that I use public transport on a daily base to get to and from work, and that the goings-on at the station have prompted me to write a blog entry more than once.

I have also been in the situation of asking myself whether I should have helped before, as described
Tonight on my way home, I almost witnessed what could have been a terrible accident, and it would have been possible for me to prevent it - I didn't do anything, though, and I am not proud of myself.

When I arrived at the top of the stairs to the platform, I saw a man crouched on the ground, close to the ticket machine. He wore jeans and trainers and a hooded sweater. Because of the hood and his crouched posture, his face was not visible. Between his hands which were loosely resting on the ground there was a small clear plastic bag, empty.

My first impulse was to approach him and ask whether he needed a doctor.
But I hesitated - I was the only other person on the platform, and I admit I was a little scared. If the man was drunk or drugged otherwise, who knows what his reaction might be?

Other people began to arrive on the platform. Everyone looked at the man, but nobody went closer.
He was not asleep; he moved a little, sometimes lifting his head a bit higher, sometimes almost resting it on his knees. The empty plastic bag had maybe contained the piece of white bread he had now started to munch on. He swayed back and forth a little, still crouching.

I checked the sign to see how much longer until the train was due, and when I looked back to the man, he had gotten up and was staggering about on the platform.
Now I could see his face; I find it difficult to estimate people's age at the best of times, but when someone is very skinny (like this man) or very fat, and they are quite obviously leading a rough life, it is nearly impossible to guess someone's age. Still, something in the way he was dressed and his face made me think that he could be a good 10 years younger than I, maybe in his early 30s.

He kept staggering about, not talking to or approaching anyone, and I realized with a sudden shock that he was getting closer to the rail tracks with every step of his crooked, skinny, wobbly legs.
Closer and closer he got, crossing the white line that indicates the safety distance one should keep in order not to fall down on the tracks, and when one of his feet got to the rim of the platform, I took a sharp breath, moved forward and braced myself to call out to make him stop, or even grab his arm and pull him back.
By that time, the train was already approaching, and had the man indeed fallen down on the tracks, there would have been no chance for it to stop in time; I and all these people watching would have become witnesses to a certainly terrible, deadly accident.

Miraculously, though, the man staggered back before his next step would have taken him over the edge, and when the train stopped, he patiently waited for the passengers to get off before he got on.

I felt relief - and shame.
Again, I had not helped where I could have done so.
It was not my merit that the accident had not happened and the man was still alive and - at least in that respect - unharmed.

There he was now, sitting comfortably on the train a little further down the same carriage as I, completely unaware of the fright he had given me and the mix of being scared and having a guilty conscience he had caused me to feel.


  1. A sad, but true, commentary that most of us find ourselves locked in various degrees of fear when it comes to approaching others even when we sense they may be in peril. I don't know that I would have handled that situation differently and I'm very relieved for your sake that it turned out well.

  2. So am I, Jill! I guess I would have approached the person had it been a woman; I've done so before but was told that there was nothing I was able to do for them.
    Of course this is silly - a woman can attack me just the same as a man, but somehow there seems to be an additional threshold when it is a man, a threshold I am not ready to cross easily.