It happens to most railway men and women eventually. Be they ticket office clerks, platform staff, revenue inspectors. If you work on the trains for any length of time, there is little you can do to avoid it. Your turn will come. The railways, by their very nature, attract people who want to get from A to B. It’s unfortunate, and very tragic, but for a few people the chosen destination does not require a ticket and is reached by jumping in front of a train rather than on it. It can happen anywhere on any line, but there do seem to be hotspots, often centred around stretches where there is a hospital caring for those with mental illnesses. This week, a lady determined that it should be my turn.
I had just made myself a nice cup of coffee and sat back down at my counter. The other ticket office clerk had just popped into town on his break to get a pasty for brunch. It was a normal, quiet Saturday morning. Much like any other normal, quiet Saturday morning. And then a female passenger approached my window and turned my day into anything but a normal, quiet Saturday morning. She came not to purchase a ticket, but to let me know that there was a lady at the end of the platform. And she was in just her pyjamas and a dressing gown.
This doesn’t necessarily warrant panic though. One persons pyjamas and dressing gown can be another persons idea of high fashion. And sometimes people just can’t be bothered to get dressed in order to collect someone from a train station. Even in January. But it did warrant investigation. To be honest, any report of any type of potential danger always warrants investigation. So investigate I did.
There was indeed a lady in her pyjamas and dressing gown. Fluffy slippers too. She was calm, though. Not in anyway agitated. And at the wrong end of the platform if she were planning anything untoward. But still. I knocked on the supervisors office and alerted the ‘platform guy’. ‘What’s your process for dealing with customers in pyjamas?’ I made a light joke of it. Not the ‘laugh it off’ sort of joke, mind you. A pyjama clad person on the platform definitely raises a red flag. What was unspoken was the hope that she was one of ‘those’ and not one of those. It would be wise to keep an eye on her. Just in case. He promised to do so. And I returned to my office.
I’d barely sat back down and lifted my cup of coffee to have a sip when the same female passenger as before approached me again at my window. She thought my colleague was struggling and needed my help. I didn’t need to add 2 and 2 together – it was one of those times when the answer is clear before the question is asked. I jumped up and out of the office. Walk briskly. No, a jog would be better. A train is due any second. Look left down the platform. They aren’t there. Look right…
The train was a few metres into the station, but at a full stop. My colleague was standing on the platform just in front of it. Another lady was with him. And, thankfully, so was Pyjama Lady. She was being held back from the tracks. It turned out that my colleague had seen her walk down the other end of the platform, stayed close to her, asked her to step back from the edge of the platform, which she did. Then he spotted that she had one of those white plastic hospital bands around her wrist. There is a hospital very close by. That raised red flag was now waving. Vigorously.
He put himself between her and the platform edge. That caused her to become agitated and upset. Her intentions became clear. The train driver noticed the commotion and stopped the train. The lady I saw with them was a member of the public who came to his aid and helped keep her back. Between us, we eventually managed to walk her off the platform, away from danger and keep hold of her until the police arrived. That took ten long minutes, which is a little frustrating when you are having to physically hold on to a person who is doing her best to depart the scene.
But when all is said and done, this is my favourite type of suicide. It’s the one that doesn’t happen. The police arrived, sectioned her and took her to where she needed to be. Everyone got to go home safely. No one was injured. No one had to witness someone meet what is a violent and bloody end. No one had to receive that knock on the door from the police. And I do hope that the Pyjama Lady will, with help, get another chance at life. Every morning is a new morning.
It was also a valuable learning experience. Tragedy was averted because everyone did their bit. Well done to the female passenger for letting me know that Pyjama Lady was there in the first place. It’s easy to look away and let it be someone else’s problem. Well done to my colleague for sticking close and choosing the right moment to intervene. It’s tough to know what to do and when to do it in these situations.
Well done the lady who helped us. She did almost all the talking with Pyjama Lady. It wasn’t entirely possible to reason with her. But I am sure it was easier for her to talk to another woman. It calmed her down somewhat. It made a difference. I wish I’d taken her name and address. She missed her train – I’m sure the company would have offered her a little something as a thank you.
And well done to Pyjama Lady. Because, why not? Everyone gets a pat on the back when it works out ok. I know her name (not actually Mrs Pyjama Lady) but I don’t know her story. I suspect that she needs a pat on the back more than most. Especially after having to suffer my bear hug. And because, from purely my point of view, this week wasn’t my turn after all.