The heater is on, that annoying hum where you adjust the compromise of noise to the correct delivery of heat. Just enough to keep you warm but not too much to make you over sleepy. My Police partner Chris is driver today. He and I haven’t said anything for a couple of minutes as the fatigue is setting in quite strongly now at 5.30 on this otherwise relatively quiet end to the night shift. The dull glow from the Police dashboard display buttons illuminated, waiting to be pushed into life and throw their red and blue lights around the countryside surrounding the car. Every push means a new emergency, means someone is in need of help, and they hope it will come soon.
The radio in my ear piece disturbs the humming of fan and car engine, but it’s got my full attention. Every message is like unwrapping a mystery present. Excitedly listening until the message is revealed and it’s either a gift to be happy with, one to be a little nervous of, or one that could be thrown to the back and forgotten but you have to acknowledge it with a masked pleased acceptance, giving the giver the impression that it’s what you always wanted.
The radio operator informs us of basic details. A man has been seen standing the wrong side of the bridge railings across the main dual carriageway spotted by a motorist underneath. He thinks he is a jumper. Chris and I mention the bridge is the same as one we attended some weeks ago where the man was talked down by local police officers. Was this the same person? Was this an attention seeker, or someone who was desperately depressed and feeling they had no other option but to summon the nerves to step that one more step into utter freedom and an end to every single worry and pain they have.
It only takes 4 minutes to arrive on the bridge. There is a parked car next to the railing with it’s hazards flashing. I believe it’s his. Chris has hardly stopped the car before I’m dragging myself out of it towards the figure standing in the darkness exactly as described by the passer by. He’s on the wrong side of the railings. The young man, in his 20’s tall and slim with several days beard growth is swinging like a drunken sloth with one hand on the railing at waist height, rolling his foot to the other side of his other leg and swinging back again. He has a bottle of beer in his other hand. This is different, I don’t like this. This is serious. Not that I don’t take the others seriously but sometimes with the all too familiar ‘cry for help’ the soul is crying out for a rope to grab hold of, and you simply have to find the words to create that rope, and with some encouraging words gently pass it towards them where most will happily grab hold of it with both hands to be hauled back over to safety The human mind feels regenerated to do battle with the demons once more.
But I felt that adrenaline in my stomach. This was different. He wasn’t supposed to be swinging his body around like a drunk walking down the high street where he would most likely crash into some bins and spill into the road. There were no bins here and the only way to fall was to his death, and it was clear he simply didn’t care. He shouts at me, screams at me to stay back. I freeze to the spot and put my hand out flat to show I was completely harmless. I am 10 meters away from him, far too far to do anything if he was to show signs he was going to delete this life and maybe be given the chance to press restart.
‘Get back, a bit more, a bit more, I can see the light on your foot and if it moves I’m jumping’
I knew I was stuck to the spot. One little move and he screamed and made me go back another foot from where I was before. This was terrible. The traffic had been stopped below and was building up on either side. I knew this was going to causing chaos but that bit wasn’t important. I hated being here now, I needed to get him over that bar. I talked, and he talked, and he shouted and screamed in frustration at a system he felt had let him down.
‘They don’t help me, you said last time they would help me but I get kicked out, I need help, I can’t go on’
He tilts his head right back to collect the final remnants of the beer from his bottle, his eyes pointing skywards when he stumbles. I gasp and step forwards as he loses grip of the bottle to settle himself with his other arm on the barrier, the bottle reminding us both of the height with several seconds silence before a smash of glass below. Far from shocking him, the look in his eyes is of disappointment that there was a chance lost. Keep positive, everything positive I tell myself. I repeat to him, “You will feel better Shaun, you will look back on this time and be so grateful you didn’t jump, you feel terrible now but I promise you, there will be a time soon where you will feel so much better”
I am shivering from the cold and I feel my jacket put over my shoulders. I’m so grateful to Chris, who guessed my need, and I can hear him reporting back the progress or lack of, to the radio operator. I can hear there are units on the front of the road block in both directions, and fire and paramedics are in place on stand by. The radio operator says in my ear he has a 4 year old child and he has previously said how he wants to be a good role model for him. I use that, “Shaun, I know you have a little 4 year old who loves his Daddy yes?”
“Yes” he replies, “But I am a failure to him, little Sam, he’s with his Mum and I can’t be with him. I can’t get help for the things in my head”
It is risky calculating whether to use something that is so emotional to Shaun or not. My words could have been the memory that triggers him to jump, but I press on, “You know that Sam will grow up and will never get over the fact his Daddy committed suicide. You need to be there for him, even if it is when he is much older, but you can’t do this to your little boy now”.
He quietens, and then he leans towards the car door next to the railing and opens it. “I can help you with that, what do you need?”
“Get back now” he hisses at me, “And further, I know you are trying to grab me, well I will jump unless you get back further”.
I shuffle back and I then proceed to watch him put his hand into the door pocket and grab some tobacco. Whilst doing this, I talk calmly and quietly to him. His body is relaxed and I am surprised to see him throw one leg over to the road side of the railing, but my hopes dashed again when it was simply to get a better reach for more tobacco, before he is back over to his original precarious position.
Half an hour more and I feel there is some progress. It’s getting a little lighter now, just slightly and there is some definition to what was once just a silhouette of the trees. We eventually reach an agreement he will come with me once he has had his last cigarette. He says he trusts me. I have given him everything to show I am not going to play hero by making a grab for him or to then bundle him into the nearest police van. I know I have to live up to my promise or he won’t trust me again if we find ourselves in a similar position.
And then the most surreal thing. I got to know Shaun. I got to know some of his demons circling around his head, and with some of the feelings he was telling me, I often struggled to find a positive in life to introduce to him. Just hope, and listening was all I could give. He’d been promised enough false promises in life bef0re, and they stopped working a long time ago. He talked a lot but then he suddenly went very quiet and he turned away from the bridge letting go with both hands just standing on the thin ledge not a foot wide. He fell silent and bent both his knees as if a small child summoning the courage to jump off a chair.
Nothing, no reply, nothing, but the casual drop of his spent cigarette end into the darkness, one more adjustment with his feet, and then he followed. There was a few seconds of silence, and then a sound I will never forget.
(This is closely based on a true incident but certain changes have been made to protect the innocent)