The stretch of track lines from Wolli Creek all the way through to Central Station, Sydney, has sketchy cellular connectivity. If Spotify holds out, it’s a blessing. If not, aurally the landscape is largely sniffles and sighs and polite, blunted coughs. Visually business suits, freshly-ironed buttoned-down shirts, and backpacks span the carriages. The weary conductor, announcing the present and subsequent stops, crackles over the intercom. Suburb to suburb, he sounds less tired-guy-following-procedure and more like death itself.
I’m sure he’s a nice guy, the conductor. Once, of an afternoon, my friend James and I were shooting the shit at the Marlborough Hotel in Newtown, ordering lunch. Some portly, curly-haired bloke – whose name I can’t recall – was sitting with some people, practicing card tricks the table over. Catching our interest, we ate together. After the usual how-do-you-do’s, one of Curl’s friends discussed his life as a train driver. “Mostly routine,” he said, “but people jump in front of trains a lot. A fucking lot.” The media doesn’t report them all, fearing copycats I guess, and it’s common for drivers to quietly bear the horror and guilt, despite the wide range of support given to employees who experience it first-hand.
I asked him if he had ever hit anybody. He had. He was working a wet line into the city circle and this guy was standing at the platform’s edge holding an umbrella, sheltered from the rain and watching the train approach. He said it was the detail that stayed with him. The man’s expression, watching this angled form of metal and gears and weight coming towards him, as if timing when it was going to be too late to stop. The slump of his shoulders as he fell. Most of all, he recalled that this particular person didn’t let go of the umbrella. It was one of a thousand things that made it difficult to comprehend, but it seemed ridiculous and inconsequential – “Who cares about the fucking umbrella?”
“But, if you’re going to kill yourself, why bring it on to the platform? Why hold on to it when you jump? What does it matter?” He said those kinds of questions ring around the inside of your skull months and months later.
“To this day I can still tell you the colour of the mohair jumper she was wearing, the colour of her jeans, what shoes she had on, and what injuries she had suffered.”
Curls’ friend also told the story of a former train driver, a man who – at least back then – spent his time far from the tracks. He would wear his conductor slacks and stayed on the payroll, preparing administrative papers mostly. He didn’t know the number of deaths or any more details, but he speculated it wouldn’t have to be many. Even one was already too much.
[Seek help. Find hope. For those in Australia, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 – for anything. Even if you just need somebody to talk to. Internationally, the IASP has a listing for crisis centres across the world. Reach out. You are not alone.]