August 29, 2013 by talkaboutyork
She walked not seeing. One foot in front of the other. She just knew she had to get to the river. Tears were washing down her face. People glanced at her, frowning, but hurried on. She didn’t care. She kept walking. Her pace quickened as though every step brought her nearer to release.
At last the river. She walked with purpose to its edge, then stopped abruptly, before sinking into a cross legged position. She covered her face with her hands and released the torrent she’d been holding back. Her shoulders shook. Her breath came in ragged gasps. A few times she almost retched with the exertion of crying. The tears ran freely down her face, onto her legs or splattering the cobble stones she sat on.
A tourist boat drifted past, the tannoy announcing the city’s ancient history, but the tourists all just stared at the girl sobbing on the side of the river.
At last the tears ebbed slightly. She lifted her head and noticed an old man in spectacularly dirty clothing making his way over to her. He had obviously wet his pants on several occasions as there were faded circular wee stains and one fairly fresh addition. He carried two grubby bags with him. His beard was wild and woolly, his teeth barely there.
‘You’re not thinking of going for a swim are you love? Not going to throw yourself in are you?’ he said with a slight slur.
The girl shook her head, trying to find her voice between sobs. ‘No, I’m fine, thank you.’ She attempted a smile to put the man at ease. It hurt her face to turn the muscles the other way up.
‘It’s just that I’ve been sat over there for half an hour,’ he said nodding his head in the direction of town, ‘Contemplating doing the same thing. Except no-one noticed. But I saw you and I wanted you to know that I noticed you.’
The girl sobbed harder. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘Thank you for noticing me. But I am fine. Really. I just had some bad news.’ Again she tried for the smile. She could tell he wasn’t convinced.
‘Well ok then. I’ll be off,’ he said, staggering upright, grabbing his grubby bags before sauntering off.
She wasn’t sure what to make of him. Was he serious? Was he really trying to top himself? Here she was so worried about her own small problems yet there was a man so in need of someone to look after him, yet he had looked after her.
This brought on a fresh bout of crying. It was as though every tear she’d never shed had fought its way to the surface and was barging its way out. She stayed that way for a long while. Her eyes stung. She could feel the tell-tale puffiness. She took a few deep breaths to calm down. When she looked up, another man, a different man sat next to her.
‘Hello,’ she said.
‘Hello. I just wanted to make sure you were ok,’ he said. He was awkward. This wasn’t a role an old-fashioned Yorkshire man in his seventies was comfortable with. He couldn’t look her in the eye, kept gazing at the river, adjusting his hat.
‘I’m f-f-fine,’ she said, trying to steady her breathing as she wiped her eyes, imagining the black mascara that was probably creating small pools of molten tar underneath the red rims.
‘I couldn’t just leave you. I’ve been watching you. Had my eye on you,’ he said tapping his eye with a wink. ‘I wasn’t sure if you were going to throw yourself in the river or not.’
‘I’m not,’ she said smiling wanly. She turned her body to face the man. He looked away. ‘But thank you for keeping an eye on me. I appreciate it.’
‘Are you ok? Do you have family nearby? Do you need professional help? Can I call someone?’ He looked so desperate to help that she all of a sudden shifted from the role of comfortee to comforter.
‘No, no really I am fine. I thank you so much for noticing me and asking after me. It is terribly kind of you. But I am fine.’
He nodded. ‘Well I am just over there if you need me,’ he said nodding towards a river boat.
At that point the homeless man in his peed-in pants arrived again and sat down next to the man.
‘You helping this young lady out sir?’ he said.
The man looked uncomfortable as he eyed up the state of the man’s pants. He nodded.
‘I wanted to throw meself in but no-one noticed. I tried calling the doctors. You know, those out of hours doctors numbers. 311 you ‘av to dial. Nobody bloody answers. They say if you need help, you should ring. But they don’t answer. I need help. I want to throw meself into the river.’
The man nodded, not sure what to make of this.
‘But it’s this young lass I worry about. You ok dear?’ he asked looked at her, concern etched on his face.
She was feeling painfully embarrassed at this point. She nodded.
‘Thank you both so much for the attention and concern you have given me this evening. You cannot know how much it has touched me. Thank you.’
With that she got up and walked away, leaving the elderly man with the homeless man. She felt terrible. They had both noticed her but she had failed, lost in her own sadness, to help them. She hoped that they knew how much she appreciated their attention.
To those two men. Thank you. You touched me more than you will ever know.