Death Becomes Me
She wore the saddest smile I’ve ever seen. I could feel the weight she was carrying just from glancing in her eyes. If ever there was a figure defined by tragedy, she was it. I wanted to simply hold her and let whatever sadness she was holding be shared with me. But she was a stranger on a train and I was a silly man for thinking I could be any comfort to her. I could have been totally wrong about her but I didn’t think so.
I saw her the next day, and the next, sitting in much the same seat, looking the same way. I would go home with her face in my head. I tried to think of other, easier, happier things but couldn’t get her out of my mind. It wasn’t that she was attractive or that I had any interest in her that way. But there was something indefinable about her and I couldn’t let it go.
One morning, after about a month of observing her on the train and waking from a particularly vivid, disturbing dream, I resolved to talk to her. In the dream, she was running away from me, screaming and calling me her death. I’ve never threatened or hurt anyone deliberately in my life, so I was chagrined she’d think of me this way.
That afternoon, when I saw her on the train, I sat next to her and said hello. She looked completely startled. I tried smiling my gentlest smile, hoping she wouldn’t think I was some kind of pervert. She kind of smiled back and then turned to look out the window. We were passing through the old train yards near Redfern and I made a small-talk comment about the graffiti.
“You don’t like the art?”
I was a bit taken back by the lilt of her voice. “Erm, its not I don’t like art. I just don’t think it should be sprayed on the sides of buildings.”
“I like it. It reminds me of my dreams.” She turned back to look out the window again.
I struggled for a minute for something to say. Finally, I said “You must have some pretty vivid dreams, then.”
She looked back at me and smiled that sad, sad smile. Looking at her like this, I nearly felt like crying. I wanted to ask if she was okay, but knew it would be a foolish question. She chose to answer mine instead.
“I dream about my past. I dream about my death. I watch myself die every time I go to sleep.” She watched me intently, maybe to see how I would react. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed. She stopped smiling and turned back to look out the window. The winter sun had set over the horizon and was bouncing red, orange and many shades between off the cloud-spattered sky. I think I’d offended her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh at you, but you sounded so serious, I thought you were joking.” She continued to look out the window. Just when I was about to apologise again, she turned and gave me the strangest look.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?” I was about to say I didn’t when she continued. “I know you, even if I don’t know your name. I know you because of what you’re going to do for me.” She smiled that sweet, sad smile at the confused look I gave her.
“What are you talking about? I’ve never spoken to you and I’ve only seen ever seen you on this train.”
“Oh, yes, I know you’ve been watching me. It is part of the script. You have to watch me. Then you have to talk to me. Then…” She let the word trail off. I shook my head at her.
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
Her reply was simple. “I know.” It didn’t help me one little bit.
She stood up and stretched. Her skinny frame appeared almost translucent in the dying sunlight, almost as if she wasn’t corporeal. She excused herself past me and headed for the doors.
The train was slowing and pulling into the next station. It was the Ashfield station. I realised while talking to her, the train had stopped at a number of different stations, including mine. I didn’t remember seeing any of them. Damn, this girl had really thrown me.
I stood up and moved to the still-open door. There was absolutely no one else on the train or on the platform except for the girl and myself, which was particularly strange given it was only 6:30 in the evening.
The girl was standing just near the exit stairs, looking back over her shoulder at me, still wearing the same smile. I felt like someone had just stepped on my grave. The station was unusually quiet. In fact, there was no traffic on the near-by road and none of the usual noises an inner-city suburb makes. I was starting to feel freaked out.
The girl had moved off down the platform, away from the exit. I wondered where she was going and decided to follow her. As I moved, she looked back, but this time the expression on her face was of worry. I picked up my pace and called out to her. She looked over her shoulder and picked up her pace. This was just getting stranger by the second.
“Hey, will you wait up for a minute?” I called out after her.
“Get away from me,” she screamed back. She sounded positively hysterical. I wondered if the poor girl was actually suffering some mental illness of some sort. It would make some sense, given the conversation we had on the train and the way she was acting now.
“I just want to ask you something,” I replied. In answer, she screamed and started to run further down the platform. This was just plain nuts. I ran after her, hoping no one would see me and get the wrong idea. But there was no one else around. She darted across the wide platform and then stopped right on its edge. She looked back at me, almost as if to make sure I was following. I picked up my pace and as I did, she jumped off the platform and onto the tracks.
“Hey, come back here,” I cried after her, “You’ll get yourself killed.” I walked over to the platform edge and peered into the darkness beyond the overhead lighting. The girl had disappeared. I looked both ways along the track but I couldn’t see her. It was almost like I was in some sort of dream, except I was awake. The girl was simply gone. I stood at the edge of the platform, wondering if I’d imagined the whole thing.
“Be careful,” a voice said behind me. I just about jumped out of my skin. I turned around and the girl was standing behind me.
“Where the hell did you come from?” I heard my voice and noted the almost hysterical tone in it.
“I’ve been here for a long time. But now it’s your turn to wait.” With that, she rushed at me. I was so surprised, I stepped back, right off the edge of the platform. I didn’t even hear the passenger express, didn’t feel it as it hit me and threw me down under it. I didn’t feel a thing except for the girl’s hand, holding mine. It felt cold, like death, but somehow comforting.
So now it’s my turn to wait. I’m sure the right person will come along soon, the person who will see me as I saw the one before me. When he or she does, my wait will be over.
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Ashfield Station Death
July 26, 2005
A man died after stepping off the Ashfield platform in front of an express train last night. Witnesses say the man, who was acting ‘bizarrely’, according to one witness, stepped backwards off the platform directly in front of a City to Campbelltown express. According to his family, the single 28 year old graphic designer was a ‘happy, healthy man who had the world at his feet.’
The Coroner’s office will be conducting an autopsy to determine if the death is drug-related, but at the moment, the death is being treated as a suicide. Police are appealing to any member of the public who may have seen the man, either on the train or the platform, to come forward if they have any further information.
This is the seventh in a series of suicides at the Ashfield platform over the last 8 years. The most recent occurred in December 2003 when a 19 year old woman jumped in front of a heavily loaded goods train.