The Spaces Between: When Someone was on the Train Tracks
Someone fell off the metro platform as the train was pulling away. Or they were pushed. Or they jumped. My eyes are untrustworthy and deceive me but my ears can still hear the scream as they went down. My heart can still feel the residue of disbelief I felt when I saw a figure tumbling.
I turned to the woman next to me and said, “Someone just got hit by the train.” She nodded her head slowly. Her face did not change. “I think I saw that,” she replied, and just went on staring into the distance. She was wearing a burgundy wool toque and a shirt that carried an ironic message that I can no longer recall. Torn jeans and converse sneakers. A necklace with an arrow pendant. She carried a pillow with a worn out cover on it – the kind your grandmother pulls out of her linen closet when you come for a mid-twenties sleepover and it conjures up the nostalgic vignettes of your childhood. Memories passed through my head like strangers as I glanced at it and the hand-woven blanket folded beneath it — the souvenir everyone picks up on the resort beach in Mexico and uses as a picnic spread on summer days in Hawrelak Park.
She was quieter than I expected as I stood up, craning my neck to see what was going on and if I could do anything. Memory is a funny thing and begins to be shaped into the form of narrative within seconds of a record being made. Or maybe simultaneous to it. Scribes in our mind take in the necessary details, filtering them based on past preferences and priorities, and filtering everything else out. I can see the pout of this woman’s lip but do not know what the person who fell (or was pushed, or jumped) was wearing.
There is a blur of fabric burned into my mind and the scream I can still hear. And then the people on the platform above them as the train pulled away: they are on their phones, walking back and forth but no one is looking down yet. Did someone fall? Is someone calling the emergency number? Did I imagine it after all? Are they all talking on their phones, oblivious to what happened?
A man in a lime green shirt and shorts is pacing a bit and his head keeps looking southward down the tracks into the distance. A woman in a long skirt and black tank top is looking north and ahead. An unnerving silence comes from the platform. More people arrive, awaiting the new train that will pull into the station
Concrete barriers stand between the train platform and the street I am on. Somewhere between those barriers and the platform is a body that should not be there. Soft flesh and warm blood sit upon cold steel. Are they alive? Why is no one on the platform saying anything? Why is no one looking at the tracks?
A woman runs from the end of the platform, her plastic sandals slapping the surface. I feel confirmed in what I saw for a moment because there is an urgency in her strides, but she turns to the door where the stairs lead to a pedway without glancing at the tracks.
Who is there on the tracks? The word suicide jars into my head and I dismiss it, swiping it away in anger. Its appearance is enough to bring up the feelings of anguish and agony that I know only suicidal people have felt. If it is suicide, their turmoil is quiet now as this person rests on the tracks. Are they facing up or down? Are they alive, watching the clouds pass in the longest moments of their life?
The next train is about to pull in but stops far before the station. An officer of the peace jumps off and pounds down the platform to a spot just beyond where I had seen them fall. My heart flickers because someone had to have called him. The man in the green shorts is pacing now and more people are arriving on the platform. Sirens blare in the distance confirming my untrustworthy eyes. There is no longer a question when the woman in the tank-top peers over the edge of the track and her hand flies up to her mouth as she backs away. I can see the person on the tracks in her reaction. I can see their twisted and broken body. I think of their mother who knows that body inside and out, who carried it and coddled it, who nurtured them. The word suicide flashes in my head. I know not all mothers have been good to their children. A knot in my stomach makes me want to go to the track and hold the person’s hand in case they are alive, and alone with the clouds and the sounds of people pacing just above them.
My eyes saw a lot of fabric when they fell down. The word Muslim pushes out the word suicide in my mind. “This is why I always stand back from the platform,” I think. “They were pushed,” I think. My eyes scan for someone suspicious running away, but no one is running. No one is even pacing anymore. Everyone is trying not to look at the tracks and now dozens of people are on the platform, their hands flying to their mouths like a wave as they step back from the edge and what they have seen.
Maybe they just fell down. Maybe it was an accident.
Everything is too quiet over there and my mind turns to thoughts of my best friend and how I am unsettled by how she treats the suicide of her father. It is a matter of fact. It is his “cause of death.” And that is the way it should be treated – something which people die by. But as someone who has been on the other end of the gun too many times, you imagine it would be more than silence and a twisted body on the tracks. That what we always imagined freedom to be could look like more than simply death.
Emergency vehicles arrive on the scene and workers rush to set out orange pylons as a buffer of space between them and oncoming traffic. People and their cars continue to flow northward. Life immediately carries on, passing the person on the other side of the barriers, quiet now on the tracks.
If it is suicide, people who think about it do not realize how many others will come to their rescue. Within moments. Mere minutes after the scream (which I can still hear) and the tumble, there are dozens of emergency workers on the scene. Ambulances and fire trucks arrive. Uniformed people rush to cut the metal of the fence (or the tracks?) and the screech of a saw slices the thick air. These workers were just minutes away. Would they come if you told them you were thinking to jump? If you told them the dark thoughts you carry with you? If you told them you sit on the bench so you don’t think about jumping, or you stand back from the edge so someone won’t push you and take away the power of jumping from you? Or do they only arrive when you have already thrown your body down into the quiet space between the barriers and the platform where soft flesh does not normally go? When does an emergency become an emergency?
Maybe they just fell down. Maybe it was an accident.
A stretcher is loaded with something. It looks like a pile of warm microfleece blankets, impossible to contain a person. The stretcher is loaded on the ambulance. Hope flashes around my heart as the ambulance lights twirl. Its siren starts up as the door is slammed and the driver turns the wheel to carry the body from the tracks to the hospital. As they are pulling away, cars going north move off to the side. Someone is blaring hip hop music that can be heard above the sirens. They just arrived. They do not know that a body was on the tracks where no soft flesh should ever be. They do not turn down their music. My bus arrives and I remember my body, moving it into the space of the bus, sitting it down to be carried away to home where my family is waiting for me.
Later that evening, I am in the home of my colleague, surrounded by his family and friends. I sit with older women from the Pakistani community and listen to their stories, smiling with them, feeling welcomed by them. One woman, the mother of a young man I knew in secondary school, is veiled in a beautiful red floral scarf and noor shines from her face. She is smiling as she tells us a story about her grandchildren forming an assembly line to help her pick sour cherries from the tree in their backyard in order to make chutney. Since the cherries attract wasps, they have to be careful while pulling the fruit down by the handful but the harvest is worth the risk because the sourness from the cherries beats the tamarind sauce of the previous year. Webs of lineage forged by love are woven in her words, prerequisites for such a story to have happened. The world floods through those words, carrying family and histories in them – each word saturated with a sense of colour and richness even she might not recognize, though she speaks them.
Liberation is not found in what can only be simple death. It is found in the undulations between joy and heartache of each moment we embody and how richly we are able to live in the spaces between. I listen to her story and think of the person on the tracks, not knowing their fate, quiet since the flooding stopped, and the scribes of memory are silent.
This article was written by Nakita Valerio, owner and editor in chief of The Drawing Board. Nakita is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta. Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is also the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco.
While there is not yet any evidence that this incident was a suicide, if you are suffering with suicidal ideation or are contemplating suicide, please call 911 for emergency medical assistance in your area. For more information on mental health services in Edmonton, Alberta: click here. For everywhere else, please contact your local health service provider.