Like an Arrow
They say that when you hit the water after a jump from an eighty feet high bridge, it stabs you like knives all over. Nothing is spared. ‘Getting knifed all over the body is an unbearable thought. And this is not to mention what follows next. Drowning is surely one of the worse ways to die. Three minutes of epic fight. A fight we are bound to lose. . One overriding fear of dying swamps our thoughts, washing away every other thought its way . Just like water flooding our lungs. Vague memories rush in those brief windows of time, like some final gasps of breath. Having had a near-drowning experience as a kid, for the life of me, I cannot fathom why someone would want to fling himself off a bridge and take his life. People have their reasons I presume; it is not my place to question them.
It all started in 2010, a new promotion, affordable loans and a chance drive on a motorway lead me to this flat. The hoarding was nothing impressive. Rather bland, with the usual marketing spin of affordable middle class homes. What drew me was a hazy view of the Bridge on the River Kwai. Ok, it was not the River Kwai; but then, a bridge as a standalone word is an orphan. Bridge over the river Kwai gives it a purpose; a purpose through association? I am digressing. The flat with a view of the Bridge over River X appealed to me enough; enough to persuade my partner to scrounge through our deposits and borrow some from her considerate sister. And yeah, we moved in, just before the onset of winter. I clearly remember the first piping, hot cup of tea I sipped, standing at the balcony overlooking the river and the bridge. A sense of accomplishment overtook me at that moment; even relegating the perpetual scare of being massively in debt. I suddenly noticed a flurry of fuzzy human bodies jostling on the bridge to get a view beneath. I realized in utter horror that some body had flung themselves off the bridge. I ran inside to fetch my army field vision binoculars to get a better view of the spectacle unfolding. I saw panic-stricken onlookers shouting at someone splashing around uselessly in the river below. The splashes were not of someone wanting to survive. ‘I give up’ was written all over it. That instance sent a cold chill within me, something I have never been able to shake off. It was not difficult to figure out why I landed such a massive flat at a relatively discounted price. I had a view of the river and a bridge which accounted for over a hundred deaths every year. Unknowingly, I had signed up to be an unofficial presence in the ritual of transitioning; a transition with defeat and a sense of loss written allover it. Why don’t they try to kill themselves when they are happy? Well, you cannot really ask for conscientiousness from someone who has chosen death, can you? It was after the sixth death that I witnessed, that I decided to intervene. To no longer be the one who records their undignified exits. No, this was not about the suicides, but the sight of flailing arms and the last vestiges of human dignity stripped away in those few seconds during the fall. I noticed that people spent an average of 11 minutes before they took the leap to beyond. It took me eight minutes to run to the bridge from my flat. This marked the beginnings of a bizarre turn in my life. I remember running to grab a heavily pregnant woman and bear-hug her, till both of us broke down in tears. I took her home, offered her tea and discussed this with my wife. We let her stay for few days till she felt better. This became a ritual which both of us fully immersed ourselves in. The word got out; the local media covered us. The number of deaths dropped in the next year. The ‘notoriety’ of someone preventing you from jumping over, probably made the bridge a less favorable place.
It was chilly morning in December when I saw someone peering down longingly. It was second nature to me now, to identify those who admire the ravenous beauty of the waters below, from those who are ready to embrace it. I ran as fast as I could. I felt a strange dull throb in my knee. Was this an early onset of arthritis I wondered? Puffing down the bridge, my mind wandered. I had to get her a new watch. She loved watches. Was she obsessed with them? It was an aesthetic obsession if it was one. As I neared the person, I realized something was off. This seemed to be a familiar face. I hugged the person and spoke to him, in urgency of giving him hope; of life, fighting it and all those inanities that those who want to kill themselves probably don’t want to hear. At times, a deep baritone voice soothes someone in a flight mode. Probably this is what had worked in my favor all these times. Not the content, but the delivery. A deep voice, that soothed you and let you reconcile. As I held the person, I realized the person was very calm. It was all a mistake. I did not have to take that turn into the motorway that day. Sheer boredom had put me on a course of no return. It was over in a flash. His hands had grabbed me and pushed me over. Those few seconds were the calmest I knew. Until the water hit.
‘Hero dies a tragic death’; ‘A despicable murder of a hero’.
“The photo by Malcom captures a rare dignity seen in death. Mr.X heading down with such sheer grace. Hands by his side, a single streamlined movement down like an arrow shot of the bow. A picture of someone who had decided to face end in a dignified manner. He appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it.”