Last Words Part 1

Artwork by Julie Andrews
Artwork by Julie Andrews

HE DIVED UNDER the train. I saw him do it. We’d been stuck between stations for forty-five minutes while they cleaned his body off the tracks. He must have been far behind us by the time the train came to a stop.

He and I both got on at the same station, on the same carriage. I’d seen him wander up towards the door that linked our compartment to the one in front—that I drunkenly pissed out of late one night—when he stopped to talk to a girl sitting by herself in one of the double seats at the end. It was only for a moment but, turning away, he’d opened the door, let it slap shut behind him, and dropped below.

There were gasps and cries from the people who saw it, and strange, quizzical looks from those who felt his body sliced between the wheels and the rails beneath. Who would’ve thought flesh and bone would ever cause the slightest disturbance under all that metal?

The driver must have felt it too, or maybe trains have detection sensors or something below, for the train immediately reduced its speed and came to a stop halfway between North Melbourne and Southern Cross. At first we all sat there in silence, but after about five minutes the carriage was completely abuzz with chatter. The voice of the driver came over the loudspeaker, his speech stilted, sounding as though he were reading from cue-cards.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve come to a stop in our regular schedule because an individual has been killed on the tracks. His remains are currently and respectfully being removed. Until this has happened, we will not be departing. I apologise for any inconvenience.’

It was a few minutes until the chatter started up again. While we waited, I focused on the girl up the other end of the carriage. She was the last person to speak to him. She seemed distressed, and while the rest of the commuters had no problem turning to the person next to them with a thought or for an opinion, she was all alone, with no one. I wanted desperately to walk all the way up there and sit down next to her. At first I pretended it was a deep sense of altruism inside, but I had to admit that comforting her would not have been my goal. What I wanted was to ask her what the dead man had said, what his final words were.

Initially I thought that he probably just asked her for spare change, but the way in which she sat, her posture rigid, her head tilted downward, lost to some eventuality, made me think that whatever it was the dead man said had had quite an effect on her. Was it a plea for more quantifiable help than just a few extra dollars? Or was it something more cryptic? Did he know that they would be the last words he would ever speak and intentionally make them resonant or meaningful or enigmatic? I wanted desperately to know. But it didn’t seem appropriate to just walk up to her and demand answers.

A woman behind me spoke to the man next to her in a low tone. ‘It’s horrible I know, but why do we have to wait? It’s behind us already.’

For a moment I completely misunderstood and thought that by ‘It’s’ she meant the awful event that all of us had been a part of, not because it had inconvenienced us, but because we had witnessed true desperation, and we needed to move forward in order to cope. But then I quickly realised that by ‘It’s’ she was referring to the man, no longer deemed a person. Just a thing, ripped apart, unrecognisable as anything that never contained a spark inside. I also wondered why she needed to ask what the point of waiting was. The answer was apparent from the driver’s speech: it was the respectful thing to do. Though he was behind us, his blood was still beneath us, clinging to and smeared all over the wheels and along the tracks. And we could stand to wait until the evidence of his final statement had been quickly cleaned up like a chemical spill, as though it never happened.

Read Part 2 here