Home > The Good Samaritan(2)

The Good Samaritan(2)
Author: John Marrs

I felt my skin burning under my shirt and adrenaline coursing through the sixty thousand miles of veins in my body, edging me towards a kind of euphoria.

Bide your time. Keep a firm grip on yourself, because too much can still go wrong.

I pictured them standing there, two perfect strangers who hadn’t needed to speak to communicate. They were united in a common purpose and I had brought them together. Their lives would be forever connected because of me. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

‘Can you both hear me?’ I asked them.

‘Yes,’ they replied in unison.

‘If you’re still comfortable with it, I’d like to stay with you for as long as possible. So, when you’re ready, each take a deep breath, then take hold of each other’s hand and start to walk. No matter how tough it gets or how heavy your legs might feel, hold on to each other for support. Don’t turn around and don’t stop. We can do this together.’

‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘Thank you for understanding me. You’ve been incredible.’

‘It’s been my pleasure,’ I replied. In the past when I’d reached this point, I’d been so much stronger. But he’d been too big a part of my life for this not to hurt. I balled my fists as our journey came to an end. Now it was their turn to continue the story.

I closed my eyes tightly. I inhaled and exhaled in time with their breaths as they made their way further and further from the car park. The gravel faded into grass and the rain fell more heavily. She began to weep, but I was convinced they were happy tears. I was sure he was clasping her hand in his just that little bit tighter, offering her the strength I so admired in him.

And then –


Nothing but the sound of their last breaths and the coastal wind howling through their phones as they fell five hundred and thirty feet into the water below. And as their bodies sank and their souls soared, I bit my bottom lip hard until I tasted blood. It was over.

I gave myself a few moments before reluctantly replacing the receiver in the cradle. I took a tissue from my desk drawer, blew my nose, uncurled my toes and thought about my anchor until calmness once again took control of my body.

I lifted my head briefly and glanced around the room to reassure myself that no one beyond the confines of my booth had heard me.

‘Are you all right?’ Mary’s honeyed voice came from the side, making me jump. She shuffled from the kitchen to my desk, sensing something was wrong. The years had not been kind to her face.

‘I’m fine,’ I replied.

‘Was it one of those calls?’


‘They didn’t do it while you were talking to them, did they?’

I nodded and she patted my arm with her hand. My skin prickled, as it did when anyone touched me uninvited. Such gestures had never comforted me.

‘I’m so sorry,’ Mary continued. ‘You hope that when they call us, all it’ll take is a friendly voice and someone to listen and it’ll put them off ending their lives for that little bit longer, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ I lied.

‘And I know we’re not supposed to talk them out of it or even offer an opinion, but it’s hard when you just want people to see that life is worth living.’

‘It certainly is,’ I nodded. ‘I wish everyone could see the beauty of the world through our eyes.’

It was a busy afternoon and there weren’t enough volunteers to man the helplines, so Mary made her way back to her corner of the office. When the red light on my phone began flashing to indicate another call, I cleared my throat and answered it, as required, within five rings.

‘Good afternoon,’ I began, ‘you’ve reached the End of the Line, this is Laura speaking. May I ask your name?’





I heard their muffled chatter as I made my way up the staircase and towards the door.

Inside End of the Line’s call room, I counted five heads, all sitting in their individual booths. Some propped themselves up on their elbows as they sat listening to callers through their headsets; others casually leaned back in their chairs with receivers held to their ears. One doodled triangles in a newspaper crossword grid.

I was early for my shift and waved cheerfully at Kevin and Zoe, who were listening to their respective callers. I pointed to the cake tin under my arm then towards the kitchen. Mary, the eldest of the volunteers at the charity, sat in a corner booth at the front, her knitting needles moving almost silently at full throttle as she spoke into a headset. Today’s colour of wool was as grey as the hair on her head.

I made my way into the poor excuse for a kitchenette and placed my lunchbox with the remains of last night’s pasta bake inside the fridge. I tossed away the mounting number of out-of-date plastic milk bottles and removed the lid from the cake tin so that everyone could help themselves to my freshly iced cupcakes. There were more than enough for the afternoon shifts to enjoy; any that remained could be shared by those on evenings and nights.

I opened the sash window to allow some fresh May air in and the stale second-floor funk out. Then, back inside the call room, I plucked my notebook from my bag and sought out my favoured booth at the back. Our desks hadn’t been officially allocated to us, so we couldn’t stake a claim on one over another. But there was an unspoken hierarchy that said those who’d worked there for longer should be allowed the spot they felt the most comfortable in. I opted for the most private spot, by the boarded-up Victorian fireplace. There, behind the partition, my soft, calming telephone voice couldn’t be heard anywhere else in the room. Not that we ever admitted to listening in to each other’s calls, but it’s normal to be nosy once in a while.

For four and a half years I’d stared through the very same window across the rooftops of Northampton town centre, and wondered who might be the first person I’d lift my receiver to today. The later – evening – shift was usually when things became more interesting. For the more vulnerable out there, once the darkness falls, so do their barriers. Night-time is their enemy, because with fewer visible distractions there’s more opportunity to dwell on how hopeless their lives have become. It’s when they reach out for somebody’s hand.

We are supposed to treat every caller the same way, with kindness, respect and professionalism. Being listened to makes them feel valued, but it’s unrealistic to think you can help – or even like – them all. Once they begin recounting their woes, there are some you take an instant dislike to and others you can see yourself in. Some you want to grab by the wrists, dig your fingernails in deeply until you draw blood and shake some sense into. Others you’ll offer a non-judgemental shoulder to cry upon.

But when it comes down to it, almost every volunteer in that room is there for the same purpose – to be someone a caller can unload their problems onto.

And then there’s me. I have my own agenda.

‘You brought cupcakes!’ said Kevin enthusiastically. He began to peel away the paper case from the sweet treat as he approached my desk.

‘Remind me to get your shirt out of the car before I leave,’ I replied.

‘Careful now, or they’ll start talking about us,’ he said, and gave me a wink.

I pretended to laugh along with him. ‘I’ve sewn the button back on the cuff and starched the collar.’

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