Home > The Good Samaritan(5)

The Good Samaritan(5)
Author: John Marrs

The hairs on my arms prickled into life when I saw Chantelle’s face for the first time. She was close to how I’d pictured her – plain, gaunt, angular, with a scrunchie keeping her scraped-back hair in place. I tore out the page, made a mental note of the date and placed it inside my bag. Then I waited patiently with another glass of wine for the time to pass until the conversation of three people I barely knew returned.



I removed the Kindle from my bag and placed it on the desk in my booth.

I flicked through the library to choose from one of a dozen eBooks I’d downloaded but had yet to start reading. As a rule, novels bore me. The concentration it takes to remember what you’ve read and who is who as you swipe from one page to the next is arduous. I much prefer downloading a television programme and watching it on my phone instead. But Janine, our branch manager, frowned upon us doing that, one of many petty little dislikes she’d made us aware of since she’d taken charge seven months earlier.

I’d barely made it past the prologue of a psychological thriller before the first call of my evening arrived. I cleared my throat and slipped into character like an actor preparing to take to the stage.

So much can be won or lost in the first words a caller hears. Appear overenthusiastic and they’ll think you’re too upbeat to empathise with them. Sound too matter-of-fact and you risk appearing like an authoritarian about to berate them. I like to think I keep the right balance.

It was a teenage girl who spoke; she’d found herself pregnant and had no idea how to tell her parents. I listened sympathetically, asked my open-ended questions in all the correct places and quietly wondered how I’d react if Effie ever found herself in that kind of trouble. I’d insist on a termination, but she’d probably keep the baby just to be awkward. The girl on the phone cried a little. I pretended to care and by the end of our chat she decided she would test the family waters by telling an aunty she was close to of her predicament.

Next, it was my turn to get ‘the masturbator’. Once a week, usually on a Thursday, he was compelled to call us and audibly pleasure himself. He wasn’t bothered if it was a man or woman who answered, because by the time we answered, he wouldn’t be far from climaxing. We were supposed to hang up as soon as we were aware of what he was doing, but tonight I was feeling generous, so I told him how horny it made me feel and let him complete the task in hand before wishing him a good evening.

After two immediate hang-ups, I was approaching the end of my shift and anticipating a gruelling hot yoga class. I contemplated ignoring the call at first as I didn’t want to be late, but I picked up.

‘I’ve not called somewhere like this before. I don’t know where to begin,’ a male voice began.

‘Well, let’s start with a name. What shall I call you?’

‘Steven,’ he replied. It came to him too quickly for it to be a pseudonym. I made a note of it.

I placed him in his twenties; he was softly spoken and his accent was local. He did little to disguise his nerves.

‘It’s nice to talk to you, Steven. Can I ask what made you decide to call us this evening?’

‘I’m not sure. I – I feel like I haven’t got . . . anyone. I don’t think I want to be . . . here . . . anymore.’

He ticked box number one all by himself, which made my job a little easier. ‘Well, it’s great that you’ve called,’ I said. I’d allow my instinct the usual five minutes to decide whether he was genuine or seeking attention. ‘Tell me about the people who love and care about you. Who do you have in your life who falls into that category?’

He paused for a moment to think. ‘Nobody really,’ he replied and let out a deep breath. Saying it aloud was clearly a pivotal moment for him. ‘I’ve got no one at all.’

‘Do you have anyone you’d call a friend?’


That was box number two ticked.

‘I’m sure it’s difficult when you are completely alone in the world.’

‘It’s shit.’

‘Are you working at the moment? Are there any opportunities to build up personal relationships in your career?’

‘Not really. Sometimes days can pass and I realise I haven’t had a proper conversation in almost a week.’

Box number three ticked – the fewer people in his personal or working life the better. I was glad I’d answered his call after all.

‘A week is a long time not to have a proper conversation with someone,’ I replied, empathising with his situation and keeping him on point. ‘Have you seen your doctor and told them how you’re feeling?’

‘Yes, and she put me on antidepressants.’

‘And how have they worked for you?’

‘It’s been four months and I still don’t feel there’s anything to get up for in the morning. Sometimes I think I’d be better off just saving them all up and . . . you know . . .’

‘Sometimes or often?’

‘Often,’ he whispered, so quietly I could barely hear him. It was like he was ashamed of his suicidal thoughts.

Box four usually took much longer than this to tick, which made my job a little easier. I might have something to work with here, I thought.

I scanned the room. Zoe was playing a game on her mobile phone while speaking into her headset; Sanjay’s legs were jiggling up and down as he listened to a caller; and Mary was drinking something from a thermal flask that smelled like toxic soup. Nobody was paying me the slightest bit of attention in my corner.

Inside my bag, I fished for a second notebook, the one used solely for callers I might be able to help in my own unique way. Inside it, I kept detailed notes on everything they told me. Later, I’d bring them up again as conversation points to reinforce that I’d been listening and I understood. I wrote Steven’s name on a fresh page and underlined it.

‘You don’t need to be embarrassed, Steven,’ I replied. ‘We’ve all thought about ending our lives at some time or another. Have you ever tried to do it before?’

‘No. But I did plan it out once.’

‘You planned it out once?’ I was careful to mirror his language, making him aware I’d listened and of how seriously I took his admission. ‘Can I ask what you had in mind?’

‘I printed out my bank details and bills and left them in envelopes on my desk, along with the passwords for accounts and deeds to the flat for the police to find. I’d plotted out the route to a bridge in the countryside over the railway line, near the village of Wolverton. Do you know it?’

‘Yes, I do.’

‘There’s a gap where the railings have rusted so you can squeeze through to get to the tracks. I made it halfway down the bank and waited for ages for a train. I was just going to jump in front of it and that’d be it. But it took so long for one to arrive that I talked myself out of it.’

‘I see. While you were waiting for that train, did you wonder how death might feel?’

‘It won’t feel like anything, because after death there is nothing.’

‘Will it bring you peace?’

‘My life hasn’t, so I can only hope.’

Everything I’d asked, he’d already asked himself. He hadn’t made his decision rashly.

I’d become increasingly frustrated by ditherers of late. There were too many callers who all-too-casually threw around suicidal threats, but when it came down to it they were too gutless to do anything about it.

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