Home > The Good Samaritan(6)

The Good Samaritan(6)
Author: John Marrs

So I needed to push and pull Steven to reinforce how serious he was. The ‘fear-then-relief technique’, that’s what psychologists call it. I lowered my voice, held the phone closer to my mouth and launched into a well-rehearsed but selectively used speech.

‘Perhaps, deep down, you aren’t serious about ending your life,’ I began. ‘Maybe it’s a cry for help? I get plenty of calls from people who tell me they want to die, but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, all they’re really doing is just feeling sorry for themselves. Are you one of those people, Steven? Are you just trapped in a cycle of self-pity? Are you so deep into it that you don’t realise nothing is going to change unless you find the courage to do something about it yourself ? Because if you don’t take charge, for the rest of your life – maybe another forty, fifty years – the pain you’re feeling right now, the pain that’s so bad that it led you to call me, is only going to get worse. This – how you’re feeling right now – is going to be it for you. Can you live like that, Steven? I know I couldn’t.’

I’ll only use those words if I come into contact with a potential candidate, and often my directness catches them unawares. They’ll have called expecting me to be sympathetic towards them and perhaps reassure them everything’s going to be okay in the end. But I’m not that person. I know from personal experience that everything isn’t always okay in the end. Often, it’ll get much worse than it is right now. And sometimes it’s completely unbearable. But I can make it stop. They just have to trust me.

‘I – I – I’m not a timewaster, honestly,’ Steven stuttered, taken aback. ‘It’s something I’ve thought long and hard about and it’s what I want, but if I can’t do it, that must make me a coward, right?’

‘No, Steven, you’re not a coward. You called me today and that makes you courageous. Maybe you just chose the wrong day when you were waiting for that train. It happens to plenty of people. Just remember, we’re here for you in whatever capacity you want us to be.’

‘You mean to listen to me?’

He was fishing. I’d let him sniff around the bait before I withdrew it. ‘If that’s all you want from me, then yes.’

‘What if . . . what if I need . . . what if I decide . . .’ His voice went quiet and then faded away.

What Steven needed was someone to tell him death was the right choice. But first I needed to know for certain what he wanted from me. I’m not supposed to finish a sentence, even if I know what they’re going to say, but I make exceptions for potential candidates.

‘Are you calling to tell me you want to end your life and are looking for my support in doing it?’

‘I . . . I suppose I am.’

Once a candidate thinks they understand me, I’ll wrong-foot them by going back to how I was when I first answered their call. I trust no one until I know just how desperate they are.

‘End of the Line is an impartial, non-judgemental space,’ I began. ‘We are here to listen to you. We won’t try to talk you out of anything you decide to do, we just ask that you talk to us first and explore all your options before you take such a huge step. Do you understand that?’

‘Yes,’ Steven replied. A silence hung awkwardly between us. ‘But . . .’

‘But?’ I repeated.

‘But if I wanted to, you know, go ahead with it, would you . . . ?’

‘Would I what, Steven? What would you like me to do?’

He became quiet again and I sensed his increasing anxiety. ‘I’m sorry, I have to go,’ he said before the line went dead.

I tapped my fingers on the desk and examined my fingernails. There was a slight chip in the burgundy varnish on my index finger. I’d need to make an appointment to get them repainted.

I wasn’t worried about Steven calling back. Of course he would, and when he did seek me out again, he’d have shown me he’d put in the effort. You can’t just contact End of the Line’s number and reach me, as we have no direct lines. There are ninety-four of us, all volunteering for different shifts, and it’s pot luck who you’re put through to.

I remembered how David had kept calling back until he found me. Once we’d built up a rapport, I gave him my shift timetable so we could speak more regularly. We’d chat three or four times a week, and not just about our arrangement; sometimes we’d discuss world events, our days, or the countries we’d like to travel to.

And as he spoke, I’d close my eyes and imagine we were sitting on opposite sides of a table in a café abroad somewhere; we’d have spent the day sightseeing, and in the evening, we’d be making the most of the balmy Mediterranean weather and eating at a bistro, enjoying a fish supper, drinking Chianti and chatting like friends do. Then reality would reassert itself and I’d realise none of that could ever happen.

All these months later and I still longed to hear his voice again. I wondered if that feeling would ever completely pass. David had understood me as much as I’d understood him – but my presence in his life wasn’t enough to encourage him to stay. I wasn’t enough to make him choose life.

My stomach began to knot.

Remember your anchor, Laura. Remember your anchor.

I considered what Steven and I might accomplish. He’d made plans, he’d got his affairs in order, and he’d chosen and been to a location. All he needed was me. I had a good feeling about him.

I wanted to hear him die.


I double-checked the time printed in the advert I’d torn from the local newspaper, and glanced at my watch. It was already ten minutes later than advertised. I hated tardiness.

My restless eyes fixed upon a group of young women who were also waiting for the doors to open. I patted the creases from my jacket to make myself more presentable. I needn’t have bothered – by the look of them, I was the only one to have made any effort. And because I wasn’t wearing running shoes or a hoodie, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

I looked towards my Mini and spotted a familiar figure further down the road. He was perched on a plastic bus-shelter seat with a bottle by his side.

‘Olly . . .’ I began as I approached him. The old backpack of Tony’s that I’d given him was already so caked in filth that it was hard to spot the pale blue colouring beneath. Tobacco, alcohol, urine, and the areas he chose to sleep rough in had all brewed together to create an unwelcoming odour. But I didn’t comment on it as I hugged him tightly. It felt like wrapping my arms around a bag of bones.

‘Hi, Laura,’ he muttered, and offered a thin smile. ‘What are you doing here?’

Normally it took a few minutes for him to register who I was through his boozy haze, but this morning he was lucid and relatively sober. There was just a year separating Olly and me, but every time I saw him, our age gap seemed to widen. His lank, greasy hair brushed his collar and there were holes in the front of his shoes that showed his socks. His inch-long beard was greying, and his eyes had darkened from a warm brown to a coal black. There was very little left in him that was alive.

‘How are you?’ I asked.

‘Not so bad.’ He gave a hard, hacking cough.

‘You don’t sound it. Do you still have that chest infection?’


‘I offered before to drive you to the walk-in centre to see a doctor. We can still go – this afternoon if you like?’

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