By Terry Jarvis
A busy Saturday in Kingston, London. An unlikely place for such a drama, but even before I saw him on the bridge a sense of the unusual was with me.
He was a big lad with short fair hair. With one arm he gripped the parapet of the bridge, the other was wildly waving his jacket. My eyes fixed on the terror on his face as I dashed through the traffic. Cars slowed, people paused, shading their eyes and frowning. But not going to him. Anger about their lack of caring swept over me and pushed me towards him. I was nearly there, seeing now his blue short-sleeved shirt, his wide eyes, the spectacles clutched in his hand together with his jacket, flapping, held out over the water. I saw the white knuckles on the bridge.
'Don't, please don't!' I grabbed fiercely at him and clutched the top of his arm. 'Don't jump!'
He pulled away and was gone. Over the edge and down. I heard the sound of hurrying feet and felt behind me the pressing wall of the crowd. They peered into the water, curious but distant. And yet again the anger welled up inside me.
I pulled off my shoes. I was aware of Sue, shocked and quiet at my side. Pulling my money from my jeans pocket I pressed it into her hand. I felt stiff and clumsy as I clambered onto the ledge. And before I could get myself ready for a dive -- I tripped.
Thirty feet down, I hit the water hard and sank into a terrifying grey-green world, cold and dark. After what seemed an age as long as a nightmare I rose up again into the brightness, my lungs bursting. I caught sight of the blue shirt just a few yards away and reached out towards it. As I grabbed him he struggled, twisting round and pressing me down under the water. I fought my way up, coughing and gasping. I yelled now. 'Help, someone! Help!' Weakness was creeping through my body with cold fingers.
Suddenly I saw the boat. A grey-haired man in a summer shirt and dark trousers was at the steering wheel. Behind him a thin suntanned woman lay back in a seat. I yelled again. The man glanced sideways at me and then his lips tightened and he turned away from me, gripping the wheel.
'Wait... stop! No! Help!' The words struggled from me as I thrashed about in the water. I shouted several times, but he continued to ignore me.
And, amazingly, that was when his engine ran out. I heard it splutter as he tried to restart it, then all I could hear was the slap slapping of the waves against the boat as it turned slowly, drifting with the current. Drifting towards me! Now the woman stood, nervously glancing all around. She picked up a short piece of fraying orange string hanging from the bows and threw it towards me. I ignored it and struck out with the last of my strength towards the boat, grabbing the rough edge and hauling myself exhausted over the side.
Then there was the canoe that drew alongside, seeming to appear from nowhere. It was being paddled by a silent young man whose calm, almost serene, face was framed with long blond hair. The shaking wet body of the boy who had jumped off the bridge was clinging to the front of the canoe. I leaned over and pulled him into the boat.
The canoe went softly on its way and I held the limp body in my arms and let him cry.
The rest of the incident passed in a clamour of activity, noise and excitement. The police arrived and asked lots of questions. Someone in the boatyard gave me some dry clothes. Then I was in the back of the ambulance. Vic -- that was the boy's name -- lay white and unseeing under a grey blanket. The ambulance attendant droned on and on.
'Now look at all the trouble you've gone and caused everyone... it just don't make sense. A young man too, whole of your life in front of you, why... there's just no reason... ' There was a hard edge to his voice I hated.
I leaned over the blanket, trying to manage a smile, though my throat was sore and my eyes felt strange and swollen.
'Vic, you're going to be all right, don't worry now. I know how you feel. I know how it hurts. Believe me, I do... You see, I've been there myself. Six or seven times I've tried to take my own life. With drugs mostly. Overdose. But that's all in the past. I found a new life, when I discovered that Jesus Christ is a real person. Finding out about Jesus has changed my life completely.'
Vic looked at me. He said nothing -- but his eyes seemed to shout for help.
The ambulance man rubbed his hands together nervously. He coughed and stared at his feet.
'Well, now, this ain't somethin' I'd just tell anyone,' he began softly. His voice was quite different now, low and confidential.
'It's about the wife. She says she can't take no more. She says she's havin' a sort of breakdown. Nerves it is. She talks about doin' away with herself. I just don't know what to do.'
The sadness was there again, welling up from deep inside me. I desperately wanted to help them both and felt so weak.
'O Lord, give me the words to say! Please give me the right words to say to them,' I prayed.
Terry Jarvis is a wood carver and author based in Cumbria, England.
The above excerpt comes from Terry's memoir The Long Search (Hodder & Stoughton, 1985) and was published with the author's permission. You can purchase a copy of the memoir directly from Terry by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. It costs £7.95 (including shipping; UK only).