Transit Tales: A Man’s Tragic Final Moments

We’re all just trying to get somewhere, but some of us are doing a better job than others. Getting lost is becoming my early morning routine, however, unlike the joggers who glide swiftly by me on my search for a U-Bahn station; this is not of my own conscious doing. Anywhere can wear you out, but Berlin’s got a certain sadistic quality that seems to drain you of all life, and leave you a walking shell drifting through the motions as you navigate your way home from the long night before.

“There was just a huge bang, and that was that”. My friend spoke of his story, of a man’s tragic final moments, as if it were barely worth mentioning. “I hear it happens all the time: once a month, I think.” My friend experienced what no one should, hearing the sound of a body hitting the top of his moving train, and it unfolding that it was a jumper who leaped from the bridge which ran above the tracks. Everyone has their own Berlin transport stories, few are as morbid as this, many are funny, but most are bizarre.

The U1 is a world onto itself. You spot tourists, Gorlitzer customers, KaDeWe shoppers, bottle collectors and tired businessmen: all sharing the same cramped air, all brief encounters of the briefest line. The weekend comes, and with it an entirely different approach to transit. An incredibly unsteady, profoundly pissed, (UK sense of the word), Pole entered our carriage. A seated younger man came to his feet after he noticed the man was losing his. He chuckled, thanked him, and then proceeded to offer a swig of the dribble of vodka remaining in his 70cl. He sang songs, and was the definition of merry. The cabin was transfixed. Contagious smiles drifted throughout, and we awaited patiently his next playful outburst, ceasing all unrelated private conversations at once. An entertainer was in our midst. Realising his offers of vodka straight from the bottle were failing, the man reached into a plastic bag and emerged with a small box of chocolates. He proceeded to tap my friend on the shoulder, smiled and repeatedly asked her to indulge. An acquaintance who was accompanying us noticed he spoke Polish and proceeded to converse with him much to the man’s delight.

“SCHOKOLADE! SCHOKOLADE!” My friend took one, but uttered he was too hungover to partake in the beverage. As we left we could still hear him laughing, and singing- greeting those who took our place.

When I first noticed the stench on the U8, I thought what any self-involved, yet often completely oblivious, commuter would- I assumed it was me. Waking up from the haze of a de-caffeinated morning, I noticed the occupied seats surrounding me were filled with equally perplexed, accusing faces. Something wreaked, lingered and vanished- leaving us in a silent, somatic debate. Some protested their innocence by shielding their nostrils with scarves, or a casually placed index finger. Couples nudged each other and looked up the aisle in each direction. A few moments passed, along with a few passengers making their way through the cabin, and suddenly the all too familiar blast of the incomprehensibly foul odour returned. It became apparent that a woman, at most mid-thirties, clutching a Schofferhofer, struggling through the relatively full U-Bahn, was responsible. I noticed a dried cut on her forehead, and a vacant look in her eye. She waded her way through the crowd with soiled dark jeans, paying no attention to any of us, or to anything really- pacing up and down as if searching for something she could no longer remember.

For a week or so I held the image of the woman on the U-Bahn in my mind. I wondered whether there was help available, whether a good samaritan would intervene, rather than merely ponder, and pity like I did that day. Struggling with a language gives rise to a sense of helplessness that’s all too convenient for keeping shtum, and excusing oneself from any social accountability. Travelling towards a bar with some friends on the U-Bahn once more, I copped the lady once again. I warned them that the smell I had previously regaled them with in grotesque detail was about to engulf us. Paying little heed, my friends continued their conversation and I awaited the inevitable. She walked by with the same slow pace. As she did I noticed her hands were empty, and her forehead had almost fully healed. There was no smell whatsoever, and she faded into the crowd without returning. She blended seamlessly into her surroundings and it occurred to me that before she passed from my sight, she bore an ever so slight smirk. Today, as I finally come across the elusive station which shall bring me home after an excruciatingly long night, I share that same look – it comes about once you’ve found what you’re looking for.

By Conor Kilkelly

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