by Kate Mahony
The boy was young—16 to 18 maybe. He had dark hair. The thing I really noticed was he was straddling the top bar of the fence on the pedestrian bridge. He was sitting on it, looking down at the cars barrelling beneath on the four lanes, two heading north, two south.
‘What do you think he’s doing?’ I asked Tom who was driving. We were on the new expressway, the one that had cost millions of dollars and created a good deal of controversy amongst the locals.
‘Not sure,’ Tom said. ‘But it’s dangerous.’
‘Should I phone the traffic police?’
‘May as well.’
I dialled the number. An automated voice gave me a number of options. If it was an emergency hang up and phone the emergency number. But was it?
Or, the voice said, you could hang up and report the incident online.
I stabbed at Option 3 whatever it was.
The operator who answered sounded young and friendly.
I told him we were now nearly five minutes away from where we’d seen the boy. I added—unhelpfully—the town we had driven from. The operator began checking maps on his screen, calling out the names of places now two hours away.
‘No,’ I said. ‘That bit isn’t relevant. Forget about that.’
The operator was still trying to find the area. Tom gave me another place name to tell him. ‘Can you tell me what he looked like and what he was wearing?’
I repeated the details. Young. Black hair. Māori or Pasifika. I hadn’t seen much else. He was some distance above us on the overbridge. What was he wearing? I had no idea. I am not a visual person. I turned to Tom.
‘A white shirt,’ he said with great certainty.
‘I’ve found the place. It’s on State Highway One,’ the operator said.
‘Yes,’ I said, forbearing to add I had already said so when I first rang.
‘Can you recall which side of the bridge was he on?’
The middle? Again, I turned to Tom.
‘The right side,’ he said. ‘Above the traffic going south.’
‘About five or six calls have just come in about the same boy,’ the operator said. ‘I’ve got the local police on their way.’ He sounded distant now as if he were distracted by what was on his computer screen. Then, ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘Have a good journey for the rest of your trip. And thanks again.’
But wait, I wanted to say. Don’t you want my name? My number? So you can call me back, let me know what’s happening?
We drove on. ‘Do you think he was intending to jump?’ I asked Tom.
‘Possibly,’ he said. ‘Or just looking. But if a driver had sounded the horn, it could’ve startled him.’ He was silent for a moment. ‘He could’ve fallen through the window of a car below and killed that driver.’
So this was what he’d been thinking as he drove. None of this had occurred to me.
We drove on. I thought about the boy. Instead of just driving on when we saw him, should we have turned off at the next exit and tried to find our way back to the bridge that crossed the motorway? Talked to the boy? Offered him some help?
Later, I checked the news online. Nothing. I had so many questions and it was disquieting to have no answers. I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept picturing the boy on the bridge. Straddling it so easily.
Kate Mahony’s short fiction has been published in literary journals and anthologies, most recently in The Blue Nib, The Cabinet of Heed, Blackmail Press, Potato Soup Journal and Fiction Kitchen Berlin. She has a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, Wellington, and lives in New Zealand.