Last Wednesday someone died in my presence. A man fell on the tracks right in front of an approaching train. I had my earphones in, I was looking the other way, I was wondering how late I would be for work. The whistling sound of the approaching train made its way through all the obstacles I placed for it, and so I started mentally preparing for the upcoming fight for a scrap of space in the train to fit myself and a book I was intending to read. It was about six in the afternoon, rush hour, crowds of people. Suddenly, the train which was supposed to slowly roll up the platform stopped in the middle of it. I slowly looked up from the phone. One of the metro conductors walked slowly past me, the other one was peeking out of his booth, with one leg already on the platform and the other still inside. A policeman appeared out of nowhere. I took the earphones out. – Meat – said the conductor on the platform – All that is left of him is meat, we need to call.
The platform started to fill with people, a couple of prying passers-by started peeking behind the edge of the platform. Someone who just a moment ago was a man suddenly turned into meat, and now also entertainment for the masses.
– A man fell there – said an elderly lady standing next to me – He has no head nor arm – her voice was trembling, she was petrified, and so was I, and my voice was also trembling. Everyone else around us, though, seemed to have been solely irritated, as if they held it against the deceased that he interrupted their plans for the afternoon with his unfortunate death. Annoyed and displeased, they rushed out of the metro to the inevitably overcrowded bus.
I ran out as well, not being sure what to do, and jumped on that inevitably overcrowded bus, because life goes on and my student for that afternoon did not mind me arriving half an hour late; even though everything was trembling in me, saying that that wasn’t right, that everything should have paused, frozen, stopped, even if only for a minute.
I don’t know who he was. Maybe my gaze slid over him when I was rushing down the stairs and I looked at him without really seeing. Maybe he was in a rush because he was running late, just as I was, and he fell because he was trying to save half a minute by getting to the right carriage. Maybe he was drunk and simply lost balance. Maybe he had some plans for the evening, maybe he had just fallen in love, maybe someone was waiting for him; maybe he was supposed to grab some butter on his way home and was going to go on holiday in a couple of weeks; or maybe nobody was waiting for him, maybe someone had just left him, he was lonely; maybe it wasn’t a fatal coincidence which pushed him off that platform – maybe it was a dramatic, but well thought-through move. I will not find that out any more – I probably wouldn’t have even if he hadn’t died – because everything finished for him that Wednesday in Oktyabrskoe Pole under the wheels of a train which could not have been stopped on time.
His life reached completion, nothing “has been” for him anymore, everything “was” or “had been”. No one will ever know what he had deliberately been hiding from everybody and what he had never said for no particular reason. The whole universe trapped in his mind, how he felt, how he perceived, how he thought – everything disappeared within an instant, suddenly and unexpectedly – and no one cared because life had to go on.
And then there are all the other people for whom something ended because of this death. Maybe his wife answered an unexpected phone call at work only to find out that a train in Oktyabrskoe Pole had made her a widow. Maybe he had a son who had enough time to get angry with him for never keeping his promises and not having shown up yet again. Maybe he had a lover no one knew about who now must be thinking that he had left her in a not very elegant manner. There is also the train conductor who had done all that could have been done, but who nonetheless must be struggling with the overwhelming, unthinkable feelings of frustration, unavoidability and guilt which will stay with him for the days, weeks, months to come; and who will be waking up in the middle of the night with that scene replaying constantly in his mind.
Life took off immediately right after he had fallen. The trains stopped going only between a couple of stations, the crowds poured out from the station and squeezed into the buses. The city had crushed yet another one of its ants – most likely not even the only one that day. Nothing really noteworthy happened on the scale of the whole of Moscow. The local news reported “an incident” which interfered with the normal operations of line 9. An hour later there was no more trace of what had happened.
Nobоdy has ever died in my presence before, I have never seen a corpse, I have never even been to any funeral. I was extremely moved; I was trembling as I was walking out of the metro, I gave a very melancholic class, I could not quite gather myself up when I was raising a glass for the poor man, my voice was still trembling when I was retelling the story to friends trying to lift my spirits; and then I went to sleep and I slept like a log till the very morning, as if nothing had happened. No trace is left of that man, and no trace is left of how I felt about this death. The wheels started turning again. After all, what had happened was in no way out of ordinary (it is widely known that the platforms are not secured and the metro is not a safe place). Life had to go on – and on the one hand, I know that it is the way it needs to be, that death is the most natural of states; but on the other hand, I feel horrible with the fact that I repressed all of that so easily. People should not be disappearing with no trace left behind them, the metropolis should not be allowed to chew and squish them and stay completely unpunished. Let then this entry be a tiny trace left by a man who died in the metro last Wednesday, let it be a one in the eye for the metropolis which one cannot win with, but with which one nevertheless needs to fight. Let a small memory of him be preserved if only here.