Some days I just sit at a table in the cafe with my coffee, keep my ears open and, as if by magic, a story, like one of Newton’s apples, drops right into my lap, although Newton’s apple, history tells us, landed squarely on his head.
On this day, I have actually arrived wanting to read. I have just started reading Dexter Dias’ The Ten Types of Human and already it has me hooked. However, by the time my coffee arrives, I find that Dias and I are going to have to wait a bit to get together.
The two women at the neighbouring table — one of them named Nat, short for Natalie, I guess — are talking up a storm. Natalie, at least, is. She’s a railway worker, I learn. She works as some kind of covert observer (of passengers).
There’s a job title but I miss it. Her duty is to keep passengers at the station under some kind of benign surveillance, via security cameras and screens. This has become a necessity after a few tragic incidents where people — some of them afflicted by mental illness — have thrown themselves before an oncoming train. Nat is a ‘watcher’.
A little grey baby rabbit. Right between the tracks, unaware of the danger, but attracted by the attention of the man, mimicking his actions in a way, five steps up and five steps back
Anyone standing too close to the platform edge — beyond the yellow safety line — is ‘tagged’ and a discreet alert put out. Most days, her job is a breeze. Nobody ventures anywhere near the yellow line let alone beyond it, to set off any alarms. On a certain day, however, during one of the quieter periods — long after the morning rush hour — she becomes aware of a young man, attired in a green jacket and jeans, hovering near the edge of the platform.
The train isn’t due for another ten minutes, so she decides not to rush into ‘man all stations’ mode. A minute passes. A minute that begins to make her feel slightly uneasy. It’s the young man’s attitude and manner that she deems suspicious. He keeps walking up — around five paces — then back down another five steps, up and down, up and down. She finds it disquieting. There’s a nervous edge to his manner. He also keeps leaning forward away from the platform’s edge, peering at the railway lines.
Natalie senses that the man is contemplating some dark action. She decides, after another minute, not to wait any longer. Accompanied by a colleague, she makes her way down to the platform. When she is within five paces of the man, she clears her throat, so as not to startle him, and says, ‘Excuse me, sir, but you’re standing too close to the edge.
You’ll have to move back because a train is expected soon.’ The man turns, looks at her and points down at the lines. ‘Down there,’ he says, ‘Look.’ She looks. And she sees the object of the man’s attention all this while.
A little grey baby rabbit. Right between the tracks, unaware of the danger, but attracted by the attention of the man, mimicking his actions in a way, five steps up and five steps back.
‘Am I allowed to jump down and rescue it?’ asks the man. ‘You most certainly are not. You’ll be fined,’ Nat tells him. It’s her colleague who relays the ‘Rabbit on Tracks’ message to their superior officers and from there the system takes over.
The train is stalled for a few minutes at the signal, an authorised employee rescues the rabbit and by the day’s end, ‘I’ve got myself a little pet I never really wanted,’ says Natalie, ‘but Cowslip (the rabbit’s name) is a reminder of how sometimes a day at the office can turn out totally weird and off the beaten track.’
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.
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