Early on a recent Saturday afternoon, catching the red line metro at Universitat. I just missed it, heard the high-pitched peep-peep of closing doors as I reached the bottom of the stairs, saw the last car entering the tunnel. The hanging sign told me it would take 4:30 for the next one to arrive.
“Vaya,” I muttered to myself. Behind me, I heard footsteps on the cement and glanced back along the empty platform. A young guy, maybe 23 or 24, dressed in old jeans and a grey sweatshirt, thin handsome face with a long, dirty, off-white scarf wrapped around his neck, was shambling toward the edge of the platform, head down, shoulders slumped in some kind of profound defeat, which appeared to have sucked all the vitality out of him. At the platform’s edge he lowered himself to the tracks and sat down between them with his legs crossed. The sign said 3:15.
“Hey,” I said in a raised voice, hoping like never before that my Spanish was clear and understandable, “come on up out of there. Come on, it’s not worth it.” He looked up from where he sat, then looked back down and wrapped the scarf around his face, covering his eyes so he wouldn’t see the train come screaming into him. I saw a placard with an ‘I’ above a box on the wall. I pushed the button. The sign was down to 2:30.
“Sí?” a young woman’s voice answered over the intercom. “Hay un tipo sentado en la via,” I said. The clock read 1:30 when a short, young woman ran down the platform. “Dios mío,” she shouted at the man, “ven por aquí.” He didn’t look up. She called on her cell phone to some central switchboard, and told them to stop the train. They did.
It was another half hour before two burly types in metro security uniforms appeared on the by-now crowded platform. The would-be suicide hunched into himself as they climbed down to the tracks. They raised him with a hand under each arm, and roughly pushed him up the ladder at the end of the platform. They dragged him off, each one gripping an arm.
“Tranquilo, tranquilo,” he muttered in a resigned voice as they led him away.