I was exiting a Red Line car at Shawmut Station when I noticed a man falling to the platform. I had become so used to seeing men and women, high on opiates, appear to be falling, but still holding on, so I hesitated to help him.
But this man — who I will call Mister Michael — fell. I could have kept on walking, but that still, small voice inside asked, “What would Jesus do?”
“Hey,” I said to the backs of people leaving me behind to care for a stranger on my own. “Can someone call an ambulance? My phone is dead,” I yelled.
“What’s wrong?” Asked the first woman.
“He fell,” I said, looking down at Mister Michael who was red and holding his heart.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“No. I have COPD,” he said. “I think I’m dying.”
“He’s dying,” said I, with projection.
The two women raced towards us. One was middle aged. She put her purse on the ground and shook Mister Michael’s elbow. The other was significantly younger. She wore a pair of pink scrubs and stood looking at the scene. The older woman was wearing blue scrubs and pink Crocks. “What’s your name?” she asked Mister Michael. He said nothing. Then she poked him in the thigh. “What’s your name?” She asked again.
Mister Michael opened his eyes. “My name is Michael,” he said.
“He said he has COPD,” I said. Looking at the younger woman, I asked her what COPD was.
“Like, some kind of heart disease?” I asked.
“No,” said the middle-aged woman. “It’s a lung disorder.”
“Oh,” I said. “He said he couldn’t breathe.”
Mister Michael seemed to be falling into a deep sleep.
“Michael,” said the middle-aged woman, and then poked him in his side. “Where do you live?” She asked.
He opened his eyes. They were small, round, and reflected the light above him in the platform’s ceiling. “I live on Center Street,” he said, and then the small slits of his eyes closed shut.
“Did you call somebody?” Said the younger woman to me.
“No,” I said. “My phone is dead.”
The younger woman dialed a number and put her phone to her ears.
“Mister Michael,” said the middle-aged woman, prodding him in the side with her index and middle fingers. “Do you have any family?”
“I have a son,” said Mister Michael with his eyes still closed. Opening them, he said, “But he hates me.”
“That’s not true,” said the middle-aged woman.
“I have somebody,” the younger woman informed us. “Hello,” she said. “We need help. A man fell to the ground. Hello?”
The number was dialing, but it was not connecting. “Let me see if there’s somebody upstairs who can help,” said the younger woman.
“Mister Michael,” said the middle-aged woman. “Who do you live with?”
Mister Michael opened his eyes and rested his hand on his heart. “I live in a boarding house,” he said. “I used to live with Mom, but she died last year.”
“Oh, I feel sorry for you,” said the middle-aged woman.
“Shit happens,” said Mister Michael, and then he closed his eyes again.
As I watched the younger woman turn the corner and disappear up the stairs, I thought maybe I should do the same thing too. It seemed easy to do, since the middle-aged woman was holding things down.
“Mister Michael,” she said. “Can you get up?”
“No,” said Mister Michael. “I did a lot of drinking and I can’t breath.”
“You can breath,” said the woman. “Just take in a deep breath. Breath in and breath out.”
Mister Michael, with his eyes closed, furrowed his brows, like he was thinking. “What’s the point?” He asked. “There’s no point in living.”
“Stop that nonsense,” said the woman.
“I mean, seriously,” said Mister Michael, opening his beady eyes. “We all have to go, and I want to go my way,” he said, and then his eyes rolled back into his head. It was not clear if he was trying to go back to sleep, die, or drum up the words to explain what he was thinking.
Mister Michael groaned and grabbed his heart. “Let me die,” he said.
Static came from the speaker beneath the red button. I peered into it, waiting for it to speak back to me. When it did, a high pitched voice said, “Hello?”
“Hi,” I said. “There’s a man down on the platform at Shawmut Station. We need help.”
“How old is the man,” said the operator.
I didn’t know. “Mister Michael,” I said. “How old are you?”
“I’m sixty-five,” said Mister Michael, proudly. “I’m sixty-five, and my boy is thirty-two today. It’s his birthday,” he slurred and then tried to turn over, but winced as he was doing so and then turned back around.
“You must be very proud,” said the middle-aged woman.
“So, he’s not unconscious?” Asked the operator.
“No,” I said. “But he seems to be going in and out of consciousness.”
“Are you on the northbound side or the southbound side,” said the voice.
“Southbound,” I said.
“Did you talk to your son today, Mister Michael?” Said the middle-aged woman.
His eyes were closed, but they were moving beneath his eyelids. “No, he won’t speak to me. He thinks I’m a loser.”
“Did he tell you that?”
“No, but he’s told everybody we know except me that he thinks I’m a loser,” Mister Michael said, and then continued on about his son not giving a damn about him.
“Okay,” said the operator. “Someone is coming.”
I looked at the middle aged woman and smiled. She looked down at Mister Michael, interrupting his rambling. “Help is on the way,” she said.
Mister Michael stopped talking, and then he groaned. “It won’t make any difference.”
“Stop that type of talk,” said the middle-aged woman. “You should be grateful…”
“That’s not a bad idea,” said the middle-aged woman with a chuckle. “You have three women who came to your rescue. We could have gone on with our days, but we stayed here with you.” Then she looked at me and winked. “This woman here probably has something better to do with her Friday evening. Right?” She said, waiting for me to confirm.
I blinked several times and said beneath my breath, “Not really.”
“She was the one who called us here to be by your side. She could have kept on walking, like all of the other people who got off the train ten minutes ago.”
Mister Michael opened his eyes and looked at the middle-aged woman and then at me to narrow in on my gaze.
“Thank you, but I’ll be honest with you. If it were me, I would have kept on walking. You don’t want to save me,” he said, and then closed his eyes.
The middle-aged woman threw back her head and laughed loudly. “Mister Michael, you’ve got lots of jokes,” she said.
That brought him back to life. He opened his beady eyes and tried to roll over on his side, but the look on his face revealed the pain again so he stopped and closed his eyes.
“Can you get up?” Mister Michael, said the middle-aged woman.
“I wish I could,” he said and furrowed his brows. Then, looking at me, he asked, “What made you stop anyway?”
“He’s talking to you,” said the middle-aged woman.
I did not hesitate to say, “I wasn’t going to stop, but when you hit the ground, I felt obligated to.”
“Who the hell are you?” Asked Mister Michael. “Jesus?”
I laughed. “Oh, not at all.”
And then a voice from the other side of the platform asked, “Is everything okay over there?”
I turned to see a woman holding a small child. “Yes, help is on the way,” I said.
“So Jesus,” said Mister Michael, with eyes wide open. I assumed he was talking to me. “I’m sick of your favors. Please let me die in peace next time. Okay?”
“Such nonsense,” said the middle-aged woman.
I could hear footsteps entering the platform we were standing on. I turned toward them and saw the younger woman coming our way, with a man in uniform following her. The man reached into his back pocket for his phone, and raised it to his mouth. “I’m here on the Southbound side,” He said. “There’s a man down, and I’m approaching him.”
The four of us stood over Mister Michael while the man in uniform put on a pair of blue rubber gloves. His phone, now in his pocket, spoke to him. “Is all clear?” It asked and then beeped.
He responded. “I have a man here. He’s a white man, with mouse brown hair, appears to be about fifty-five,” he said, lifting Mister Michael up from the ground by his shoulders.
Mister Michael struggled to lift himself up, and as he did, he said, “I’m ten years older than you think, buddy.”
“Can you walk on your own?” Said the man in uniform.
Mister Michael, about six feet tall, looked down at his feet, as if to command them to walk by simply looking at them. Then, he, gingerly, took a step forward, and then another, and another with the man in uniform holding his elbow.
Me and the two women watched them make it to the elevator. Once they were on we sighed and thanked each other for the help.
While leaving the station, about to go our separate ways, the middle-aged woman chuckled and asked, “When’s the last time somebody called you Jesus?”
I shrugged, feigning indifference, but now that I think about it, that was a first.