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Two weeks ago something quite strange happened. I talked a man off a bridge - and that proved to be just the beginning. Now I am trying to raise a little money to get him back on his feet and to prove that there is always light in the darkness.
Here's what happened...
It was a rather average Wednesday afternoon, the day after my birthday in fact, when I left my office near London Bridge to get some lunch. Walking along the busy dual carriageway, exactly as I've done thousands of times before, I glanced up at the footbridge above and saw something that stopped me in my tracks. A man stood on the brink.
He was all alone, clutching the railing behind him and staring down at the trucks and cars below with a cigarette, which had completely turned to ash, dangling from lips. I raced up the stairs and approached him slowly without a clue as to what to say. I started talking. I introduced myself, I asked what had happened to make him feel so desperate and I asked if he would come and have a coffee with me. He didn’t respond. I told him that I understood how it feels to be so low and that no matter how dark life may seem, no matter how hopeless it may feel, there’s always something you can do, that it’s ok to feel like this and ask for a little help sometimes.
All the while my heart was thumping out my chest and my internal dialogue kept repeating the same macabre mantra: ‘Please don’t jump. Dear God, please don’t jump.’ Out the corner of my eye I could see people stroll past with their lunches from Pret, oblivious to what was happening or, perhaps, choosing to turn a blind eye. ‘Mate, please,’ I pleaded. ‘I’ve had a really sh*tty day and I’d love to go for a coffee. Will you come with me?’
At last, he spoke. He agreed and slowly turned around. Praying he wouldn’t slip, I could barely watch. Safely on the other side of the barrier, he collapsed into my arms, a grown man sobbing on the shoulder of a stranger. I held out my hand and introduced myself again. “I’m Marco*,” he said, his voice barely a whimper. It took Marco, early 30s and originally from Rome, a few moments before he felt able to start walking but soon we were on the move and heading towards the nearest café.
We talked – or rather I talked and Marco listened for he was still unable to speak. “Are you upset that Italy are not in the World Cup?” I asked. “Is that what this is all about?”
He laughed at my (terrible) joke and slowly began to open up. “I’m tired of life,” he kept saying before revealing he had, some days earlier, been forced to sell his most treasured possession: his guitar.
Sadly we didn’t make it to the café. The police turned up and took over just as Marco’s tears had started to subside. The officers spoke to him kindly but also handcuffed him (routine I was told) despite him being calm and not in the least bit confrontational which caused a great deal of distress.
Marco was placed in the police car while another officer interviewed me about what had happened after which I went to say goodbye. “These people are here to help you, Marco,” I said. “I know it may not feel like that but it’s true and you have nothing to worry about. I promise we will have that coffee one day.”
The police thanked me and I walked away, shaking and numb, and on the brink of tears. I suppose I was expected to continue my day as normal but how could I? The incident had a deep and profound effect on me. I could think of little else, constantly wondering how Marco was and how I would’ve coped had I not been able to persuade him to climb back over the railing. ‘I said the wrong thing, I didn’t do enough, I should’ve called the police…’
Thankfully that didn’t happen but it could have and I thought about it constantly nonetheless. It also brought to the fore my own debilitating battle with depression and for several torturous days I felt the terrifying symptoms take hold once more. It scared me beyond belief.
I called the police to find out how Marco was but, of course, they were unable to reveal any details. I had done my best to help someone in their moment of need, but I was no hero. I did no more than what anyone else would have done, and I hoped he was receiving the help he so clearly needed.
Fast forward two weeks and a day, to yesterday, and I walking past St. Paul’s Cathedral when I once again stopped in my tracks. “That’s him,” I exclaimed. There, sat by the main steps in the London sunshine, was Marco.
After a moment’s hesitation. I approached him and at first he didn’t recognise me and seemed rather confused. Then, suddenly, the penny dropped. His eyes widened and filled with tears as he embraced me. “You saved my life. Another ten seconds and it would have been very different.”
This time, Marco was engaging, almost animated. He told me that they kept him in hospital for a while and he has since been sleeping in the gardens behind the cathedral while trying to find a job, having spent his last few pounds on a shirt to look presentable. “But it’s not easy because I don’t have anybody here, no phone and no computer to make a CV,” he said in a thick Italian accent.
We hatched a plan. “Meet me here tomorrow morning at 8am. I will bring my laptop and we will make you a CV together.” And that’s what we did.
Over breakfast – I knew we would have that coffee one day – I set him up with an email and wrote his CV. It turns out Marco is quite the worker having taught himself English and worked hard in kitchens across the capital, progressing from porter to assisting chefs in restaurants that we all know and frequent.
He doesn’t want to return to his homeland. He loves this city and wants to do something meaningful there, build a life for himself, but there are still challenges to overcome. With no permanent address, no telephone and no means to shower etc, it is difficult to apply for and secure a job, so I aim to raise a modest amount of money to help get him back on his feet and prove there is always hope even in the darkest of times.
The money will go towards the deposit and 2-3 months’ rent on a room in London, providing him with a safe place that will enable him to secure employment and start building a life for himself.
Marco doesn’t know I am doing this and has not once asked me for money (except for £1 so he could go to the library and print his CVs) and I will personally ensure that any money raised will be paid directly to the estate agent and/or landlord.
I don’t believe my two chance encounters with Marco are coincidence. “Why are you helping me?” he asked me on the steps of St. Paul’s. The answer was simple. “We all need a little help sometimes.”
Thank you for reading and, of course, for your generosity.
*name has been changed
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- 13 days ago
Nick Boulos13 days ago
Wow! We've just hit our target and I wanted to say a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you for your wonderful messages and generous donations. It means so much. I hope to see Marco and share the news in the next day or so and get straight to work finding him a permanent place. Any extra we raise will go towards essentials (a phone, some new clothes etc) and, maybe, a new guitar. He was heartbroken at having to sell his and we all need something in our lives that brings joy. Thank you again. I can't say it enough. Nick
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Aug 8, 2018
Amazing story, thoughts of positivity and light to you and Marco- Chloe x
Aug 7, 2018
What a beautiful, inspiring and touching message of hope and kindness xx
Aug 7, 2018
Dear Nic you have such a kind sole. Marco is such a lucky man to have found you in his time of need. Keep up your great work. I'm sure Marco will recover well back into society with your care for him.
Aug 6, 2018
Aug 6, 2018
Aug 6, 2018
Aug 6, 2018
Well done for caring enough Nick, best wishes to your new friend. X
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