It was no accident. The boy picked his way across the unfenced plantation. He paused to examine a small sapling, his tree, the one he had planted during Beautification Week. He set down his school bag and knelt to adjust the rabbit mesh and pull out a few weeds, picked up the bag, and walked towards the tracks. Stepping carefully between the rails, he dropped the bag and faced the oncoming train. He raised his arms wide…

The driver sat in the station masters office, the big mug of hot tea in danger of spilling as bouts of shivering racked his body. One of the two station assistants whispering to each other near the door raised his voice and called across to him. “Hang in there, Jim. Doc Roberts is on his way. He just called us on his car phone. He’ll be here at any moment. Take a sip of your tea. It will do you good.” Jim made no reply. Gazing sightlessly through the little window facing the platform, he didn’t see the grumbling passengers pushing through the barrier gate as they jostled to get onto the emergency bus. He didn’t hear their caustic comments on railway efficiency. He heard only the sound of a thousand-tonne train, locked brakes screeching as the monster slid unstoppable towards the small figure with the upraised arms.

Dr Ben Roberts PhD. is a psychologist, not a medical man, but he is a specialist. His title may vary from job to job; grief counsellor, trauma debriefer, crisis adviser, but his tasks are much the same. He is a professional listener. Running a practised eye around facilities of the tiny station, he spoke quietly to the nervous official who had met him at the gate. “I’ll need somewhere quiet. And private!” he added. The station master rubbed his head. “Sandstone is a small station. What you see is what we’ve got. Just the ticket office, my office leading off it, and a storage shed — No windows! You’d be better off up the line. But then I don’t suppose you’ll want to drive him past there — not until they’ve tidied things up a bit.” A thought struck him. “Why don’t you try the local Community Health centre, they’d have a room and they’re only two minutes away by car. They’re a good mob down there. Give ’em a call and ask for Brian.”

The room was cheerful. Someone had placed fresh flowers in a bowl near the window and colourful posters decorated the walls. The furniture was showing signs of wear but was comfortable. Jim and Dr Ben sat in the easy chairs obliquely side by side gazing into the fireplace, where a single bar electric fire gave an illusion of warmth. Jim’s shivering had subsided now but his nervous energy had increased. He twisted his cap in his hands as the psychologist led him patiently through the necessary steps. Denial had now given way to Anger. It is okay to show anger Ben told him. He had something to be angry about. No one has the right to put this sort of burden on an innocent train driver. But he was only a boy… Ben braced himself for the next step: the onset of Guilt. This was the tricky bit. He must guide Jim to accepting that it was really not his fault, but he could not TELL him how to feel. Some people can never come to terms with taking another’s life, especially the life of a child. Ben watched compassionately as Jim faced this new struggle.

There was a knock on the door. Ben cursed silently and moved smoothly to the door. It was the resident medico reporting for duty. “They told me what happened.

If I can be of any help… Prescribing sedatives?” The young doctor was earnestly helpful. Ben spoke quietly, introducing himself. He thanked the doctor and promised to call him if it were necessary. He turned back to Jim who was silently gazing into the fire, large tears rolling down his face. Ben’s sigh of relief gave silent thanks. Jim had made it through to Grief. Now only time could help him. “I don’t know about you Jim, but I’m hungry. How about I shout you to lunch before I run you home?” Jim roused himself. “Thanks,” he said, “But how about the paperwork?” A true Railwayman thought Ben. Aloud he said, “Not to worry. I’ve got the forms in the car. We’ll rough out a preliminary after lunch and you can come to my office tomorrow to complete it.”

After Ben left Jim’s house, he pulled the car over into a handy parking bay. He picked up his car phone and called his counsellor. “Hi, Dr Friedman, it’s Ben Roberts. I’ve had another one today. Do you mind if I pop in for a chat?…”

© Copyright 1994 H.St.V.Beechey