The woman sees the man climb on to the bridge railing as she arcs down the sweeping bend towards the river. She pulls to the side of the road, calls 000.
She gets out of her car and approaches, carefully. Tells the man she wants to talk. More importantly, to listen to what he has to say.
The second car passing is driven by a ‘tradie’ on his way to work. He also halts mid-way across the bridge. Now two people entreat the man on the edge, trying desperately to connect with him.
Perhaps he is past listening. Bereft. Beyond hope of help or understanding. As the woman continues her heartfelt appeals he topples.
A third motorist, another tradesman, recognises his colleague’s ute and stops. He follows their gaze down from the bridge. Sees a person bob up from the dark green water below. No. No. No.
He’s not a confident swimmer but determines to sprint down to the water. Shed his work gear and plunge into the current. Do something, anything. The woman beseeches him not to, saying he will be dragged down and may also perish.
The man below bobs up again. Then, after an agonisingly long moment, a third time. The second tradesman runs to his car and returns with ropes to lower as a lifeline but they’re not long enough. The bridge is too high.
The man in the water doesn’t resurface.
Another car approaches. It jags to a halt and is abandoned in the middle of the tarmac. Minutes earlier, this distraught fourth driver found an envelope. He tore it open to find a statement of intent. A farewell from a friend.
The letter writer had an appointment with the Immigration Department on this day. A fortnight earlier his cousin’s application to remain in Australia was refused. The cousin was taken to the airport and put on a plane. Immediately, unwillingly, fearfully, forcefully returned to his country of origin.
The letter writer couldn’t, wouldn’t face that same possible fate.
The man’s death echoes through the lives of at least five families. Those who stopped on the bridge are left asking what might have been. Could they have said something different? What if the ropes were longer? What if they hadn’t lingered over a cuppa at breakfast? Seconds and centimetres might have made a difference.
And, leaking through the morass of unanswerable questions, comes a bilious realisation that sours with each hour. An awareness that the system failed this man and his loved ones.
The system that criminalises people for seeking sanctuary or refuge in a safe place.
The system that takes the desperate, despairing and traumatised and compounds their suffering, yet seemingly washes its hands of their welfare.
The system that incarcerates children.
The system that doesn’t specify time limits on detention (while in the justice system convicted killers and rapists get minimum sentences).
The system administered by Australia. That means us.