I can see him now. Standing quietly browsing the book shelves, dressed in brown jeans, shirt and a raincoat. Occasionally taking down a book to peruse. He was someone who didn’t stand out, someone who blended in with the rush of the lunchtime crowd. An ordinary everyday sort of person. I am sure that if I saw him in the street or at the bus stop I would have a twinge of recognition followed by the blankness of not knowing where have I seen him before.
That terrible day is etched in my mind with a permanence that will be with me for the rest of my life.
It was an overcast Tuesday in February and, like most Tuesday lunchtimes, I was behind the counter serving customers. I saw him come in and make his way to the far corner of the shop. He stopped at one of the book shelves and just stared straight ahead without picking anything out for a further look. It was like he was looking but not seeing. Fixed in the moment.
After a few minutes he removed his raincoat, shirt and trousers. No one else in the shop paid much attention as he undressed himself. He then reached for something in his raincoat and began pouring a liquid over himself. A flame erupted as he struck a match. I rushed to stop him but the flames had taken hold by the time I got there. He just stood still as his flesh burned and accepted certain death.
It’s odd how we make our choices. Sometimes we have a thousand options with no clear path and sometimes we just have one choice. I guess his choice was the only one he could make. I often wonder if I would make the same choice given the same circumstances.