June 2013 – hang on – The Phone Call by John Pilling


 by John Pilling

Her hand shook a little and her fingers were clumsy as she tapped out the 999 number. Putting the phone to her ear she glanced again out of the window to confirm her first shocked view. The young man was still there. Silhouetted against the grey concrete of the tower block he was poised on the very edge of the balcony of the flat opposite hers. The phone crackled and a voice in her ear said .

Emergency, which service do you require?”

Oh hello yes,” she said, “I’m not sure really, but there is a young man on the balcony outside..”

Is he attempting to break in?”

Oh no, no I don’t mean that, I think…”

Hang on please…connecting you.”


Oh hello, yes, I’d like to report there’s a young man on a balcony outside….”

Just one moment please.” The phone clicked a couple of times then a new voice came on.

Crime investigation, can I help you?”

Oh hello, yes, I’d like to report there’s a young man on a balcony outside….”

Could I have your name please madam?”

Oh yes, my name is Mrs Jean Agnes Barker.”

And the address madam?”

Flat 294, Hornchurch mansions Bayswater.”

Thank you, now this a man on the balcony. Is he attempting to break in? are the patio doors locked?”

No no, that’s not right, he’s not trying to break into my flat he’s on the balcony of the flat opposite.”

I see, you think that he’s trying to break into the flat opposite, do you happen to know the number of that flat?”

No no you’ve got it wrong, I don’t think he’s trying to break in anywhere, in fact I think he may actually live in that flat, I’m sure I’ve seen him there before.” There was a pause then the voice said.

So what you’re reporting madam is that you think that the man on the balcony of the flat opposite lives there”

Yes, yes that’s what I’m telling you but…”

You do realise madam that wasting police time is an offence?”

Oh for Heavens sake.” said Miss Barker desperately.

Will you please listen to me, there is a young man balancing on the edge of the balcony of the flat opposite mine and I think he is going to jump off…I think he may be going to kill himself.”

Oh I see” said the voice “I’m sorry, so you think this is a possible suicide attempt.”

Yes I do, he’s right on the edge.”

And this man is on a flat balcony you say?”

Yes, look please can you do something he may jump at any moment.”

I think you need to contact the fire service. They usually deal with this sort of thing as they have the equipment, ladders and so forth if you like to hang on I’ll transfer you.” There were a couple of clicks on the phone followed by a long silence then just as Miss Barker was about to hang up a female voice said.

Hallo, fire service, could I have your name and address please?”

Yes, my name is Jean Agnes Barker and I live at flat 294 Hornchurch mansions Bayswater”

Thank you madam, are you calling from that address? is that where the fire is?”

No, no there is no fire at all…”

Why did you phone the fire service if there is no fire?”

I didn’t, I phoned the police,they put me on to you as they said you could help”

Help with what madam?”

For Gods sake …what the hell’s the matter with you people?…listen to me, there is a young man on the balcony opposite my flat….”

I must tell you Madam ” the voice said coldly “the fire service has a policy of zero tolerance to any form of verbal abuse, unless you moderate your language this call will be terminated and you will be reported to my superiors.”

I’m sorry” said Miss Barker “It’s just that I’m sure he is going to throw himself off the balcony and I can’t seem to get any help at all.”

Do you know this man? Have you any reason to think that he is going to jump?

No, I don’t know him personally, it’s just the way he’s standing right on the edge looking down, please can you send someone, I’m sure something dreadful is going to happen”

You say he’s on a balcony, do you know how many floors up it is?

Well my flat is on the tenth floor and his is directly opposite”

Just a moment please” there was a long pause then the voice said.

I’m told that we do not have the equipment to reach to that height and that this would be better handled by the police who have the authority to enter the flat to try to talk to the man. Would you like me to transfer you?”

No thank you,” said Mrs Barker quietly. “I rather think it’s too late now anyway.”

Slowly she put the phone down and moved to the window to confirm what she had seen from the corner of her eye. The balcony opposite was empty and looking down she could see a huddled figure on the ground surrounded by a rapidly growing crowd.


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