By Paul Pekin

“I made a big mistake,” said the woman, who was standing on the platform at the Logan Square el stop. “I had a chance to save my life.”

My instinct was to recoil. The woman looked straight enough–middle-aged and decently dressed. She was even pulling one of those wheeled suitcases people drag back and forth to airports. But my thought was, she’s going to ask for money.

“I made a big mistake,” she repeated. “I had a chance to save my life.”

I retreated a few steps. So did my wife. We were heading downtown with tickets to the Civic Orchestra in our pockets.

The woman followed. “I was supposed to be in Israel, but I missed my plane. I made a big mistake. I had a chance to save my life.”

“Well, isn’t there another plane?” I asked. “Can’t you just take another flight?”

“I made a big mistake. I had a chance to save my life.”

I saw that she wasn’t going to ask for money. In one sense this was a relief, since my feelings toward street beggars are becoming less and less charitable. I more and more resent the stories they tell, the little scams they expect me to believe. I don’t like being taken for a mark.

But this woman presented a different problem. “When’s the next plane?” I asked.

Not till Tuesday, she said, then repeated, “I had a chance to save my life.”

“Well, where do you live?”

“I made a big mistake. I had a chance to save my life.”

I looked straight into her eyes. She looked straight back and said, “I made a big mistake.”

“Yes, you said that. What can I do for you?”

“I had a chance to save my life.”

I looked down the tracks and saw the southbound train stopped just beyond the platform. I felt a sense of relief. My wife and I would get on board and be free of this woman. We would go to our concert. Meanwhile the woman would still be telling strangers, “I had a chance to save my life.” Or would she do something else?

She walked north on the platform, toward another couple. They were standing much too close to the blue warning path that runs along the edge of the platform. Soon I could see her talking to them.

The train hadn’t moved. I made up my mind. As soon as it did move, I was going to get next to that woman and be ready in case she tried to jump. Until then, however, I would let the other couple deal with her.

But the train was stalled and stayed stalled. And now I saw a train on the other track, headed in the opposite direction, standing motionless just beyond the platform. “Wait here,” I told my wife.

I hurried to the stairway. CTA ticket booths are no longer occupied, but an employee is always supposed to be on duty by the turnstiles. One employee for the entire station. I saw a man in a CTA uniform walking toward the booth, but as soon as he saw me he turned his back and walked out of sight. As I climbed the stairs, wondering what to do, the employee returned. I called out, “There’s a woman down there.”

“I know,” he said. “She’s been bothering people. I called the police.”

Suddenly I understood why the trains were standing just beyond the platform.

It took several minutes–not nearly as many as it seemed–for the police to arrive. No sooner had they reached the woman than the trains started and my wife and I boarded. As the train pulled away, four uniformed officers led the woman to safety. I knew what she was telling them.