Silently calling her name, Chen Ge was slightly unsettled because he got no response. He turned to look behind him. The night was so dark that he could not see his own shadow.
"What are you doing?" The man noticed Chen Ge's strange action, and he commented in a low voice, "You don't look so good."
"This is the first time I've heard about a suicide prevention hotline operator. What do you do daily?" Chen Ge did not lose his footing. He immediately adjusted his emotions and led the topic away.
"There are more than a million people who die from suicide annually. This number far exceeds homicide, but this topic is seldom brought up due to taboo and shame. Actually, we should tackle it head on. When someone shows any suicidal tendencies, we should help and cure them, not isolate and blame them simply because we cannot understand them.
"No one is dumb enough to make light of their own life. When one is really pushed to that state, only they can understand the pain that they're experiencing." The man seemed to be reminded of something and looked into the horizon. "I was a suicide prevention hotline operator. Every day, I reached out toward those who were walking into the abyss. My wish was to tell them that there are people who are willing to help them in the world. I could not pull them back from the abyss, but the least I could do was to share with them the beauty of this world."
"That number is for a suicide prevention hotline?" Chen Ge nodded. "No wonder the tone of the people who talked to me was so weird."
"They're not weird. If you experienced the same thing as them, then perhaps you might be similar to them." The man turned around to look at Chen Ge. "Actually, those who have the firm desire to die will not call our number. Those who would call it have a love for this world buried deep in their heart. Their difference, their uniqueness, is actually a manifestation of them asking for help."
"Asking for help?"
"Yes, suicide is not a spur of the moment thing. The reason will be buried in their heart since a long time ago. Then suddenly, one day, due to a certain trigger, in that instant, the person will be overwhelmed by negative emotions. Many suicides are premeditated, but people around them rarely notice it. If they paid a little bit more attention and made some changes, so many lives could be changed."
The blood on the man's shirt was slowly fading. Even the tattoo on his face was lightening. This was the first time that Chen Ge had happened across something like that. The Red Specters that he had met before, no matter what happened, the blood on their appearance would barely change. The Red Specter before him seemed to be very different.
The man did not mind Chen Ge's eyes on him. He probably just wanted to find someone to talk to. "I've heard many reasons for suicide. A factory owner owed too much money after he tried to keep his factory running. At the last moment of his life, he did not have the courage to go home to face his family. When I accepted the call, the man who was around fifty kept on crying. His only wish was to see his children, but he couldn't do that. There were many similar situations. Whenever it was midnight, humanity would become incredibly fragile. Midnight to 3 am is the time when we would be the busiest. That is also when I failed to save someone for the first time."
With the track between them, Chen Ge and the man had not moved from their positions.
"Do you still remember the first number that you called?"
"The author once called me when he was still alive. I could hear the madness in his voice, but I had underestimated his resolution. I thought that he just wanted to share his story with someone because he sounded so calm, and I could not hear anything strange during our conversation—he just sounded a little bit down." When the man spoke, the blood tattoo on his face slowly shifted to become the face of another person.
"I remember it clearly. That was my first failed intervention. Even now, I can recite word for word our conversation that night." The man's voice was pained. "I read about him the next morning in the newspaper. I was swamped by regret. He had handed me his last hope, but I had ignored him. I was responsible for creating that tragedy.
"From then on, I would be extra careful when I talked to people, but the situation did not turn for the better.
"One month after that, I failed again. It was the man's thirtieth birthday. He purposely chose that day and wore his work outfit to bid farewell to the world at the place that was most meaningful to him." The man should be talking about the patient with Nobita-Giant Syndrome.
"A living man's life disappeared before my eyes, and I didn't stop it." The blood tattoo changed again. Chen Ge realized that whenever he talked about someone, the tattoo on his face would change. From his experience dealing with Specters, the lingering spirits of those who had committed suicide had probably entered the man's body. In other words, the man was shouldering the pressure of all the lingering spirits alone.
"My third failure happened the next day. I was planning to personally visit the previous victim." For the first time, the man's tone changed. "He was really a very kind person. I once asked him what his wish was. The answer that he gave me was that he was worried that the landlady might not be able to rent the place if he died there, so he purposely sought someplace else. He had left the utility fee on his luggage, but he had no friends, so he hoped that I would help him inform the landlady and pass the money to her.
"I had a long chat with him that night until he fell asleep. I should have called the police, but I had no idea where he was.
"Before this incident ended, I had another caller. He suffered from cancer and was ravaged by illness. Different from other callers, he called me in the morning. He had planned this for a long time." The man turned to look at Chen Ge. "My job is to pull one from the depths of despair, but that day, I did not do something like that. Perhaps it was the pressure, or maybe it was the multiple failures, but that day, I did not talk him away from suicide but chose to respect his choice."
Whenever the man mentioned the victim, the blood tattoo on his face would change.
"I didn't do the job that I was supposed to, but have I done something wrong?" The man's emotions were running wild. "All the calls that we received at the center were recorded, and it was no different for that call. I have no idea what happened later, but not long after his incident, the last conversation that he had with me on the phone was revealed to the public."