On cold steps a girl sits, hysterical. It is the night of her twentieth birthday and her boyfriend has broken up with her. Mascara melts with tears as she asks, between snatched breaths, what did she do to deserve that?
In another part of town, two boys scour their house for take-away menus. “Damn it,” the first says, “they’re always in the middle drawer, who the hell moved them?”. The second watches, immobile from the sofa. “That was last year’s house bro. Different house, different drawers,” he grins, “same dumb house-mate”
Another house holds a couple with worries of another kind. The girl’s period is nine days late. A question mark floats warm, comfortable within her womb. The couple cannot spend another night like this; waiting, wondering.
Head in knots, a girl tries to figure out where, exactly, she is. A long way from home, she thinks. Somewhere fenced off by deadlines, policed by supervisors who don’t exist. Somewhere with strange people.
In a place where the clocks read 4:00AM, the nocturnal glow from an LCD computer screen lights a boy’s face. His fingers tap, unheard on the keyboard. I haven’t eaten for three days he writes. Presses send.
Leaning against a wall, a second year fumbles with a phone and a student card. He wonders why the building is swaying. Eyes blurred from drink, he confuses the two phone numbers on the back of the card. Nightline, Nightbus.
“Hello, Nightline”, I say.
“Hi,” he says, “could you come and pick me up from the DSU please mate”.
I explain to him that I’m not driving the Nightbus. In fact, I’m sitting in an office that isn’t going anywhere very fast; it has a top speed of zero. I make sure he has the correct number for the bus and we say our goodbyes.
Though now graduated, I was a volunteer of Durham Nightline for two years. The anonymity of its members is essential to its role, and during my time with the organisation, I told just five of my closest friends what I did during my night time disappearances.
“Who calls up?”, each of the five inevitably asked.
Whilst the scenarios described at the start of this article are fictional, they suggest in the best way I can the sort of call that Nightline might receive. But they are entirely unpredictable. Every time I answered a call, skype or drop-in, it was to some completely unique situation.
Broadly speaking, Nightline is used in three ways: as an information service; for safe-sex supplies; and as a listening service. Whilst the first two are easily graspable, the third is often misunderstood. A listening service could be used for many reasons. Perhaps to talk about something that couldn’t be discussed with a friend; something too delicate, too fragile. Perhaps a person doesn’t want to meet “I know the feeling…” and “I think that you should…” things we are all in the habit of saying. Perhaps somebody has a mixed up head and could use a little help in untangling it, or perhaps they simply want someone there.
The benefit derived from talking to a faceless stranger can be difficult to understand, and for many students, a mild inbox nuisance is all Nightline will ever be. But for some students, it might be much more.