Thursday, September 21, 2006

Outlaw

Ten o'clock and the night has the city cupped tightly in its hands. The pubs are crammed, their summer windows and doors swung wide, loud knots of people spreading and sprawling over the tables and pavements and traffic barriers. A generalised, insectivorous swell of noise, cut with clacking heels, beery chants of bravado, car horns, whistles, low beats and thumps, polyphonic ringtones and urgent conversations face to ear along the streets and at the bars and in the alleyways.

The streets are narrower here, darker, less populated. I drive slowly, reading the numbers, but even though I take my time, we realise that the address we want must be off a turning behind us, and this is a one way street. Rae jumps out to guide me back. As I reverse past it and then drive forwards to go in, Rae points to a dark gated opening. At the same time I see a man step out of the shadows in front of her. I drive up to them quickly and jump out, taking the keys but leaving the engine running.

'He's in there, man', he says. 'I've never seen him like this before.'

The weak overhead light dimly illuminates the heavy gold chain round his neck, his white teeth. I check myself to see if I can feel any greater sense of danger than my eyes can make out. Rae is standing with a studied neutrality; I know she is poised, too. She has the radio.

We follow him through the archway, which opens out into a large, rectangular courtyard, each side boxed in with two storeys of flats, some with lights on in the windows but mostly dark. There is just enough light spilling across the flagstones to pick out a tall, pale figure with a white handkerchief knotted around his face like an outlaw, pacing around and around a circular washing line.
'I've never seen him this bad.'
'Sorry - what's your name? Is he a relation of yours?'
'My name's Jon. He's my half-brother. I haven't seen him for two years. He just disappeared. Then he comes round looking like shit and talking nonsense. I heard he was having problems, but - this.'
'What's his name?'
'Eden', and then he shouts out: 'Eden! Someone here to see you, bro.'
Eden stops and watches as we walk across to him.
'Eden? My name's Rae. I'm with the ambulance. We're a bit worried about you, mate.'
Eden pulls his mask down. His hair is sticking up in spiky blond clumps. His face has a pinched intensity about it, a worrying hybrid of hunger and astonishment. His tracksuit bottoms are filthy and his shirt is unbuttoned to the waist. His feet are bare.
'What's happened tonight, Eden?'

And then he talks.

I have never heard a language like this. It is dangerously brittle, a crazy white boy patois, a pidgin jumble of mispronounced words, cut-and-shut clich├ęs, backward intonations, a flickering bedsit TV patois, a language so tangled to be almost incomprehensible. And yet, incredibly, it insinuates a meaning when I stop trying to understand.

He stops talking, takes out a small notebook, and begins urgently riffling through the pages.

Jon gives me a look. Rae touches me on the arm and we turn away briefly to discuss what we should do. Eden is obviously vulnerable, and may even pose a danger to others. I ask Jon if he would come with Eden if we were able to persuade him to come to hospital; Jon says he would normally, but he has some kittens up in his room and they can't be left alone. Rae says she will ask the police to attend. A Section 136 is perhaps the best thing in this case. She goes to make the call, whilst Jon and I turn back to Eden.

We lead him onto the ambulance, coaxing him delicately. I promise not to run any tests, and to leave the door open so he can leave at any time.

So we all sit in the ambulance, the three of us hoping that the police will turn up soon and Eden telling us about Jesus and faces and other questions. The pages of his notebook are almost black, written through with words. I can only make out two of them: ghost and structure.
The police don't come. Control tells Rae that they are hard-pressed tonight and can only do their best. Eden becomes more and more restless. Occasionally he falls out of his weird-speak into a relaxed, normal phrasing. It is startling, like a crowded room suddenly falling silent. But then the noise picks up again as strongly as before. He stands, and pulls up his mask. We cannot restrain him. He jumps out of the ambulance and lopes off down the road, his half-brother following him for a short distance, before he turns at the top of the road and is gone. A loud group of girls come round at the same time, and whether their shrieking laughter is directed at Eden or not, they jostle each other with their beautiful, bare shoulders, their sleek, Saturday night normality, and the night clatters on.

Jon comes back.

We make our apologies, goodbyes, green-up, run red to the next job.

No comments: