I knock once and then test the door. It's open. Calling 'Robert?' and 'Ambulance' we step into the flat. The first thing I see are a pair of legs in a room off to the left, and then as we push our way further inside, the whole man, lain out on his back on the dirty brown carpet, his shirt off, his arms outstretched, his head turned to one side, spread out like the martyred lord of all studio flats.
I step quickly across to him, kneel down and say loudly 'Are you all right?' into his ear. I pinch his earlobe. No response. 'This is for real' I think, and am just about to check his airway when F. leans in and rubs him vigorously with his knuckles in the centre of his chest.
Robert grimaces and opens his eyes wide. 'Ow! What did you do that for, man? That really hurt.'
'We were worried about you, Robert.' And then, covering my surprise. 'We didn't know if you were alive or not.'
'But you didn't need to do that. Why did you have to hurt me like that for? Fuck.'
F. withdraws his rough healing hand. Robert sits up. An invisible cloud of rancid sweat and alcohol rises up with him. There are several little bottles of pills on the floor next to him, some empty, some half full. I pick one up and ask him what he's taken.
'Who cares?' he says, swatting the question away. His eyes are fat, and there is a line of dried red wine running from the corner of his mouth to his ear.
'We care, Robert.'
'Just leave me alone. Just get out and let me die.'
'We can't do that, mate. We need to know you're okay.'
The room has so little in it, it seems emptier than if it were actually bare. A television in one corner. A sofa, an armchair, a bookcase with a packet of cigarettes and a mobile phone. Two dumbells on the floor. Every piece of furniture, even the paper on the walls, seems to be losing its light to the corrupting brown tide of this carpet. Robert suddenly looks up at us.
'What do you want with me?'
'We want to help you, Robert. We think you should come with us into the ambulance so we can check you over, and then maybe come to the hospital.'
'I'm not going. I just want to die.'
'Who called us, Robert?'
He passes the tip of his tongue over his chapped lips and then says quietly:'I did.'
'Well, then. That makes me think a part of you really doesn't want to die.'
He follows the logic of this, through a fog of nausea. Then: 'I couldn't hurt my parents. It would kill them.'
'So for their sake, come with us to hospital. Give yourself a chance. Give them a chance. And then take it from there.'
Robert rubs his chest. 'Okay. First I need a piss.'
We help him up, and he staggers off into the bathroom. Whilst he's in there, above the torrent of his urine, I hear him muttering intensely: 'I’m going to hurt someone tonight,’ he says, ‘I’m going to fuck someone up. Badly. Two hits.'
Out in the ambulance F. drives and I sit in the back. Robert refuses to give me any other details, not his last name, his date of birth, his GP. He lies back in the seat with his eyes closed and his forehead crossed with uncomfortable thoughts. I ask him a few times if it would be okay for me to take his blood pressure and other obs, but I'm cautious. He's been co-operative up until now, but I don't want to provoke him.
The journey to hospital is short. I wake him up when we arrive, and when F. opens the doors we help him down into a chair and wheel him in. I handover the details to the nurse in charge who listens with a blank face.
‘Last name?’ he drones. I tell him that he would only give me his first name.
‘Cubicle Three,’ he says with a sigh. When we wheel Robert past the desk, he looks up sharply and says: ‘What’s your last name?’
Robert makes a drunken pantomime of ignoring this question, but the nurse suddenly stands up and says: ‘Hey! Give me your last name.’
Robert says ‘Redland’
‘Redford?’, he snorts, ‘Don’t tell me we’ve got Robert Redford in tonight.’
‘Redland’, says Robert again. I’m astonished he’s being so coherent and submissive.
‘Okay Mr Robert Redland.'
We wheel him to Cubicle Three. Robert slumps back into the chair and puts both hands over his face.
As we pass the desk the nurse in charge says: 'There’ll be someone over in a minute.' And he writes his name up on the board with a fat blue marker.