Sunday, July 22, 2007

partially blind

The rain is finally coming down after a night of menacing flashes out over the sea. Thursday night clubbers are clustering under awnings and in doorways trying to escape the downpour as it scours the pavements. They watch us, giving us whistles and claps, as we jump out of the ambulance and patter squealing over to the old apartment block.
Above the entrance is the name 'Adastra House' picked out in modish black letters; an intricate pattern of bars criss-cross the upper half of each double door. Many of the stained glass panels are missing, replaced by pieces of crudely fixed wood and cardboard. Most of the black and white floor tiles are still in place, with a bouquet of bleach and a finish of urine and dirt.
'Art Deco', says Rae.
'Uh-huh,' but the architects of this doorway to the modern age must surely have had higher aspirations than us.
I ring the bell for Flat 54, wait, and then a young voice tells me to push. Inside, the lobby is deeply shadowed, its curved mahogany desk untended.
We ride the battered brass elevator to the fifth floor. Out along the corridor, each flat door has the stump or more of a cute little electric lamp, many of which are still working. And at the end of this dingy landing-strip, by the furthest door, a woman is standing watching us with her arms crossed.
My first impression is that she has something bulky strapped onto the left side of her head. But when I get closer, I see that where her right eye should be is a ghastly swollen mass. Her left eye is fine and proportionate, but her right is like the cartoon of a sad and sleepy eye thinly scribbled onto the side of an ostrich egg.
'I'm Spence and this is Rae', I say. 'Can we go inside for a minute?' Although as soon as I've said this I wonder whether the assailant is still around. As we follow her in I put my response bag fully onto my back to free up my hands.
'Is the person who did this to you still here?'
'No. He called the ambulance and then went.'
Rae says: 'That was nice of him.'
'Have you called the police?'
'He said I'd better not.'
She stands hugging herself. The stale air stirs in the flat like an alcoholic gruel around the jumble of her furniture and belongings. It would be impossible to tell if a fight had just occurred here; no doubt it always looks like this.
'I can't find my work keys,' she says. 'I absolutely have to go to work in the morning.'
She studies me with her good eye. 'Do you think I'll be able to go to work in the morning?'
'Let's just take this one step at a time,' I say, reverting to cliché reassurance. 'What's your name?'
'Tell me what's happened to you tonight, Claudia.'
Claudia starts to cry, clear tears from her left eye and blood stained tears from her right. She tells me she is twenty four, but has the physique and demeanour of a sixteen year old girl.
'Do you know the person who did this to you?'
'My boyfriend.'
'Has he done this before?'
'Not really. He's punched me once or twice, but not hard. Pulled me around by my hair. But he isn't really like this.'
'So tell me what happened.'
'We'd been drinking. Not much. We had an argument, it got out of hand, and he punched me.'
'Were you knocked out?'
'Well, I woke up in the bath. The shock of it - I didn't know what happened. This terrible bang. Then I found myself in the bath looking up at him. And he was saying "My God, your eye", and then he called for an ambulance, and went.'
Rae gives me a look, nods towards the door.
'Claudia - you need to come with us to hospital to get your eye sorted out right now. And that's not the only reason we should go, because to be honest I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the person who did this to you could walk in that door at any time.'
Claudia flinches. 'Oh - you'll be fine. He's really not - that way.'
'Well, excuse me for being blunt, but this is a man who has just punched you in the face as hard as he can. I think it's fair to say he absolutely IS that way.'
Claudia starts to cry again.
'Help me look for my keys,' she says.

Out on the ambulance we try to gently open her right eye to gauge the injury, but it's closed too tightly now. Claudia tells us that he doesn't wear rings, so maybe there isn't a cut. But there is obvious damage here, and the swelling will have to be relieved as soon as possible.
Claudia lies quietly on the trolley as we take her blood pressure and other observations. There is a knock on the door. Rae opens it cautiously, and a policeman looks inside.
'Hello' he says, taking his hat off and tucking it under his arm.
Claudia sits up.
'Who called them?'
'It's okay,' I say, easing her back down. 'Our Control always sends the police along in these situations. But you know, Claudia - I'm glad they're here, for lots of reasons. Despite what your boyfriend says, I think the police should definitely get involved.'
She seems to accept this, and relaxes back.
The policeman pulls out a notebook.
'This is Claudia,' says Rae. 'Claudia's been assaulted by her boyfriend tonight.'
'You can say that again,' he says, but Claudia is thinking about other things and doesn't seem to register this.
'I absolutely have to go to work tomorrow,' she tells me.
'Where do you work?'
'I run the desk part-time for a hotel. I've got the keys. I'm a student at the moment - business and finance. But I need this job, and I had a lot of time off at the end of last year.'
'What happened to you last year?'
'I fell out of a window.'
I look at her. The policeman momentarily stops writing. I hardly dare ask, but do, anyway.
'Did you fall, or was your boyfriend involved somehow.'
She smiles up at me. 'Well - you know.'

No comments: