Eleni, the ninety three year old Greek-born resident of these flats, sits on the floor, propped up against an armchair with her withered legs drawn up. Her cream dressing gown is patterned with splotches of blood. She looks across at us as the warden, James, shows us into the room, and she raises a hand feebly in acknowledgement.
‘Ninety three and steady on her pins,’ he says, proudly showing off his favourite, but in the pause that follows no one could be in any doubt that times have moved on.
‘Then again, she has started falling over a little bit these past few weeks.’
She tuts, and shakily tries to pluck away some hair sticking to her face.
‘Eleni has cerebral atrophy,’ says James, ‘which means she has difficulty remembering things sometimes. And her English was never that good to begin with.’ He steps aside with a red-faced flourish. ‘Over to the professionals. I’ll go and make a few calls.’
‘No hospital,’ she snaps up at us, grumpily.
It seems Eleni has fallen over in her little kitchenette sometime in the last three hours, an event born out by the dried blood on her face, and the way the wound’s edge has curled back on itself. She has knocked a sixpenny sized hole into her head just above her left eye; beneath the congealed lumps you can just make out the dull glimmer of bone.
‘Toilet,’ Eleni says, gripping my hand. ‘Bring me.’
We give her a quick assessment for other injuries, then ask James to bring the commode over so we can lift her straight onto it. I give her a few moments privacy to relieve herself, then start in with the cleaning of the wound.
‘This will need a trip up to the hospital, I’m afraid,’ I tell her. She narrows her eyes at me and hisses. ‘This is a nasty wound, Eleni. We can’t just treat it here. It needs some specialised attention.’
Eleni seems to whince more at the prospect of a trip up to the hospital than my dabbing clean of the area. I do what I can, then tie a dampened bandage to her head. From where we stand around her we can see into the kitchenette, the smashed plate of food on the floor, cold ratatouille mixed with blood and a pair of broken glasses on the top like some tragic garnish.
James comes back into the room.
‘I’ve spoken to Henry,’ he says, bending close-in to Eleni and speaking loudly. ‘He’s going to set off right away, says he should be up the hospital by close of play today.’ James rubs her shoulder affectionately then straightens up and says to us: ‘Her son, Henry. Well – I say son – he’s seventy odd himself. He’s a consultant at a hospital somewhere up north a-ways. He’ll be retiring himself, soon.’
We move with Eleni out of the room, and as I wait for James to open the door, I notice a beautifully framed, formally posed photograph on the wall – a young nurse sitting down, and a young man in a uniform standing behind her, one hand on her shoulder, the other by his side. James catches me looking at it.
‘Eleni’s husband. Flight lieutenant Frank Clements. Shot out of the skies over Alexandria in forty one.’ Then to Eleni: ‘See you soon, Trouble,’ and leads us all to the lifts.