‘We’re all standing on the front talking about where to go next. Out of nowhere this funny looking guy comes up to us and asks if we know where he can get something to eat. Joe just stands there, all Joe-like, in that way he has, and he says “We passed a meat place back that way.” And the guy says “Meat?” And Joe says “Yeah, you know. Meat.” The guy looks at him kind of weird – like “Why would you be saying meat to me?” Then he turns round and walks off. So then we carry on talking about where to go next. Suddenly the guy’s back with a gang of his mates. Real rough types. One of them gives him a kind of leg-up, he literally flies up into the air behind Joe, and brings his fist down – wham – as hard as he can, right on the back of his head. Joe falls to the ground, and the gang runs off.”
She’s standing with the focus of her weight on her left leg, swinging her hips gently from side to side and hugging herself with both arms. It’s like she’s trying to rock an invisible baby to sleep.
‘Why would you do that?’ she says. ‘What’s wrong with people?’
‘Where’s my hat? Oh bloody hell I can’t have lost my hat. I’ve got to go back. I haven’t had it long.’
Mick is standing up in the back of the ambulance rooting through the pockets of his combat jacket. He dumps the contents onto the seat that he should be sitting on: an unopened can of cider, a bag of rolling tobacco, a scrunched up copy of the Big Issue, some Werthers Originals. The congealed blood on the top of his spikily shaven head glistens in the interior light.
“Mick. Sit down mate. We’ll think about your hat in a moment. The most important thing now is to take a look at your head.”
“No. You don’t understand. I can’t lose my hat. I just can’t.”
‘What sort of hat is it?’
‘Brown. Furry. Ear flaps. I haven’t had it long.’
‘I’m sure we’ll find it just as soon as we’ve finished treating you.’
There’s a policewoman standing in the road looking in at the back door of the ambulance. ‘Don’t worry about your hat,’ she says. ‘The whole place is a crime scene. No one’s going in or out. Your hat’s quite safe.’
‘No. No it’s not. It’ll be gone. With the rest of my stuff. I’ve got to go.’
‘Will you let us at least clean your head before you leave?’
‘Oh – quickly then. But be quick. My hat’ll go before you know it, and I can’t lose my hat.’
Rae shines a light on the top of his head and I start to clean the wound with some sterile water. Mick has been bottled in the park, knocked clean out. I can see and feel toothy shards of green glass in the gashes.
‘This is a serious wound, Mick. You’re going to have to come to the hospital for treatment.’
‘No. I can’t go to the hospital. I won’t.’
‘Is it your hat you’re worried about?’
‘Yes. Yes – my hat. But what’s the point going to the hospital? They won’t give me methadone there.’
‘Methadone? Well – I don’t know about that. But you can certainly talk to someone there about it. The most important thing …’
‘Yes. Yes. The most important thing. The most important thing is that I get back to the park and find my hat. I can’t lose my hat. Not my hat. Enough’s gone wrong today without losing my hat. Jesus Christ. And don’t worry about the methadone. I’ll just have to score some heroin tonight and think about the rest tomorrow.’
The policewoman takes one step into the ambulance.
‘So will you be pursuing this assault, Michael? It’s a serious thing that’s happened to you. You should take the advice of these good ambulance people here and go on up to the hospital.’
‘No. Forget it. I didn’t call anyone. Leave me alone.’
He re-stuffs his pockets, and suffers to stay still just long enough to have a bandage taped around his head.
‘So what happened exactly?’
‘I was asleep on a bench. Suddenly this guy was shaking me awake. I said “What do you want?” and he said something like: “Do you want to feel pain?” and I was confused and I said “What do you mean? Say what again?” He bent down to put his bag on the floor, I sat up, he produced a bottle, smashed it over my head, knocked me out. Next thing I knew I was walking out of the park and some kids were asking if I was all right.”
‘You’ve got to get this wound treated, Mike,’ I say to him. ‘It needs cleaning out and gluing.’
‘No it doesn’t. It’ll be fine. I can’t be doing with all this.’
He makes to walk off the vehicle.
‘I’m serious, mate. It’ll get infected. It’s got glass in it, for goodness sake.’
‘Infected', he says, bending down to retrieve a toffee that’s fallen on the floor. ‘Thanks for all you’ve done. I appreciate it, I really do. But this is ridiculous. I’m going.’
And he’s gone.