A police car is parked outside the all-night pizza place, a small group of people standing outside. We walk over. A middle-aged man with a bloodied face is talking to a couple of officers. I wait just to the side whilst he finishes what he has to say, then introduce myself.
The man gives me a slantways look.
‘I don’t need no ambulance,’ he says. ‘I just want to go home.’
‘Let’s have a chat on the truck, clean you up a bit and see what the damage is, then we’ll decide what to do next.’
‘Okay. Fine. Whatever.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Is that a police question?’
‘No. It’s just a "what’s your name" type question.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Spence? Whatever kind of name is that? What’s your first name? Pound-Shilling?’
He smirks, then hawks some blood out onto the pavement.
‘So are you going to tell me your name?’
‘Oh. Yeah. My ‘name’. It’s Murphy. Okay? Easy one to spell.’
The policewoman gives me an apologetic look, then says to Murphy: ‘Just behave and go with these people. We’ve got all we need and we’ll be in touch.’
‘Great. Be in touch. I know what you mean.’
I help him into the truck. Rae shows him to a seat.
‘Tell us what happened.’
‘Life, that’s what happened, Henny Pen. I was just swapping banter with some kids in the pizza place, they went mental, I got a battering. This one guy, he just kept punching and punching me. As hard as he could, working his fist right into my face. I haven’t had a beating like that since I were a kid. For what? For talking like a normal human being. For being human.’
He gives his swollen face some exploratory prods with his finger, and winces.
‘I don’t deserve that. No one does. I know I can be a bit mouthy sometimes, but I’m a decent bloke, at the bottom of it all.’
I start to clean his head up with a saline-soaked gauze swab.
‘Were you knocked out, Murphy?’
‘It’ll take more than those chimps to put me down.’
‘Well you’ve got a deep cut just here that’ll need glueing. And I think you might need an x-ray to rule out any facial fractures.’
‘No mate. I just want to go home and sleep it off.’
‘That’s not something we’d recommend, Murphy.’
He stares at a bloody tissue in his hands.
‘D’you know what, mate? I’ve had just about enough of this western world.’
I rip open some fresh swabs.
‘I don’t know there’s anywhere that’s free of this kind of stuff,’ I say. ‘I was brought up in the country, and we had our fair share of after-pub violence.’
‘Yeah? Well – there’s always Fiji.’
‘Is that a good place, then?’
‘I have not the slightest idea.’
He grunts, smiles crookedly, then offers up his right palm, american style. I smack it.
‘Good one,’ I say.
He relaxes his hand back down onto his lap and then stares at it, like it just operated on its own accord. Then he sighs wetly through his nose and spits some more blood into a tissue.
I carry on cleaning him up.
Suddenly he says: ‘I can’t bear that my kids will have to see me like this tomorrow.’
And he starts to cry, shaking apart in the chair with sharp little jerks of his shoulders.
‘My kids love me,’ he chokes. ‘I am loved. I am loved. I don’t deserve this.’
We clean him up as best we can, and when we’re done, we take him to the hospital.