The flat is on the fourteenth floor, but it may as well be on the moon for the length of time we stand waiting for the lift. Ogden House is known to us, known to the services, known. Ogden House, a drab concrete hive stacked up on the cleared ground of forty homes, cruel Jenga school of architecture, whose guiding theory is that the power of a slum will be directly proportionate to the size of its footprint and its degree of contact with the ground. Either way, the lobby stinks.
‘If you get snowed in, I’m sure they’d have a place here for you,’ says Frank.
‘Who do I call?’
The lift clunks down, the door opens. A guy is standing at the back of a deep metal coffin. His arms are folded. He is drawn into himself, and does not look up to acknowledge us.
‘Are you coming out? Only we need to get up to the fourteenth?’
He shakes his head, and as the door starts to close again, he reaches out for the button to hold it.
‘Have you come down to meet us?’
We step into the lift. He presses number fourteen.
‘So. We’ve been told there’s a young woman fitting up there. Is she a relative of yours?’
‘No. A friend.’
‘What’s the woman’s name?’
‘Does Diane normally have fits?’
‘No. Don’t know.’
‘Has she hurt herself?’
‘When did she start fitting?’
‘About an hour.’
‘And has she stopped at all?’
‘No. Don’t know.’
Between each question I nod and smile with as much warmth and as little edge as I can, trying to slip under the shell of his reserve, but it’s like trying to break into a safe with a wooden spoon. The last few storeys we ride in silence.
As the lift door slides open on the fourteenth, a volume of voices booms around the dark hallway.
‘Left,’ the man says.
A flat door stands partially open in the corner, a pile of tatty carpet segments with a BMX bike on top stops the door from opening all the way. We pick our way over the foothills of it, as a man with a head as nicked and rough as an old ship’s timber waves us through into the living room.
‘Come on! Come on! Fucking help her,’ he shouts.
The room is a junked heap presided over by a large TV with a game frozen on its screen, white scores jumping and flickering. A seamy double bed sprawling with clothes and quilts stands in the centre of the room, with a stained blue sofa against the near wall. There is a young woman lying on her side on the one clear patch of floor, jerking and kicking, Rough Head standing astride her trying to pick her up, three other men watching it all from the window, the TV, the sofa.
‘Let her lie on the floor,’ I tell him.
‘You take her to hospital, man. Do it!’
‘Just let her lie on the floor and ride this out for the moment. It’s okay. Come on. You have to trust us.’
Reluctantly he sets her back down. I guide her head so she doesn’t bang it on the floor; the rest of the space around her is so cluttered up her legs and arms are protected. Still, as I hold her head, it strikes me that this does not feel like a fit. There’s an element of reserve in her movement, of conscious control. It feels more like an angry pseudo fit than the real thing. I slip a SATS probe on her finger and it registers normal levels. Her colour’s good.
‘Has she had any drugs of any kind?’
‘Has she had any drugs? We’re not the police, mate. We don’t care. But we have to know how things lie so we can do the right thing.’
‘No she ain’t had no drugs, man. Fuck.’
‘Yeah, she had some al-K-hol. What’s wrong in that?’
‘I know this is distressing but if you want your friend to get better you have to try hard not to get worked up.’
The other men in the room move in closer. It becomes hard to think.
We know that a paramedic crew was also dispatched to this address as the call was given for multiple fits. They must be here soon. I’m conscious of the radio in my pocket, the little red emergency button.
‘What’s wrong with her? Why’s she doing this?’
‘We don’t know at the moment.’
‘You don’t know? What’s the point in calling you then?’
Frank manages to distract a couple of them, asking them questions, getting them to clear the doorway so we can get out. We swap a wordless look. All our efforts are now focused on getting out.
‘I know this is all a worry,’ says Frank, hauling up an armful of carpet and dumping it to the side. ‘I know you all want to help Diane. The best thing you can do is keep calm and let us do our job. Okay?’
Diane has stopped jerking. She lies still on the floor for a second, then plucks aside some strands of hair that have become stuck to her face.
‘Does Diane have a history of fits?’
‘Is she on medication for anything?’
‘She takes something for her head.’
‘What’s it called?’
‘Risperidone? And something to chill her out. Mirtazapine.’
‘Okay. Anything else?’
‘I don’t fucking know. Are you going to take her to hospital or not?’
Frank has the chair set up ready to go. Just before I kneel back down to begin rousing Diane ready for the journey, she sits up. Rough Head grabs her under the shoulders and together they stand up.
‘I’m not going to no hospital,’ she says, swaying her head from side to side in a clownish exaggeration. ‘I don’t want to be locked up again.’
‘Diane. You could do with seeing a doctor. We’re only taking you to hospital for a check up. No-one’s talking about locking anyone up.’
‘You liar. You want to lock me up. I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m twenty-five years old and I’ve been in prison twenty-five times. I’m not doing it anymore. I’m not!’
The other guys around the room had seemed to lose interest in the whole affair, draping themselves around the place again, settling like the husks of people blown across a blighted landscape and snagging on furniture. But now, suddenly, they re-animate, look up, find their shape again and rise up, moving towards us as we stand there by the door, absolutely ready to go with our bags and our chair, on the fourteenth floor, waiting for back up.