Danny’s boyfriend Ahmed meets us at the door and leads us through.
She sits crouched on the edge of the sofa, her arms folded over her stomach, jiggling her legs up and down, looking pale and distracted. The room itself is sparsely furnished, as sharp as the sunlight that cuts through the foliage of the plants on the window ledge.
‘What’s up, Danny?’
‘I’ve been bad.’
‘In what way, bad?’
‘Stomach cramps, throwing up.’
‘Not really. Just cramps.’
‘Since how long?’
I look over at Ahmed, a silhouette leaning up against the window, the light dissolving his outline. I give him a nod and a smile, but however he looks is lost in the glare. I turn back to Danny.
‘Any other symptoms?’
‘Any health problems?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Heart, breathing problems, that kind of thing.’
‘Are you on any medication?’
‘Well. Let’s do a quick health screen, your blood pressure etcetera. Then we’ll have a think what’s best to do.’
But I already know what’s best to do. Danny has D&V. Danny has a bug. We can’t take Danny to hospital. She’ll pass the bug on, more wards will close. Why can’t people see this? Why aren’t they more - aware?
‘Everything’s fine so far, Danny. Just a few more questions. Any chance you might be pregnant?’
She looks up.
‘And these cramps come and go? And they’re not too bad?’
‘Okay. And is this your address?’
‘No. It’s Ahmed’s house.’
‘Where do you live?’
‘Nowhere. Mum threw me out yesterday. I’m getting back in touch with Dad, but it’s difficult. I haven’t seen him in a while.’
I finish writing the report form, then put the clipboard on my lap and fold my hands on top of it.
‘I think you have a stomach bug, Danny. It’s horrible, it’s a nuisance but it is what it is, and the only thing to be done is ride it out at home. If we take you to hospital you’ll end up passing it on to people there, and some of them are so ill already it’ll finish them off. Plus they’ll have to close the ward down to prevent it spreading through the rest of the hospital. So all in all they’re really reluctant for us to take a case of D&V into hospital unless there’s some other serious medical problem, or it’s been going on for ages and you’re dehydrated. So the only thing to be done is tough it out here. Drink plenty of fluids, then when it all dies down – which I think it will pretty soon for you – start eating again, plain and simple food in small amounts.’
Danny nods, and folds her arms more tightly around her stomach.
‘Still getting cramps?’
‘Taken any pain killers?’
She nods again. ‘Some paracetamol.’
‘Good. When did you take them?’
‘Three days ago.’
‘And how many?’
The room seems to brake, and everything lurch forwards.
‘Why did you take forty paracetamol, Danny?’
‘Do you know how dangerous that is?’
‘Did you take them deliberately?’
She nods again.
‘Okay. Phone, keys, jacket – we’re off to hospital.’
She stands up and brushes her forehead lightly with the fingers of her right hand, as if she’d forgotten something important and was trying hard to remember what it was.
Ahmed steps over and takes her arm.
We leave the house. As we step beyond the porch the afternoon crashes down upon us, hard and bright and blue.