‘I think he’s had a stroke.’
‘What makes you think that?’
‘I know he’s had a drink or two, fair enough. But look at him. He can’t speak proper. He’s leant over to the side, his mouth’s all weird.’
‘How well do you know Charlie?’
‘Really well. I’ve not seen him like this before, man. I mean – sure he’s had a drink. But this is different, you know?’
Charlie is slumped over to his right on the bench. He has vomited – so productively, it would be easier to believe that Charlie, bench and rucksack had been swallowed whole by some urban monster who’d raged around town for a while then staggered back and thrown up man, bench and bag right back where it ate them.
A recycling truck pulls up on the street side and two council workmen jump out to haul a paladin of empty bottles to the hydraulic arms at the side. One of them stares over at us, laughs and says something to his friend, who carries on with barely a glance. The noise of the glass as it tips from the paladin into the maw of the truck is colossal, overwhelming.
‘Charlie?’ I shout and pinch his shoulder. ‘It’s the ambulance, Charlie.’
He opens his eyes; a second or two later he senses danger and bunches his fists Popeye-style.
‘I’ll fuck you’s,’ he says. ‘I’ll bust you up.’
‘What’s happened to you, Charlie? Do you have any pain?’
He swipes the air.
‘Calm down, Charlie. We’re here to help.’
‘Don’t think I won’t,’ he says.
I straighten up.
‘Trolley – blankets – pads. This is going to take some careful packaging.’
‘Do you think he’s had a stroke?’
‘I don’t know. It’s possible. It looks that way.’
‘I’ll ring and tell the hostel what’s happened.’
At the hospital later that day, I ask the Charge Nurse about Charlie.
‘Was it a stroke?’
‘Oh – yeah. Thanks for bringing that one in. I owe you.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. He was a bit messed up.’
‘A bit messed up? I don’t think a bit messed up comes anywhere close.’
‘And no, it wasn’t a stroke. He had a BAC of point three something or other, so no, it wasn’t a stroke. Jesus – if I ever have that much to drink just drop me over the side with a bunch of flowers and be on your way.’