Below the curtain window a lava stream of traffic nudges along the front. The curtains hang straight down, already exhausted by the day. The hotel room is so thick with heat I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tray of uncooked pizzas pushed through the window.
The room is economically arranged with a double bed set between an en-suite and a wardrobe of equal size. At the foot of the bed, a plasma TV flashes with news images – protests in hot streets somewhere else on this hot planet – whilst an urgent strip of headlines scrolls along the bottom.
Svetlana stares at the screen. She is propped up on pillows, the sheets rucked up around her, the metallic blue sheen of her silk nightdress picked out by the light from outside.
Her husband leads us into the room. He turns the volume down on the TV, then stands over by the window. I expect him to take off his rock star bottle-black sunglasses, but he leaves them on and folds his arms.
‘What is matter with me?’ she says. ‘I woke up in this sweating. I have the pains here and here. I feel – erm – like…’ She pats her throat, then lays her palm forwards, almost like the signing for speech, but probably a mime for nausea.
‘I understand you’re pregnant?’
‘Erm – yes. I am having baby now twenty four weeks.’
‘All good so far?’
‘Yes. Is good so far. Normal.’
‘And do you have the pain now?’
‘No. No pain now. I am just feeling hot and – erm – not good.’
‘In what way not good?’
‘Is just not good. Erm – is werry tired and werry – erm - floppy.’
Her husband unfolds his arms and goes to pull some documents out of his pocket. I expect him to be Russian, too, but when he speaks it’s with a London accent. He carries himself quietly, carefully, like a man trying to walk through a forest without snapping any twigs.
‘The hotel gave us a number to call for a doctor to come and visit,’ he says. ‘But they said it would be a couple of hours.’
Svetlana sits up.
‘Two hours! Is that what you said? Two hours? Do you think that is appropriate? Is that what you want for your sick wife and baby? Two hours?’
‘No. I was just trying to explain..’
‘You were just explaining. Yes. Go on. You just explain. Let’s hear it.’
But he keeps quiet. Eventually, and without breaking eye contact, she settles back down on the pillows.
‘I am sick, he wait two hours,’ she says. ‘What good he is?’
We examine her, but all her observations are normal.
‘These sweats,’ I say. ‘In some ways you can understand it. What with the exceptional heat, and being pregnant. But you haven’t actually got a temperature.’
‘Then why I feel like this?’
‘Well. I don’t know. If you want to go to hospital, we can take you. Or you could wait to see a doctor.’
She sighs and rubs her swollen belly.
‘Where doctor? In hospital doctor?’
‘Or at a walk-in centre, as you’re not registered here.’
‘Walk-in centre? What is this walk-in centre?’
‘There’s one up by the station.’
The husband puts his mobile and wallet in his pocket.
‘I think I know where it is,’ he says. ‘We could get a taxi.’
‘You want put mother of your child in taxi cab? Is that it? Put her in taxi cab and take her to station? My God. Yes. This is brilliant idea for me, the pregnant woman sick with sweating and everything pain and you want to put me in taxi cab? I can’t believe how stupid this man is.’
‘Or we could just take you up the hospital,’ I say, hugging my clipboard.
She looks at me and the change is immediate.
‘Okay,’ she says, as solemnly as a little girl with a sick doll. ‘I think you take me to hospital.’
She swings her legs out to the side and scurries about looking for a dressing gown and slippers. Her husband has the slippers; she snatches them from him.
‘How long I wait for doctor in hospital?’ she says as she puts them on.
I smile at the husband and raise my eyebrows.
In fact, the hospital is a baked hive only Hieronymus Bosch could draw inspiration from. I stand at the back of a ragged queue of trolleys with Svetlana by my side. I watch her anxiously for any sign of fire, but she seems calm enough. Her husband had been sent off for water; whilst he is away she sighs and waits as steadily as a train in the sidings.
‘I think I call my parent,’ she says. ‘This is no good. I not happy.’
She turns to face me.
‘He said he have nice flat but his friend give nice flat to different friend and now we have bad flat. He promise he fix it up nice but is not nice.’
She faces forward again, chews her lip and bleakly surveys the hospital scene. ‘Is box,’ she says finally. ‘Is old broken box. With the door. You know?’ She smiles at me, and scans my face to see if I understand. ‘A box,’ she says, ‘no window, no light, just old door that go flap.’
She turns back to face forwards, and her eyes are shining.
Eventually she whispers: ‘I not give birth to baby in box.’