Charlie has been found lying on his side on the pavement. The caller said he’d been fitting, but when we arrive on scene he’s up on his feet and trying to light a roll-up. We help him on to the ambulance to check him over.
‘My son works in IT,’ he says, as we put an inco pad down on the seat and he assumes it happily like we’re laying out a table for him in a restaurant. ‘He had a baby the other week. Which makes me a granddad. Apparently.’
He nods, crosses his legs, hugs his right knee and rocks backwards and forwards on the chair.
His beard is patchy and rough, like he splashed his chin with glue and dipped it in a Hoover bag. Red pock marks crater his skin; there is a grimy fuzz of alcohol about him, and his clothes are waxy and black with dirt.
‘My mum killed herself on the twenty-third of August, nineteen eighty,’ he says, out of nowhere, and formally, like a schoolboy in an exam.
‘I’m very sorry to hear that, Charlie.’
‘She killed herself on my Dad’s birthday.’ He looks down, picks something off his lap and says more quietly: ‘The twenty third of August, nineteen eighty.’
Charlie looks up again.
‘He found the body.’
‘I haven’t seen him for about ten years. He’s not really that bothered.’
I take the blood pressure cuff from his arm. He rubs the spot for a second then says:
‘I’ve been writing a book.’
‘Oh yes? What’s it about?’
‘It’s called A Consideration of Wolves and Eagles. It’s about the life lessons you can learn by comparing human life with the natural world.’
‘That sounds interesting. Why wolves and eagles, particularly?’
‘Why are you writing a book about wolves and eagles?’
‘I don’t tell the others in the hostel about it because I don’t want them to think I’m – you know – clever.’
I test his blood sugar level.
‘So why wolves and eagles?’
‘Wolves?’ he says, sucking the blood from his pricked finger before I get a chance to sample it. ‘I don’t know. They’re just out there, y’know.’ He widens his eyes and grimaces. ‘They’re just wild. And eagles? Someone once said…’ he uncrosses his legs and sits a little straighter… ‘Someone once said: The eagle has landed. Well – it won’t be going anywhere soon.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Why won’t the eagle be going anywhere soon?’
Because the eagle has probably only landed because it wants something to eat – it’s prey - and if that something happens to be a rabbit - well. Some of those rabbits can be pretty big. And if the eagle isn’t all that, it stands to reason it’s going to be there a while. That’s what I think, anyway. These are some of the things I try to explore in my book.’
‘Can I go now? Only this thing’s not going to smoke itself.’