The area is something of a street-drinkers’ ghetto. There’s already a groundswell of public protest about the level of deprivation, the drug users and NFAs that have colonised the area, and no doubt a time will come when enough fuss is made to initiate some kind of clearance, a zero-tolerance approach that will finally bring in the developers. And of course the net result will be to shift the drinkers and the users to another part of town, to start the whole process over.
But for now, it’s the usual faces in the usual places.
Garry, a bandage round his head, sitting with his back against the pizza place, a puddle of blood off to his left marking the spot where he fell.
Because of the one-way system here, we’ve had to park the ambulance a little way up Nile Street and walk back. Greg ,the paramedic first on scene, is crouching next to Garry as we approach. He’s writing something on his form, so we don’t say anything, but stand slightly off to the side with our blue gloved hands folded respectfully in front of us.
Eventually Greg stands up, sighs and looks off to the right, in the direction he’s expecting us to arrive from. The fact that he doesn’t appear to have noticed us standing there is so extraordinary we don’t say anything, wondering how long it’ll be before he notices. At one point he actually turns and looks past us, but still doesn’t register we’re there. Eventually I cough and say: All right, Greg. He flinches and jerks back a little.
‘Fucking hell where did you come from?’
‘How long have you been there?’
‘A minute or two.’
He looks utterly lost for words – and, for a moment, we are, too.
Garry shifts his position on the ground.
‘Shall I get up now, guys?’ he says.
‘Yep. Hang on a minute, I’ll just tell these guys the story.’
He says Garry doesn’t know how he ended up on the ground. He may have been assaulted or may have had an alcoholic blackout – either way, he has a cut to the back of his head that needs attention at the hospital. He hands us the form.
‘I can’t believe I didn’t see you,’ he says, seeming more white-faced and shaken up than Garry with the head injury. ‘I need a break.’
We help Garry up and all walk together up Nile Street to the ambulance.
Incredibly, a beautiful young woman in a white coat comes running over from the pharmacy on the opposite corner.
‘Garry!’ she says. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Yeah,’ he grins, revealing a mouthful of dreadful teeth. ‘I bashed my noggin, love. It’s okay, though.’
‘He was fine when he came in for his scrip about an hour ago,’ the woman says, touching him lightly on the arm. ‘Weren’t you, babe?’
‘Yeah! I’m always fine, me.’
‘Well you take care,’ she says, then turns to us. ‘Is there anything I can help you with?’
‘No, no. We’re good, thanks.’
She hurries back in the direction of the pharmacy.
‘She’s nice,’ I say to Garry.
‘Yeah! She’s all right, she is. Everyone’s all right.’
A shambling figure intercepts us as we pass the entrance to the park, a filthy figure in ragged combats and trainers so rotten you’d double wrap them before you threw them in the bin.
‘Garry mate,’ he drawls. ‘Wha’sappened?’
‘Wriggles,’ I think he says. ‘Mate – I’ve smashed me ‘ead and I need to go up the hospital.’
‘N’ah mate. Really? Who done that t’you?’
Garry shrugs. ‘Someone. Maybe no-one.’
Wriggles hands him a roll-up.
‘There you go, mate.’
Garry puts it in his mouth and stands there whilst Wriggles lights it.
‘I don’t think we’ve really got time to stand here and smoke,’ I say. ‘We’ve got to get your head seen to.’
Garry nods, but makes no effort to move.
It’s as if this whole incident and our presence here has released something into the air. Wriggles was the first to respond, but now others are coming over, irresistibly drawn by a trace pheromone of scandal. One guy, a decrepit figure of indeterminate age lopes across the road and joins us.
He pulls his hand out of his pocket and shows us a couple of silver bracelets.
‘Where can I sell these?’ he says.
Wriggles nods in the direction of a tiny jewellers shop further up the hill.
‘What about there?’ he says. ‘The old guy there’s taken stuff before.’
‘Nah,’ says the man. ‘That’s where I nicked ‘em from.’