Patient has been violent with a kitchen knife.
Kitchen knife? That sounds even worse than a knife. Bigger, at least.
I make the call.
‘Good morning, Control. Just a few questions. Firstly - just to make absolutely sure – we’re to take this patient fifty miles out of town to Eastwall because they’ve got no beds in Southview? Secondly – it’s half past six in the morning. Wouldn’t it be better to delay things at least until the sun’s risen? More humane. And then, erm , seriously.. a kitchen knife?’
‘Yep. I see what you mean. Just reading the notes on this one. Sorry - I’ve only just taken over. Yep. Erm. I’m afraid we’ve been sitting on this urgent journey for twelve hours or more, and if we don’t do it now, chances are it’ll never get done. With regards the kitchen knife – yep. That does sound dodgy. I’ll get back to you. Stand by one.’
I hang up the radio and sink further into the chair.
‘If you came and woke me up at half past six in the morning I think I might be reaching for something sharp,’ says Rae, folding her arms and staring off down the road. ‘Or blunt.’
There’s a frozen blue depth to the air, frost on everything.
A car crackles past, and the street sleeps on.
The radio buzzes again.
‘Yep – confirming the destination, and yes, if you could make contact, please. I’ve had assurances that the patient has been assessed as safe, so the police won’t be attending. We’re calling the patient now, so he should be expecting you.’
Datu Reye’s wife opens the door to us. A delicately pretty Filipino woman in an old silk bathrobe, she nods at me and holds out the house phone.
‘That’s okay,’ I say. ‘You can tell them we’re here now.’
But she continues to hold the phone out, so I take it from her and tell them myself.
Datu is wandering around the dimly lit flat looking for his shoes and things. There is a flat and passive remove to his face, like a child who has been given instructions, and who follows them dutifully but without the least idea to what end.
‘I’m really sorry we can’t go to Southview,’ I say to his wife.
She lowers her chin and stares at me.
‘You do understand we’re not going to the local unit, don’t you? They don’t have any beds. So we’ve got to go to Eastwall?’
She nods and smiles, and hooks some strands of hair back behind her ears. She looks almost as lost as her husband.
‘Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of him,’ I add.
She nods again, then goes to help Datu put some things in a bag.
I don’t see them kiss goodbye.
He follows us out to the ambulance, and when I turn to look the door has already closed.
I’ve put on a couple of spot lights in the back, which seems kinder than the full rack. Datu sits in the rear seat, leaning forward at the waist over his crossed arms as if he were trying to fold himself in half. He stares down at his trainers, and accommodates the rocking motion of the ambulance with discrete little counter-movements of his own. I try to chat to him, but he only looks at me once, with dark eyes that seem to sense more than they see. After a while I resign myself to a quiet journey, and settle deeper into my seat. The miles pass away beneath us.
‘What name is it?’
‘Datu. His name’s Datu Reyes and he’s a transfer up from Helmstone, a voluntary admission, because they haven’t got any beds in Southview.’
‘And what name did you say it was?’
‘Datu Reyes. I’ve got his other details here...’
‘Just a moment please.’
‘Shall we wait here?’
‘Yes. Just a moment.’
She goes back into the locked ward.
Datu stands with his chin down, his paisley bag resting on the floor.
After a while the nurse comes back.
‘There are three wards here,’ she says. ‘And none of them are expecting Mr Reyes. Are you sure you’ve got the right place?’
‘I don’t know. Are there any other psych wards round here?’
She thinks about it.
‘No,’ she says.
‘I’ll call Control.’
‘Sorry Datu. They sent us to the wrong hospital. But don’t worry, the one we want’s only another couple of miles. It won’t take long. Do you need the loo or anything before we go?’
He stares at the floor.
‘Okay. Sorry about this. It won’t take long.’
We lead him back out to the truck. He folds himself back into position on the seat.
The other hospital appears to have been built round the back of an enormous housing estate. The SatNav gives up and sticks the flag any old where. We end up down a street that terminates in a row of grim-looking lock-up garages. But with some directions and a little luck, eventually we find ourselves turning onto the forecourt of a low slung series of buildings so anonymous they could equally well be manufacturing PVC windows as offering therapy.
Rae parks up.
‘You can’t stop there,’ says a bearish guy, clapping his hands in the freezing air. ‘The day bus is due along any minute.’
We get back on board and follow his directions to the main entrance. Rae stays with the vehicle as it’s blocking access; I walk with Datu into the main foyer.
The receptionist leans her face nearer to the glass bubble to hear me.
‘Patient Datu Reyes, a voluntary admission all the way from Helmstone,’ I say.
She frowns, then leans away to call across the office.
‘Do you know anything about this, Gill?’
Gill looks up from behind a small hedge of potted plants, stares at us through the glass a moment, shakes her head then ducks back down again.
‘Where did you say you’re from?’
‘Helmstone. South of here. About fifty miles.’
‘Never heard of it.’
‘Erm – did you want a date of birth or anything? Would that help?’
‘Just a minute,’ she says, and makes a call.
Datu is standing over by the wall, beneath a vast watercolour of sunflowers.
‘John’s coming down,’ she says. ‘If you’d just like to wait.’
Over the next few minutes a succession of men appear through the security doors beyond reception. Each time I smile and say Good Morning, but each time it turns out not to be John.
The receptionist must think we’re exceptionally friendly, down in Helmstone I think.
But just at the point when I’m about to go back up to speak to her, the door opens again and another man appears.
‘Good morning!’ I say – and this time he walks towards us. A compact man in a ribbed green cardigan, his expression is as pressed as his clothes. When I hold out my hand he leans forward to take it, but cautiously, like a vet unexpectedly called upon to shake hands with a cat.
‘Ye-es,’ he says.
‘This is Datu. Datu is a voluntary admission all the way from Helmstone. No beds, I’m afraid!’ I laugh, mano a mano, but John’s still too preoccupied with the strangeness of the whole business to respond.
‘Happy to accept?’ I add.
‘And what did you say the name was?’
‘Datu. Datu Reyes. From Helmstone.’
He hesitates, then sighs and, pulling his swipe card out on its extendable line, holds it against a grey plate and gets the green light to go through.
‘This way,’ he says.
For a moment I wonder if I’m delivering someone to completely the wrong place, but if I am, I’m the only one who seems to mind.
I wave goodbye, but Datu is already disappearing through the door with John.
The receptionist looks up and smiles when I say goodbye.
That friendly Helmstone thing again.
As I walk back out, the sunflowers on the wall seem even bigger and brighter than before.