Into the great, blue vaulted space of the old chapel, converted into a night shelter for homeless people. I feel like I’ve been miniaturised and put in a specimen box, spread about with strange, multi-coloured pupae. One of them wriggles, unzips, and a bare-chested man emerges. He stands up, cracks his back, scratches his belly, then stumbles off in the direction of the toilets. The other sleeping bags rustle and snore.
A huge Alsatian is watching us through the Perspex glass of the office in the corner, the energy-saving glow of a desk lamp reflecting in his eyes.
‘This way,’ whispers one of the care workers.
We pick our way through.
I’ve met Marcia and her partner before. I don’t know which of them is the most striking: Marcia, for her sculpted looks, severe and beautiful as a Benin bronze; or Jinx, for his black and white crocheted stovepipe hat.
Marcia always presents as a collapse query cause, but the query shouldn’t really extend much beyond the Coke bottle filled with vodka in her parka pocket, or the tin of weed in Jinx’ waistcoat.
‘What’s happened tonight, Marcia?’
She doesn’t answer, fixed on the toilet seat, her eyes half-closed.
‘Let’s get you out to the ambulance and do all our checks there.’
I take her arm and she walks well enough. Jinx rolls along beside us. I know his hat is kept on by his dreads, but it’s still amazing to see how it waves from side to side without slipping off. We pick our way back through the hall of sleeping bags. The man who’d emerged when we entered is standing over his bag again. He doesn’t even look at us as we pass, leaning back instead with his fists in the small of his back, studying the dark reaches of the chapel ceiling, like he was gauging the distance, like he thought one day he might grow some wide and beautiful tattooed wings, and fly there.