We’re standing in the courtyard of an old, C-shaped, ten-storey apartment block, the simple, black metal gantry of its internal stairways and gangways rising up around us like we’re on the set of some seedy 1940s drama set in New Orleans. Except it's freezing cold, and the tree in the middle of the courtyard in its plain, red brick planter would only bear fruit if you tied it on with string.
We’ve been called to a woman about to give birth in flat number one, but the woman in flat number one is past childbearing age. In fact, so far past childbearing age she takes a full five minutes to make it to the door with her frame.
‘Who did you say you wanted?’
‘Sorry to have bothered you.’
‘That’s all right, son. I’ve enjoyed it.’
She closes the door and we head back out into the courtyard.
I’m tempted to lean back and shout out.
Or whatever the patient’s name is. But Rae calls Control, and they tell us they’ll check the address.
Four guys walk past, looking so rough it would make a pirate blush.
‘Evening,’ says one. The others don’t say anything but grunt and grin and stroke their cutlasses.
‘Did someone die?’
‘Or hang the’selfs.’
‘I hope not.’
‘Yah. Me too, bro.’
They laugh and carry on. I hear one of them say something surprisingly pettish, about how there’s always an ambulance here. He’s not far wrong, though. It’s definitely a hotspot.
Control calls back.
Right name, but it should be House, not Lodge. The House version is just next door.
We pick up our bags and head that way, high-stepping over a low, chain-link fence to save time.
Sky opens the door to us. A tall, sleepy looking guy in his twenties, he has a clumpy black afro that looks like someone used it to unblock a chimney. He scratches up his jeans and steps aside for us to come in.
‘Yo,’ he says. ‘She’s thru’ there on the sofa.’
Jelly is propped up on cushions, her legs drawn up, puffing through the next contraction with her face screwed up. But the strange thing is, no sooner has the contraction ended then she is bright and alert, laughing that Sky didn’t even know where they lived.
‘You’re incredible,’ she says.
‘Fanks. You’re not so bad yourself.’
Jelly tells us she’s thirty-two weeks pregnant.
‘I’ve been having contractions every few minutes. I had them a couple of days ago and went in to hospital, but they didn’t say whether the baby was coming or not. They told me if I started getting them again, to give you guys a ring.’
Another contraction. She draws her legs up and rides it out.
When it’s passed, she’s perfectly relaxed again.
‘It’s been all right up till now,’ she says, taking a sip from a carton of apple juice. ‘No worries. Not like the last one. I was in labour for a week.’
‘Man – I’m glad I wasn’t around for dat party,’ says Sky, zipping his hoody up to his chin.
‘How old’s your other child?’ I ask her.
‘And where is he tonight?’
‘With his dad. Ooh – here it comes again.’
Sky does a hopeless Michael Jackson kind of spin on the spot and then smiles at me. ‘I suppose we’re off to the hospital then?’ he says.
‘Yep. Can you get Jelly’s things together?’
‘What like, man?’
‘You know – notes, phone, keys, money. Whatever she might need.’
‘I don’t know what she might need. What do you mean, notes?’
‘Notes. You know. Maternity notes.’
I draw the shape of it in the air.
He starts rummaging through a pile of things.
‘You know – they asked me some crazy fucked up shit on the phone before you got here,’ he says.
He straightens up.
‘Like they asked me to take a look and see if the baby’s head was coming. The baby’s head! I mean – what’s that about? It’s crazy!’
He pulls a face, and then carries on searching. After a second or two he stops.‘What am I looking for?’ he says.