The Quarter has been up a few years now but still has the sharp angled unreality of an architect’s drawing. The shrubs in the planters may have grown taller and thicker, there may be a little moss coming up between some of the patterned-brickwork walkways, some insect husks in a green slurry in one of the walkway lights, but other than that, the whole place is untouched, unlived. When it was still in the planning stage there were probably some cool line drawings of the people who’d one day use the space – a woman and a man with a child swinging between them; two businessmen shaking on a deal; a young guy striding along with a messenger bag; a group of young girls shopping – but the lights have gone out in the architect’s office, the Quarter is up, and at this empty hour of the night there’s just Jamal, lying on his side in front of one of the apartment entrances, a young woman kneeling next to him, cradling his head, whilst beside them both, an older woman talking on the phone.
We go over.
We get the story in a rush. Jamal and Katie had a row earlier today. Katie ended their relationship. Jamal went off. Came back tonight unexpectedly. Rang the buzzer. They found him lying on the pavement. ‘What’s the matter with him?’ says Emma, Katie’s mum. ‘Is he unconscious? Is it drugs?’
‘No. He’s not unconscious. Other than that, not sure.’
Jamal is faking it. He frowns when I squeeze his shoulder; when I don’t quit, he bats my hand away.
‘Come on, Jamal. Tell me what’s wrong. Why are you lying on the pavement like this?’
He carries on the pretence as long as he can, holding his eyes shut, not moving, but eventually we persuade him to stand up, walk to the ambulance and have a chat to us there. At one point he staggers, as if he’s about to collapse. But with some stern words and a good hold of his belt we keep him on his feet.
On the ambulance, he throws himself onto the trolley.
‘He’s unconscious again,’ says Emma. Katie has sat herself at Jamal’s feet; she looks terrified.
‘No. He’s just choosing to look that way.’
A quick round of obs and everything seems fine. He smells of alcohol, but not excessively.
Rae carries on with her questioning, firmly but sympathetically.
Suddenly, Jamal cries out, and in a spasm of rage thrashes his arms and legs, his fists bunched up. Rae only just manages to avoid getting punched; on the return strike he drives his fist into the side of the ambulance, bloodying his knuckles. I grab his arm to control it and shout at Jamal that we’ll call the police and have him arrested if he carries on, that we will not tolerate stupid behaviour like this. Does he understand? He nods to show that he does. I relax my grip. He puts his hands over his face, draws his legs up and cries.
‘I’ll call his mum’ says Emma. ‘She doesn’t live far.’
Jamal is wearing a tight, garishly-patterned shirt. His hair looks freshly shaved. There’s a club stamp on the back of his hand. It looks as if he’s gone out on the town, tried to forget about the trauma of the morning, then ended up back outside his ex’s flat in the early hours. That’s just a guess. He’s still crying uncontrollably, refusing to answer questions.
‘You’ve been cheating on me,’ he mumbles to Katie, who looks even more appalled.
‘I’ve been with you the whole time,’ she says. ‘Why would I? How could I?’
‘How long have they been together?’ I ask Emma.
Emma has been writing a message on her phone. She taps me on the arm and holds it up for me to read.
He is paranoid
‘What do you mean? Is that an official diagnosis?’
‘What do you mean, kind of?’
‘I’m sure it won’t be long before the doctor makes a referral.’
There’s a knock on the door. Jamal’s mother Ellie has made it out to us in dangerously quick time. She strides up the steps and puts her arms around her son, who curls into her and cries even more.
‘Can everyone else just leave,’ she says.
Katie and Emma quit. We don’t see them again.
‘There, there,’ she says, as they slam the door. She strokes Jamal’s back and kisses the top of his head. ‘It’s okay, baby. Come on. You think it’s the end of the world but it really isn’t. It’ll get better, you’ll see...’
After a while, she speaks to me over the top of him.
‘What’s happened?’ she says.
I tell her the story.
‘Does Jamal have a history of this kind of thing?’ I say. ‘I’m sorry to ask, but has Jamal ever been referred for mental health issues?’
‘No. Never. Why - did she say something?’
‘She mentioned a doctor’s referral.’
‘No. Nothing like that.’
She carries on comforting her son.
Jamal is still volatile, and whilst there’s still a chance that something else is going on other than just emotional trauma and some alcohol, we can’t recommend Ellie takes him home on her own. The plan is to go up to A&E for a while so he can be observed, tested further if necessary, seen to calm down and come to himself. If that’s all fine, Ellie can take him home with her.
Of course, A&E is as frantically busy as ever. It takes some negotiation on my part to get him a quieter place than the waiting room, which looks like a casting call for a disaster movie. So long as Jamal can resist putting himself on the floor and stay in his chair, he can sit with his mother in a doctor’s reviewing station near the front desk.
‘Can’t he have a bed?’ says Ellie, hugging his head and stroking his cheek.
‘I’m afraid this is the best we can do. We need the beds for people who absolutely have to lie down. At least you’re not in the waiting room.’
She gives me a terse smile.
‘Thank you for what you’ve done,’ she says. She settles up close to him, with Jamal half out of the wheelchair, his head on her shoulder, his right arm around her waist. Twenty-two years ago he would’ve been on her lap; now, his muscular physique utterly dwarfs his mother’s slight frame, and if he climbed on her lap she’d be smothered. It’s like watching a trainer who’s known the lion since it was a cub, and doesn’t see how big its paws have got.
‘Ssh, now’ she says, closing her eyes, kissing the side of his head. ‘Ssh.’
We leave them to it.
The nurse sighs as she signs my board on the way out. I know she was saving that space for something else.
‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘With any luck they’ll be out of here in an hour.’
‘Yeah, right,’ she says, clicking her pen. ‘With any luck, me too.’