The bus has its hazards on at the stop. No doubt a replacement is on its way, but for now the passengers have elected to stay where they are. Stepping on board is like walking into a modern version of the castle in Sleeping Beauty, every figure frozen in an attitude of despair. The only people who register our arrival are the driver – with his wild hair and enormous body looking like an ogre who took a regular job with the bus company – and our patient.
Geoffrey is immaculately dressed in a tweed three piece, starched collar and gold cufflinks, a carved horn-handle umbrella hooked over the seat in front of him. An ascetic looking man in his early sixties, he could be the executive director of some global corporation, or a retired art critic. The only jarring note is the mass of blood on the back of his head, and the spatterings over his shoulders. He’s wearing a hospital wrist-band, which confirms the notes we were given, that he self-discharged from hospital earlier in the evening.
The driver stands over Geoffrey, partially shielding him from the passengers (or the other way round), clicking off the mobile phone in his vast paw.
‘Over to you, guys,’ he rumbles.
‘Ah! And who do we have here? A brace of handsome young men in green!’
‘Hello Geoffrey. Nice to meet you. Now then – have you fallen over again, or is this the wound from earlier on this evening?’
‘Is this the wound from earlier on this... What on earth are you on about? My dear boy, what utter nonsense. Now look here. I’m a very wealthy man. I’ve had a pleasant lunch. I have enjoyed a bottle of fine Italian wine, as every Englishman should, per diem. Now what on earth is the problem with that?’
‘Nothing, Geoffrey. Except you fell over and cracked your head. How are you feeling? Do you have any neck pain?’
‘How am I feeling do I have any... Now look here – whatever your name is. What is your name?’
Geoffrey suddenly veers off into stage Cockney.
‘Pound shilling an’ Spence! Ere mate. Cor’ blimey. Strike a light.’
‘Let’s help you off the bus so these people can get on, shall we, Geoffrey?’
‘What a capital idea!’ he says, suddenly standing up and grabbing his umbrella off the seat. He turns and throws his arms wide to address the back of the bus.
‘Dear people!’ he proclaims. ‘I am so terribly sorry for delaying your journey in such an undignified way. I thank you all for your patience, and your kindness, and with my most humble apologies, I bid you all adieu.’
He turns and taps me on the shoulder with the umbrella.
* * *
On the ambulance the story gradually becomes clear. Geoffrey came into town to have lunch with a friend, a long and boozy event that lurched on into supper, dinner and then a fall in the street.
‘Now kindly desist from your importunate questioning,’ he says. ‘An Englishman never tells. Now look – I am the last man in the world to have a mobile phone. Wretched things. Frightful things. But it leaves me at rather an inconvenience. I need to call Richard to let him know that I’m all right. I wonder if I might use your phone to do the business, gov’nor, as you would say. I’m frightfully wealthy and I can pay you handsomely for your trouble.’
‘That’s kind of you, Geoffrey, but I think what we need to do is get you back to the hospital, check you in so you can have your head examined...’
‘My head examined? What on earth can you mean? What rubbish. I’ve never heard such nonsense. My head examined? What do you think is wrong with my head? An Englishman may have many things examined in his time, sir, but I can assure you, his head will not be one of them.’
‘You’ve fallen over and bashed your head, Geoffrey. It’s bleeding and it needs stitches. Also, you need someone to keep an eye on you for a while, because of the alcohol.’
‘Someone to keep an eye on me? Now be quiet for a minute and look here. I need to call Richard to let him know what’s been going on, and after that we’ll see. You’re most terribly kind, both of you, and I do appreciate everything you’ve done for me. This is my first – no, second time in an ambulance, and I must say I’m most frightfully impressed. Yes. The system works exceptionally well. I admire your dedication to duty, even if you speak the most unutterable nonsense at times.’
‘Shall we go to hospital, Geoffrey?’
‘Yes. Carry on, squire! ‘Ere, strike a loit.’
He tries to put his spectacles on but struggles because they’ve been bent out of shape in the fall, and because the bandage I’ve put round his head has covered up the tops of his ears. After a moment he lets the glasses drop back down on their silver chain and he rests his umbrella across his knees instead.‘Who’d have thought tonight would have been such an adventure?’ he says. ‘Home James! And don’t spare the horses!’