To Cripps Court, so mean and bitten down you can only wonder about Cripps. A front door, battered white paint and ply; buzzed through, to a narrow stairway of plain red tiles, the flat numbers for each landing stencilled on the lintel. The echo of our progress makes it sound like an army of paramedics going up the stairs, not just me and Rae. Out onto a walkway with a black net stretched across the gap, presumably to stop pigeons flying in, and anything else flying out, and down, into the bins and bikes and junked-up planters in the courtyard six floors below.
To Julius’ flat, where the door stands open and in it, a friendly middle-aged woman talking into a phone. When she sees us she smiles and holds a finger up. They’re here now. Thanks very much, then. Bye, bye.
‘Thanks for coming,’ she says, slipping the phone into the pocket of her cardigan.
‘I’m Serena, one of Julius’ care workers. He’s just inside.’
Julius is over by the window, smoking a cigarette. When I introduce myself he lurches towards me with his hand outstretched.
‘How are you, bro?’
‘I’m good, thanks. How are you?’
He shrugs, and drops himself down on the bed.
‘I wanna die, man. If I had a knife, yeah? I’d cut myself here and here. I’d slice my belly open and pull myself all insides out. I just wanna die. You know what I mean?’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘Or throw myself out the window into the traffic. I tried running out in the road the other day and this taxi driver saved me. The police came and they ended up putting me away in a cell, but then all them doctors and nurses got their heads together, yeah? And they sent me back here.’
‘And that was yesterday?’
‘Yesterday, yeah, yesterday. So now I’ve had like a bottle of brandy and a couple of cans and I just wanna die.’
Serena goes over to the window and opens it.
‘You smoke too much,’ she says.
She hands me a grab sheet with all his details, sits down again and folds her arms.
Serena’s a reassuring figure, soaking up Julius’ rage with a tired kind of warmth, as loosely knit as her cardigan.
‘Julius has got a few problems, as you can see from the sheet,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want to call you because I know he’s so drunk they won’t assess him for hours. And there is actually a safe house I can take him to. But he was so adamant he didn’t want to go to the house I didn’t really have any other choice.’
‘I ‘aint going to no house,’ says Julius, struggling up again. ‘I wanna join my lil’ twin sister. She died ‘cos she got this hole in the heart.’
Julius stares at me, his mouth slack, his eyes heavy, the smoke from his cigarette curling up from his fingers.
‘I don’t want to cause my mum no pain,’ he says. ‘I’m like a em-barr-isment, yeah? I should jes’ throw myself out the window and be done.’
After some negotiation, more with Serena than Julius, we decide the best course of action is to take him to the safe house after all. There’ll be someone to keep an eye on him whilst he sleeps off the brandy, and in the morning when he’s sober they can review things then.
Julius is so drunk he’s not in a position to argue. He’s happy enough to be led out of the room and down the stairs, though – a strange, rolling kind of lope, like a marionette forced to move with its strings in a tangle. He’s like that when we open the main door and step out into the street. There’s a night bus waiting at the lights nearby, its windows misted up with all the people on board heading into town for the clubs. A young woman wipes her window clear with the sleeve of her jacket to get a better look.
‘Thas’ where I went into the cars,’ says Julius, dropping his head to the right and immediately lurching off that way until I work him upright again. ‘Jes’ there. Right there.’
The bus moves off, the woman still watching.
‘My sister,’ he drools. ‘My poor lil’ sister.’
‘How old was she when she died?’ I ask him.
‘I don’t know. Like a hour or somefing?’
He stops to stare at the tarmac a second or two, then comes back to himself – enough anyway to make it up the ambulance steps and pitch head first onto the trolley.