‘It'd better not be Bobby.’
Bobby is sitting on a bench seat facing the fast food restaurant doors, slumped down in his parka, a waitress standing over him.
‘Hello!’ she says. ‘Thanks for coming! I’m afraid this gentleman has had a bit of a collapse. We couldn’t rouse him, so we called you.’
‘That’s okay. We’ve met Bobby before.’
‘Have you?’ she says. ‘Great! Well – if you’re okay here...’ and she hurries back to the counter.
‘What’s the story then, Bobby?’
He sways his massive head in my direction, his beard parting in a scowl to reveal his one rotten tooth.
‘Aargh!’ he says. ‘Yeearrghhh!’
‘Come on, Bobby. Let’s get you outside to the ambulance. We’ll talk there.’
‘Jes’ a minute,’ he says, rolling right and left as he struggles with his trousers. ‘Jes’ a minute.’
‘Don’t worry about that. Let’s get going.’
Next to him on the seat is an opened tin of luncheon meat he’s been pawing out with his fingers. Chunks of it lie scattered across the seat, and over the sides of an empty bottle of sherry.
‘You can’t go on like this, mate,’ I say. ‘This is a restaurant.’
‘Yaaarghh!’ he says.
He sways alarmingly as we help him to his feet, and his trousers fall down. He isn’t wearing any pants.
‘I need a wee wee,’ he says.’
‘No! Just hold it, okay? You’re not going here.’
‘Where’m’ah gonna go then? On th’ambl’ance?’
‘No. You can wait till we get to the hospital, mate. Now hold you trousers up and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.’
I ask a builder coming into the restaurant if he’ll hold the door open for us.
‘Yeah – no worries,’ he says, and sympathetically tuts and shakes his head when I thank him.
Getting Bobby up the back steps of the ambulance is like shoving an octopus into a milk bottle. His suckers are everywhere, and I’m continually having to redirect him, a task made more complicated by my efforts to keep his trousers up and the living nightmare of his arse out of my face.
‘Hy-arrrrgh!’ says Bobby.
Finally, with one last, desperate heave from me, one big tug from Rae, Bobby pitches head first into the ambulance. I tuck his feet up just enough to be able to slam the door; when I turn round I see a row of horrified faces on a bus that has pulled alongside. I realise it must look as if I’ve just thrown some poor patient into the back, so in an effort to make light of the whole thing I smile and clap my hands together as if to say That’s that! – and wonder if it’ll make the papers.
The triage nurse at the hospital takes my handover with a surprising degree of sympathy. After all, Bobby comes up to hospital pretty much every day. Sometimes he gets thrown out by security for punchy behaviour, or shouting obscenities, or a hundred other anti-social activities. Sometimes when he’s been thrown out he’ll lie himself down in a nearby street and end up in the back of yet another ambulance, relentlessly rolling up the ramp to A&E. It’s an endless cycle of awfulness, but despite every attempt at help, despite the most philanthropically creative interventions, Bobby remains non-compliant, and seven or eight years have passed without respite. He’s a scourge, by any definition, a scourge no-one can treat. Death would seem to be the only resolution now, the only prospect of peace – for Bobby as much as anyone else.
‘Ah!’ says the triage nurse. ‘It’s such a shame. He’s had a hard life, what with his PTSD and all this and that. It’s no wonder he’s at war with the world.’
‘Wow!’ I say to her. ‘That’s very enlightened. I thought you’d tear my head off for bringing him in again.’
‘I know,’ she says, laughing, and touching my arm. ‘But don’t worry. I’m just back from a year’s sabbatical. I’ll be normal again come lunchtime.’