Early morning, and the day has just started to move up, clear and bright.
A young woman is standing over a figure lying prone on the pavement. She waves when she sees us, and puts her phone away.
‘Thanks for coming so quickly,’ she says. ‘This is how I found him.’
It’s a guy of about thirty. His thin and wasted face looks familiar, and I’m guessing he’s a street sleeper, because although his trousers are round his ankles, he’s wearing a pair of tracksuit bottoms under them.
I lean down next to him and shout in his ear.
‘Hello, mate! It’s the ambulance!’
He doesn’t respond, so I squeeze his shoulder.
‘Hello? Are you all right?’
He flinches, and bats my hand away.
‘Fuck off,’ he says, in a spasm of irritation – then instantly goes back to sleep.
‘So he wasn’t unconscious,’ says the woman, looking embarrassed. ‘I just didn’t feel safe to touch him myself.’
‘No. Don’t worry. It’s very kind of you to help. We’ll be all right now if you want to get on.’
She adjusts the rucksack on her shoulder, and with one last perplexed look down at the man, strides away down the street.
I lean in to pinch the guy’s shoulder again.
‘You can’t just lie down on the pavement, mate. People are worried about you. They think you’ve died.’
‘Fuck off n’leave me alone.’
‘Open your eyes for me, would you?’
He’s instantly asleep again, so I open his eyelids. His pupils are as small and hard as poppy seeds.
‘Have you had some heroin this morning?’
This seems to rouse him more effectively than the pinches on the shoulder. He struggles up onto his feet, and stands there a moment, swaying from side to side, his eyes closed, his trousers still round his ankles.
‘Come on, mate. Why don’t you come on the ambulance and we’ll check you over?’
He turns his head, raising his scrubby chin and sniffing the air in a general way, like a snake sensing heat off in the undergrowth.
‘Fuck off and mind your own business,’ he says eventually, then turns to walk away. But the trousers round his ankles immediately trip him up, and he veers alarmingly into the road, flailing his arms around and paddling with his feet to keep up with the top half of him. It can only be the heroin keeping him upright; anyone else would’ve fallen flat on their face.
‘Whoa! At least pull your trousers up!’
Incredibly, he makes it over to the other side of the road. A van waits to let him go. When it eventually moves on, the driver smiles at me and shakes his head.
Meanwhile, the patient has draped himself over a metal barrier and fallen asleep again.
I walk over.
‘Seriously. You can’t go on like this. You’ll end up hurting yourself, and anyway, we’ll just get another call back.’
I reach out and squeeze his shoulder again.
He flinches, and pushes himself upright.
‘Get your nose out of my business,’ he shouts, then tries to walk off again.
‘At least let us help you get your trousers up.’
He penguin-steps further onto the pavement, and then as if drawn by some invisible, irresistible current, waddles off sideways into an alley.
‘I’m not following him around all morning,’ I tell Rae. ‘Get your nose out of my business. There’s gratitude!’
Rae pulls off her gloves and hauls herself back in the cab.‘His business in your nose, more like,’ she says.