The updates that come through are more and more outrageous - for the spelling as much as the detail.
Patient has whole in head. Then: Glass stikking out. And finally: Blood sporting.
‘Dear oh dear’ sighs Rae as she acknowledges each addition. ‘It’s like getting texts from my nephew.’
A young woman waves to us in the street.
‘He’s upstairs,’ she says as we pull up. ‘Come – I show you.’
She leads us to a battered door set back in a recess beside a shop. The first thing we see, looming out of the shadowy hallway, is a life-size plastic waiter, eyes closed, nose in the air, a deflated silver party balloon draped over his tray.
‘Don’t worry,’ she says, taking the stairs two at a time. ‘Is not real.’
We follow her up the narrow staircase to where Tarek is sitting on the side of a bath in a little room on the second floor, one hand pressing a bloody towel to his head, the other holding a cigarette.
‘Hi. Would you mind putting your cigarette out?’
‘Is head I need help with, not lung, my friend.’
‘I know, I know. It’s just – it’ll get in the way.’
‘Okay. Just don’t be rude about it.’
‘I’m not being rude, Tarek. But I can’t fix your head with all that smoke blowing in my eyes.’
‘Okay. Come now. You sort this, please.’
Reluctantly he stubs the fag out in the sink and then tilts his head back so I can get a better look. With a wet gauze ready to put on the wound, I take the towel away. It’s not as bad as advertised, but it’s bad enough: Tarek has a long cut running from his hairline to his left eyebrow. It’s bleeding still, without any glass sticking out that I can see. I gently press the gauze onto the cut whilst Rae preps some more and a non-conforming bandage to keep it all in place.
‘You’ll need stitches I’m afraid.’
‘Stitches? Okay. Do it.’
‘I’m afraid not. It needs a trip up the hospital. How did it happen?’
He shrugs, then catches his girlfriend’s eye, and they both laugh.
‘I not lie to you, my friend. I turn around quickly and I caught it on open window.’
‘What were you doing, then?’
He looks a little embarrassed.
‘Honestly? I was sleepy, okay? It was busy, busy night, and I get out of bed late. I go to window to look out, to see the world, the sunshine and all the pretty people and such things. This window is very old, and open inside like shutter, you understand? Yes? I open this window, and I lean out to see everything and take breath of air and be cool and so on and so forth. But my watch it catch on hook and it make me spill my orange juice. It fall down in street on man’s head, and he’s all shouting and swearing and tapping his head like this and shouting: My God! Who did this? and Rargh! Rargh! Rargh! like this, and then suddenly he looks up. I duck back inside so he not see me. And that’s when I put my head through window.’
He laughs, then wipes his eye clear of blood with a flannel. His girlfriend has found a pair of flip-flops and drops them down at his feet. Once he has a clean t-shirt, his phone and a fresh pack of cigarettes, Tarek follows us back down the stairs, past the waiter and out into the street, crowded now with lunchtime shoppers and office workers.
‘Look what these ambulance do!’ he shouts, reaching out to people with his bloody hands. ‘They beat me! They beat me! Call the police!’
I walk a little further ahead, and try not to make eye-contact with anyone.