Carys is propped up against some railings, four nightclub bouncers buzzing around her. In fact, if her sheer black outfit had just a few touches of yellow she’d make an excellent queen bee, surrounded by a swarm of close-eyed drones. They certainly seem to venerate her. Two of them stand either side keeping her upright, passing her cigarettes, lighting them; keeping her warm, whilst the other two make phone calls, control the traffic and finally wave us in.
‘Someone spiked Carys’ drink,’ says the bouncer who meets us, whether on the verge of tears or extreme violence it’s hard to tell. ‘She’s lost the use of her legs.’
If her drink has been spiked, it’s had a focused effect. She doesn’t slur her words, has a good recall of events, isn’t dizzy or nauseated. It’s just that she has no feeling at all from mid-thigh downwards, and although she can weight bear, she has to be guided onto the trolley we bring alongside her.
‘It was that last Sambuca’ she says, quite clearly and calmly. ‘You’d never know if there was something weird in that shit or not, would you?’
‘Who gave it to you?’
‘I don’t know. Some guy.’
She shrugs, phlegmatic about the whole affair. When we’ve made her comfortable on the stretcher she takes a kiss and a hug from each of the bouncers, then waves to them with one of her shoes as she slowly rises into the air on the tail lift.
‘I used to work there’ she says as we push her inside.
* * *
At the hospital the triage area is as busy as ever. Carys surveys the scene coolly, her arms folded.
‘This is stupid,’ she says. ‘I feel such an idiot.’
‘We’ve got to get this problem with your legs sorted out, though. I wonder if your drink was spiked? Where’s my biro...?’
‘What you want a biro for? Shove it up me arse?’
‘No! I’m going to test your reflexes.’
I run it up and down the soles of her feet, but the plantar reflex is lacking.
‘I’m normally pretty ticklish,’ she says, looking gloomily at her inert feet.
A man in a blue coat wanders over. Out of the corner of my eye he looks like a nurse, but when I turn round to give him a handover, I see that he’s actually a member of the public. An elderly black man, with tightly curled, greying hair and a pair of bi-focals perched on the tip of his nose. He smiles, lowers his chin, and regards Carys over the top of them.
‘Well, well!’ he says. ‘And where are you from my dear?’
‘Where am I from? Where are you from, lover?’
‘Oh – hush!’ he chuckles. ‘Listen. I couldn’t help overhearing you say the word biro. A very unusual pronunciation.’
‘Is it? Biro. How else do you say it?’
‘There you are again, you see? Now, forgive me for saying so – but am I right in thinking you’re from Africa?’
‘Africa? What? No, mate. Cardiff.’
‘Ah! Cardiff!’ he says, smiling broadly, as if he’d just been proved right. ‘Ye-es. Bi-ro. A most unusual word. Laszlo Biro. Hungarian, I believe.
‘Yes. Yes he was. Unmistakable.’
He wanders away, cleaning his glasses on his coat and shaking his head.
‘Fucking hell,’ says Carys. ‘That’s given me the fear, that has. I need a hug, quick.’
She turns to me, but I shake my head.
‘If you don’t mind Carys I’ll leave that to the nurse,’ I say. ‘When we can find a real one.’
And I put the biro back in my pocket.