There is nothing and no-one out in the street tonight, certainly no Intoxicated female, collapsed outside number thirty-two. We’ve played our torches around the scene, over fences and flower borders, recycling bins and bad concrete statuary, over the cold forms of parked up cars on verges and brick-paved drives, but so far, the only sign of life has been the flash of a cat’s eyes before it disappeared beneath a gate.
We’d knock on the door of thirty-two – a wide, nondescript building, the kind that long ago traded looks for space – but it’s so late, we wouldn’t want to chance it. If there was someone needing our help here, surely they’d be on the lookout? Surely they’d be at the door waving us inside? And anyway, this ambulance is so noisy, I’m surprised the whole street hasn’t come out to beat us to death with their slippers.
We call Control and ask them to get back to the caller. They tell us the line has gone out of service.
‘But the caller said the woman had collapsed in the street? outside number thirty-two?’
‘That’s all we have.’
‘Well she must have walked off, then. There’s no sign of anything or anyone needing our help.’
They stand us down.
Just as we’re driving off down the street, Rae says: ‘Here we go.’
She’s looking in her wing mirror. I wind the window down and look back.
Adnan is run-skating after us in his flip-flops, one hand holding his bomber jacket together at the front, the other swinging out for balance.
Rae stops and lets him catch up.
‘Come!’ he says. ‘Wife.’
When he turns round, the back of his jacket reads: Planet Hollywood
Rae backs up the little distance we’d travelled whilst I call Control to let them know we’ve found the patient.
Adnan is waiting for us at the open door of the nondescript house. He frowns at me as I finish talking on the radio and put it back in my pocket.
‘Ssh please,’ he says. ‘No wake the house.’
We follow him inside.
There are no notice-boards or fire panels, no exit signs or any of those formal touches that would mark it out as a hostel or refuge. Definitely some kind of temporary accommodation, though; the air is thick and stale, and even if I can’t hear anything, there’s a pressure of silence around us that feels like people sleeping.
Adnan opens a door that has a small padlock and clasp on the outside, and shows us in to a small, dimly lit room with a double bed, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers with a TV on top, and a low table with a kettle and a couple of mugs.
Helga is lying on the bed, the duvet and sheets rucked up around her.
‘She go out and drink very much,’ says Adnan, ‘Then she come back and take pills. She says she want kill herself.’
I look at the pill strip. Four missing.
‘You’re sure this is all she’s had?’
He shakes his head.
‘But of course.’
They’re a strange couple. Adnan is a stooped, lean Middle Eastern guy with a frown in the centre of his forehead as precise as the crease in his jeans. With her yellow hair in two plaits, her make-up smudged, her spindly legs in a pair of wrinkled, stripy tights, dungaree shorts and mismatched shoes, Helga looks like some kind of alternative Swiss clown, exhausted after a night’s performance.
‘Helga? Helga? It’s the ambulance. Will you sit up and talk to us?’
‘I want to die,’ she moans, rolling over and pushing her face into a pillow. ‘Too much problem. Go ‘way’
Adnan sighs and reaches down as if he’s about to put her over his shoulder and jog to the hospital.
‘Hang on a second, Adnan. Can I just ask – are you a relation?’
‘Yes. Her husband.’
‘Two weeks’ says Helga. ‘To stay in country. For money.’
Adnan shakes his head and backs off towards the door.
‘Helga? We need to find out what’s been happening tonight. We got a call to someone collapsed in the street. Was that you?’
‘I help inside,’ says Adnan. ‘We go to hospital now?’
‘Just a minute. Helga? What pills have you taken tonight?’
She wobbles her head about in an effort to focus, and eventually taps the strip I’m holding in my hand.
‘Just these? Any others?’
‘No. I want sleep. Too much trouble.’
‘Did you take these pills to hurt yourself?’
‘I not want to wake up.’
‘I think you do need to come to hospital, Helga. These pills won’t have caused you any harm. What I’m worried about is your low mood, and the reason you took the pills. If you come to the hospital and sober up, you can talk to someone about how you feel. Okay? Ready to go? Come on.’
We help her up. She walks a little raggedly. When she stops at the door to wait for Adnan to open it, she swivels round and gives me a lopsided smile. I half expect her to pull a bunch of flowers out of her sleeve.
At the hospital, Eddie the triage nurse tries to get the story.
‘So you wanted to kill yourself?’ he says.
Helga finds the vomit bowl next to her and puts it on her head.
‘You like hat?’ she says.
‘Put the bowl down, Helga and talk to me seriously. This isn’t funny. It’s very important we understand what’s happened tonight. The ambulance crew tell me you took some tablets with the intention of hurting yourself. Is that right?’
‘What is that? Plastic chair?’ she says, looking over the side of the trolley.
‘Yes. That’s a plastic chair, Helga.’
‘Is blue. Is blue plastic chair.’ She squints at Eddie. ‘Like uniform.’
‘Nurse uniform blue, plastic chair blue. You blue plastic nurse.’
Eddie sighs and clicks through the rest of the triage screen.
‘What are we going to do with you, Helga?’ he says, filling in the boxes.
‘This is right, mister blue plastic nurse. What we do with Helga?’
She flops back down on the trolley and puts the vomit bowl over her face this time.
‘Ah! Poor married Helga. Is much, much problem.’