Tito’s chest is full of dinks and rumbles and squeaks and rasps. I might as well have put my steth against the engine cover of an old tractor, cranked into life after twenty years at the bottom of a ditch. He needs anti-biotics, steroids, pain killers. More than all of these, of course, he needs a place to live. Sleeping in a shop doorway night after night would be tough on anyone; for a man in his fifties with corrupted lungs, it’s tantamount to a death sentence. Still, he’s sanguine enough. He settles into the trolley, happy in the moment, with the warmth and the light, and the novelty of a sense of direction. The stench from his sodden trainers is truly appalling. You could track him blindfolded, across the wastes of Alaska, without dogs. For now, I’m just grateful he doesn’t have a foot injury I’m supposed to examine. Instead, I fix him up a neb, adjust the blanket, and he snuggles in for the ride.
I’m writing a few things down on the form when he taps me with his newspaper, the free one they give away outside the railway station.
He lifts the hissing neb mask.
‘Have you seen this?’ he says.
He points to a story just inside.
He puts the mask back on whilst I have a look.
A fossil of the world’s largest dinosaur has been discovered in Patagonia. A plant-eating Titanosaur, it was as big as seven T-Rexes. Sixty-five tonnes, thirty-seven foot neck, weaponized tail. Dreadnoughtus schrani.
‘Amazing!’ I tell him.
He pulls the mask aside again.
‘Can I turn this off, mate?’
‘Sure. You don’t have to wear it if you don’t want.’
‘Nah. It makes me nose all sweaty.’
I turn the oxygen off and sit back down.
‘You like dinosaurs then?’
‘Depends what you mean by like. I like looking at pictures and all that, thinking about how things used to be. I don’t know’s I’d want to keep one as a pet.’
‘It’d make one helluva mess of your garden.’
‘Aye, no doubt it would. And the whole street, come to that. I mean – look at the size of the thing. Why’d it get so big, d’you think? What’s the point in that?’
‘I don’t know. I remember seeing this programme about Apatosaurus once. It said they had long necks because they’d walk to a good position then stay there, grazing everything around them up and down without having to move. Apparently it was more efficient that way.’
‘Yeah? I’m a bit like that myself. I don’t like to move much when I’m feeding.’
‘Maybe in a few million years your relatives’ll all have very long necks.’
‘I wouldn’t mind. I think I’d look pretty good. Although it’d be a stretch putting my beanie on in the morning.’
He closes his eyes and seems to fall instantly asleep. Maybe it’s the unaccustomed heat in the back of the truck. I turn the dial down a bit and finish off the paperwork. After a few minutes he yawns and opens his eyes again.
‘What gets me is the names they come up with,’ he says, as if there’s been no pause in the conversation at all. ‘See this one they found? Dreadnoughtus here? After one of them big battleships from the first world war? Well, no surprises there I suppose. But you know what? If it was up to me I’d call it something else. A Humungasaurus. And whilst I was there I’d rename a few others. Your T-Rex? You know what I’d call him?’
‘A Meanmuthafuckasaurus. And if he were here now, chasing us down the street, no doubt you’d see my point.’