When Mike, the hostel support worker tells me who we’ve come to see, I can’t help reacting. Martina’s a frequent flyer of legend, a tough transsexual with a taste for the dramatic. She’d pick the most public places to fall to the ground and apparently have a seizure, often throwing herself out of her wheelchair into the path of a bus (so long as she was sure it was coming to a stop). She’s been convicted of everything you can think of, from drunk and disorderly to assault with a weapon (crutches), racial abuse and wounding with intent (a needle). When she’s not ‘unconscious’ she’s rolling out an endless monologue of misfortune that would have the Virgin Mary check her watch.
‘She’s only just come back to town,’ says the support worker, screwing up his eyes to judge how I’ll take the news.
‘Great’ I say. ‘Can’t wait to see her again.’
Martina is waiting for us on the landing just outside her room. She seems older and heavier. Her face is puffy and pale, she’s put on weight, dyed her hair black. She’s wearing giant, Elvis sunglasses that catch the strip-light as she turns her head this way and that, scanning our approach. Both her forearms are wrapped in bloody bandages.
‘What’s happened tonight, Martina?’ I ask her.
‘Nobody knows how hard it is, no-one,’ she says. ‘I’ve had enough and I just want to end it.’
‘Have you hurt yourself? I can see you’ve got those bandages round your arms.’
‘I cut myself with a razor, and I took an overdose as well. I wanted to do a proper job, ‘cos nobody here’s bothered whether I live or die.’
‘Have you still got the razor on you?’
The glasses study me.
‘No,’ she says, in a low voice. ‘I left it in my room.’
‘I’m sorry you’ve been feeling like this, Martina,’ says the support worker. ‘You know you’ve always got us to talk to. And your case worker. And your CPN. We’re always there for you.’
‘When you’ve got as much going as I have, what’s the point? You don’t know what it’s like. Everyone thinks I’m a freak and a waste of space so why don’t I do something about it?’
‘Martina? Can I take those bandages off and have a look? See what the damage is?’
‘Do what you like. I’ve got epilepsy as well and I haven’t got my meds. My room’s damp, I haven’t had nothing to eat all day and if I don’t get some help soon I’m going to go crazy and do something. I swear.’
I unwrap the bandages and find that she’s given herself a few very superficial swipes, nothing that needs anything more than a clean.
‘What about the overdose?’ I ask her. ‘What did you take?’
‘My inhalers,’ she says. ‘I started getting this wheeze, ‘cos I’ve got asthma and a chest infection and the doctor’s not bothered. So I was using the puffer and I thought why stop? Why not take the lot.’
‘So you’ve overdosed on Ventolin.’
‘Yeah. I’d have thrown myself out of the window but I couldn’t open it.’
‘Do you often get these suicidal feelings?’
‘When don’t I get them? I’m like it all the time. Aren’t I, Mick?’
‘Yes. You do suffer with it,’ he says.
‘Do you want to go down the hospital to talk to someone there about how you feel?’ I ask her, re-dressing her arms. ‘The cuts and the overdose, none of them need hospital attention. But the way you feel might.’
‘What are they going to do for me down there?’ she says. ‘What can they do? I need a job, a place to live that’s not just a crap hole like this place. What can they possibly do for me?’
‘I don’t know, Martina. It’s true, you do have people you can talk to here, and on the phone. Have you tried them yet?’
She looks at me, her eyes unreadable behind the shades. For a moment I think she’s going to take a swing – she’s done it in the past. But something’s definitely changed. Wherever she’s been this past year, it’s made her slower, blunter, less volatile.
‘No,’ she says.
‘We are here for you, Martina,’ says Mike.
‘Well then,’ she says, repositioning the glasses. ‘I suppose I’ll have to stay here.’