It’s lunchtime, and the square is filling up. A company has set up an advertising display in one corner, with a car and banners and beautiful women in heels and smiles handing out leaflets. Office workers are emerging into the bright sunshine to forage for lunch, but the place many of them would sit to eat their wraps and crisps, the curvy public artwork that usefully doubles as a bench, is curiously empty. The reason is obvious, though. An NFA is sitting and smoking on one end; at the other, stretched out on his back on the floor, is Ricky.
I’m on the car, so I’m relieved to see it’s not a resus. An ambulance has also been dispatched to this, so I shouldn’t be on my own for long.
‘Hello? Ricky? Open your eyes for me.’
I pinch his shoulder. He snarls.
‘Don’t. All right?’
He closes his eyes.
‘Come on, Ricky.’
‘What’re you doing that for?’
‘I need you to sit up and talk to me.’
He shuts his eyes again and lies still.
A thick-set guy in his early twenties with a full, black beard and a pair of Beats headphones, he looks like a monk DJ who hit the skids.
‘Come, on, Ricky. You can’t just lie here all day.’
‘People will think you’re ill and call the ambulance.’
He ignores me. I poke him again.
‘Sorry, Ricky. All you have to do is sit up. We’ll have a chat and then I’ll leave you alone.’
The other NFA grins and nods and shouts out drunken advice. I give him a wave and then help Ricky sit up, propping him back against the sculpture. But no sooner is he upright than he starts slumping forwards again.
‘Have you taken anything today, Ricky?’
He slurs something that sounds like the name of an anti-epileptic medication.
‘Have you taken more than you should?’
I have to prod him for an answer. He jerks awake and sneers at me, his eyes half-closed.
Meanwhile, the other NFA has come over. He stands in front of me, hardly able to stay upright himself.
‘He’s a dead fucking loss, that one,’ he says. ‘Aint you, Ricky old son? Hey! D’you want ta see if he ken stand up?’
‘There’s a truck coming in a minute so we’re good till then, I think.’
‘Nah! I know how ta do this. S’easy. Watch me.’
He leans in to Ricky.
‘Hey! Ricky, me ol’ mate. See there – that twenty pound note? Is that your’n? I think it’s come out o’ yer pocket! Look! A twenty pound note, son.’
Ricky frowns and waggles his head from side to side.
‘A twenty pound note, man! Jes’ there, hanging out ya pocket! Yer sittin’ on it.’
Ricky jerks upright, hauls himself to a stand, then sways hopelessly from side to side, like a marionette with its strings in a muddle.
‘There ya go!’ says the NFA. ‘The twenty pound note test.’
He taps the side of his nose, winks and then points to me.
‘That one’s on the house,’ he says. Then laughs, and staggers off.