Friday, November 02, 2007

moving on

Red car. Man slumped at wheel sounds interesting. It’s a minute from the ambulance station, too – a rough strip of road that cuts through a spread of allotments just above the cemetery, a rat-run between main routes. It’s the city’s shabby little version of Mulholland Drive, with sheds instead of penthouses; at night it’s like flying out above the city towards the sea.

Just as Rae turns the engine over and I write down the incident number and location, Control tells us that the police will be attending. At the same moment a patrol car rushes past the station exit up the hill.

‘Damn’, says Rae. ‘I wanted to get there first.’ She slams out of the car park and away after them.

Turning into the Drive I can see the splashing blues of the police car a little way off in the distance. As we careen along the poorly lit road, our blue lights tag after theirs, and we become mad paparazzi in the dark, wasting our film on some chain fencing, a group of kids, that tree.

They pull over behind a sports car without lights on the right hand side of the road. Rae hauls up immediately alongside. If the man has had a heart attack, time is everything, and we can worry about parking niceties afterwards. We both jump out. There’s a policewoman standing at the driver’s door. Rae goes to that one, and I pull open the passenger door and look inside.

As always on an incident – especially with high adrenalin calls, and especially at night – the details come to you in bursts. The challenge is to make sense of the scene as calmly and quickly as you can. Simple questions: Is there danger here? What’s happened? But although simple questions work best with simple answers, it’s an effort of concentration to ignore the peripheral and make straight to the essential.

In this case, the essential seem to be: a middle-aged man with facial injuries, conscious and breathing; car cold and not smelling of fumes; no sign of weapons.

Rae is the other side of him, now. We have him in a cramped little cross-fire of inquiry, both verbal and non-verbal. A torch to have a good look.

He smells of drink. I’m about to kneel in a pizza box. The back seat is rammed with clothes, other stuff. He can tell us his name, but is disorientated and slurred. Drunk? Or head injury? Is he sleeping rough in this car and has been beaten up? By those kids we passed?

A second patrol car has arrived. They are standing outside the car, one on the radio trying to get information on the licence plate, the others chatting about other things. There is a palpable sense of stepping back two or three levels from screaming emergency to Thursday night mystery. Who is he?

We help him out of the car. He is a heavily built man with a coarse goatee beard and an Eastern European accent. He is dressed like a shabby professor in a T-shirt that says: Don’t ask me to do anything. I’m retired, beneath a brown corduroy jacket.

‘I’m okay,’ he slurs, almost falling backwards as we manoeuvre him up the back step into the ambulance. We sit him down, shut the door, and take a breath.

‘Now then, let’s have a good look at you.’

His facial injuries are old, probably a few days, but it does look as if he had a beating. His nose is certainly broken. And he is definitely drunk. He has that slow, deep-and-off-to-the-side detachment from everything. He looks at his hands to move them. When I ask him for his surname he spells it out one fat letter at a time as if this is the first time he has ever really considered what his surname was or could mean.


‘Burows?’ I say, just as he continues with a K and an I.


He nods. We have arrived somewhere awful and he squeezes his eyes. Another policewoman looks into the back and tells us that they have to go off on another call and are we okay? I tell her we are. She shuts the back door again, and we are left to piece his story together.

He is from Poland. He has been living in the city for ten years. His girlfriend has left him. His friends – he shrugs. His life – he makes a sad little gesture with both hands down towards the floor, like a man in handcuffs being dragged down a well. He had an accident three days ago and was in hospital until this morning. He is sleeping in the car. He thinks he’ll call his brother in Poland in the morning. Maybe he should move back there.

He looks steadily at me as I undo the blood pressure cuff.

‘You came at the wrong time,’ he says.

I tell him that we think he should come with us to hospital for observation, because he’s had a recent head injury and we can’t be sure that his current condition is solely due to alcohol. But he does not want to go to hospital. He wants to get back into his car and go to sleep. So reluctantly we end up helping him back off the vehicle, and when we say goodbye he is standing with his driver’s door open, nodding a farewell – which would, in any other circumstance, be a normal scene, except here when we leave it will be very dark, and the night is coming down cold, and all four tyres on his little red sports car are flat.


Unknown said...

You have the most beautiful way with words, your blogs are truly poetic. Even the most mundane observations are beautiful when you write, these posts have left me speechless...

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks, Jenni. It's such a fantastic boost to have someone read what you've written - and like it! :) S.