A police car is parked outside the all-night pizza place, a small group of people standing outside. We walk over. A middle-aged man with a bloodied face is talking to a couple of officers. I wait just to the side whilst he finishes what he has to say, then introduce myself.
The man gives me a slantways look.
‘I don’t need no ambulance,’ he says. ‘I just want to go home.’
‘Let’s have a chat on the truck, clean you up a bit and see what the damage is, then we’ll decide what to do next.’
‘Okay. Fine. Whatever.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Is that a police question?’
‘No. It’s just a "what’s your name" type question.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Spence? Whatever kind of name is that? What’s your first name? Pound-Shilling?’
He smirks, then hawks some blood out onto the pavement.
‘So are you going to tell me your name?’
‘Oh. Yeah. My ‘name’. It’s Murphy. Okay? Easy one to spell.’
The policewoman gives me an apologetic look, then says to Murphy: ‘Just behave and go with these people. We’ve got all we need and we’ll be in touch.’
‘Great. Be in touch. I know what you mean.’
I help him into the truck. Rae shows him to a seat.
‘Tell us what happened.’
‘Life, that’s what happened, Henny Pen. I was just swapping banter with some kids in the pizza place, they went mental, I got a battering. This one guy, he just kept punching and punching me. As hard as he could, working his fist right into my face. I haven’t had a beating like that since I were a kid. For what? For talking like a normal human being. For being human.’
He gives his swollen face some exploratory prods with his finger, and winces.
‘I don’t deserve that. No one does. I know I can be a bit mouthy sometimes, but I’m a decent bloke, at the bottom of it all.’
I start to clean his head up with a saline-soaked gauze swab.
‘Were you knocked out, Murphy?’
‘It’ll take more than those chimps to put me down.’
‘Well you’ve got a deep cut just here that’ll need glueing. And I think you might need an x-ray to rule out any facial fractures.’
‘No mate. I just want to go home and sleep it off.’
‘That’s not something we’d recommend, Murphy.’
He stares at a bloody tissue in his hands.
‘D’you know what, mate? I’ve had just about enough of this western world.’
I rip open some fresh swabs.
‘I don’t know there’s anywhere that’s free of this kind of stuff,’ I say. ‘I was brought up in the country, and we had our fair share of after-pub violence.’
‘Yeah? Well – there’s always Fiji.’
‘Is that a good place, then?’
‘I have not the slightest idea.’
He grunts, smiles crookedly, then offers up his right palm, american style. I smack it.
‘Good one,’ I say.
He relaxes his hand back down onto his lap and then stares at it, like it just operated on its own accord. Then he sighs wetly through his nose and spits some more blood into a tissue.
I carry on cleaning him up.
Suddenly he says: ‘I can’t bear that my kids will have to see me like this tomorrow.’
And he starts to cry, shaking apart in the chair with sharp little jerks of his shoulders.
‘My kids love me,’ he chokes. ‘I am loved. I am loved. I don’t deserve this.’
We clean him up as best we can, and when we’re done, we take him to the hospital.
That story has touched me in a way I didn't expect it to, at the outset. Beautiful writing, as always.
Thanks Helen. I must admit when we first picked him up I formed a bad impression. In fact I thought he was pretty obnoxious. But even though I could see why he got into trouble, I did feel incredibly sorry for him. Like he said - at the bottom of it all he was an all right bloke.
It's a grim experience, tending to all the assaults on a weekend. An alcohol-fuelled, mostly young male thing, there seems to be a brutal and brutalised section of society for whom casual violence seems to be a means of self-expression.
Poor guy. I hope he was OK afterwards. I like the remark he made about your name though!
My dad was beaten up randomly once, they broke his nose. He gets worried when I go out at night, even though I tell him I can look after myself because chances are that when someone starts attacking you, they're not gonna finish until you're on the floor covered in blood. Nice world we live in, isn't it?
The ending, when he starts to cry, really hits you as it comes completely out of the blue. Like you wrote above, he seemed so obnoxious but underneath all the bravado, he obviously saw the repercussions of what happened - having his kids possibly frightened of him and his bruised face, or if they're older, wanting to go and deck the ones who did this to him. Perhaps he was a decent bloke after all, just trying to keep up the "hard man" facade.
And I agree with you, Spence, this violence as self-expression culture is grim. Makes you wonder where it all went wrong.
It's a shame that things are like they are - but it's not a new thing, I don't think. When I was in my teens and blagging my way into pubs, there was always the threat of violence. The classic opener used to be: 'What're you looking at?'. I always fantasised about saying: 'Dunno - the label's fallen off' (but never did). Knives have made it much worse, of course - and mobile phones. I'm glad Happy Slapping wasn't around when I was growing up!
I suppose it's poorly focused energy. These young guys are out to prove themselves, and if they're carrying a lot of frustration around, it'll spill over into violence. And all made worse by drink, drugs and the gang culture.
BTW - that same night, there was a guy with his shirt off, standing in the middle of the road threatening the cars that drove round him! I'm sure we could get him doing something a bit more creative with his time & energy.
Great writing, Spence, the end caught me completely off guard.
As a part-time juvinile delinquent I had my share of bloody faces. I swear i was always the recipient, not the agressor. You made me remember one vicious beating I took for no more than replying to the universal question, "What are you looking at?" with what I thought a rather clever answer, "a big pile of shit."
My mum reckons (and she is the fountain of all knowledge ;-) ) that 50 years ago or more, a lot of those lads we now see having a punch up on the street would have been land workers, apprentices in factories etc. Wouldn't have had the time, energy or inclination to go around beating people up who breathed at them the wrong way (apart from on a Friday night when they'd had far too much beer and even then the landlord would have known who they were and threatened them with telling their Mam). Technology is wonderful but it also has a lot to answer for :S
PS. Could have given the guy batons, and have him direct traffic at airports :D
Yep - that's fightin' talk! I think that's a much better and more direct answer to the 'whatryoulookinat' question. LoL :)
I def agree with your mum about the apprenticeship thing. I suppose the decline in manufacturing hasn't helped, but there are still loads of industries that could do with long term on the job training. I think there's too much emphasis on school/college based education, which simply isn't appropriate for a significant no. of people.
There certainly seem to be great herds of young guys (particularly) stampeding through town looking for trouble over the weekend.
ps that guy reminded me of the incredible hulk, only without the bulk, and not quite so green
I find the desire to do violence to others randomly completely unfathomable. There's a guy in our town who sexually assaulted another man while the man was passed out drunk. On awakening the assualtee beat him to a pulp, giving him a broken wrist facial fractures and back injuries. No charges were brought against the guy that beat him up and when this has come up in conversation i have said it seems a bit disproportionate. Several people have said to me "wouldn't you do the same?" and I just don't understand the violence lurking in lots of men. I agree with the poster above that in days gone by these people would be pulling a plough or working on the fields and our more cerebral service based economy just doesn't suit them, or are they just an evolutionary dead-end?
Although intellectually I can come up with a few reasons why there is a culture of casual violence, still at its heart I find it almost impossible to understand. I know a lot of people blame the alcohol, but I don't think that's totally it. Drink in itself won't make you violent - you have to have a potential for violence to begin with.
Those times I've been out and about in Spain and France, I've never felt the same level of aggression that you seem to get here. So there seems to be quite a cultural aspect to it all. A complicated subject - but one that affects us on a daily basis in the NHS!
Brilliant writing - would you mind if I use your article in my blog at some point? Lx
I don't mind at all if you want to use the article in your blog.
What a touching account. The victim's encounter usually does start with "What are you looking at?" and then progresses into a random expression of hate. Normally self-hate which comes down on someone so unsuspecting as your subject. I also was caught off guard with the second half of the piece when the subject started to cry on account of his kids.
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