Two o’clock in the morning, and all the beds on Short Stay have their curtains drawn. The place is as deep, dark and blue as an aquarium after-hours, but still there are people moving about in the corridor: the charge nurse, Saskia and her mum. Saskia is pacing up and down with the other two following right and left. The tight curls of her blond hair have shaken out a little and her eyes are swollen with crying and sleeplessness. In her baggy, flower-patterned jumper, nylon tracksuit trousers and battered moccasins she could be a trendy actress rehearsing the part of Ophelia, another modern take on the play, Ophelia on Section. As we come into the ward she looks up and heads straight over.
‘Stand still. There. Do not cross those lines. Stand between them – not behind or over but exactly between them. And no-one must stand to my left. I have to know that you mean me no harm, for it is said that the person ... the person who cometh will righteously know what it is not possible otherwise for them to righteously know, or feel to be known.’
The nurse is by her side.
‘Hi guys. Have you come for Saskia?’
‘Hello. Yep. Hi, Saskia. We’re taking you back home, to a hospital there.’
She stares at me, then backs away, shaking her head.
‘I only need to sleep. If I could just sleep, everything would be well again. Please. Don’t punish me for the sins – the sins that have been visited upon this earth. I love you, mummy but you will kill me. Here. Don’t cry. Let us hug and part as friends. I just need to sleep. Give me your coat.’
Her mum hands over a heavy purple coat to her; Saskia places it on the floor and curls up on it. Whilst the mother kneels beside her and strokes her shoulders, the nurse takes us aside.
‘No previous psychiatric history, but struggling a bit at college lately. Smoking a lot of weed, trying to fit in. Increasingly bizarre behaviour. Then apparently she took some LSD a week ago and hasn’t ever really come down off the trip. So she’s being admitted with an acute psychotic episode and a query on schizophrenia. We’re hoping against hope it’s not that, obviously. Mum has come over to travel back with her to the secure psychiatric hospital in her home town. The doctor and ASW are due any minute for another dose of Lorazepam and the section papers. She’s been agitated and volatile, but I don’t think she poses too much of a risk. Are you happy to go with just the mum as an escort? It’d be great if she could go tonight. We’re not erm... we’re not really set up for this.’
Saskia has leapt up off the floor and gone over to the sluice room where she jerks the light cord on and off. There are groans of protest from the curtained bed spaces just across the way. The nurse grimaces at me and then goes over to her.
The Doctor and ASW arrive.
I have put the lights on the back of the ambulance to low spots. The hope was that with the extra dose of Lorazepam, the early hour and the rocking motion of the ambulance, Saskia might fall asleep. But the reality is that if anything the drug has made her more volatile. Despite everything the mother can do to calm her – cradling her on her lap, stroking her hands and head, singing to her, kissing her head, rocking her gently like a poorly child – Saskia is blazing like a preacher inhabited by terrors. What makes it even harder to manage is those moments when she lapses into a whimpering kind of cry, followed by a sudden coming-to, a clear re-emergence of the girl that was. Now and again she straightens on the trolley, smiles, wipes her eyes with both hands and smiles freely and easily.
‘Well. That’s enough of that,’ she says. ‘God – this is the most boring trip in the world.’
‘How far are we now?’ says her mum, struggling to make out anything of the motorway through the small forward hatch, and the fog.
‘Do you know – I’ve absolutely no idea,’ I tell her.
We’ve been travelling an hour, the prospect at least for the same again.
Saskia ruffles her mum’s hair.
‘I’m sorry, mummy,’ she says, smiling. ‘I put you through it, don’t I?’
‘You’re my daughter and I love you,’ she says. ‘You know I’d do anything for you, Shashi. Don’t worry about a thing. Let’s just concentrate on getting you well again. That’s all I care about. And you will be well, darling. You will be well again.’
Saskia frowns, then closes her eyes and gives her head a bothered little shake. And with that simple movement it’s as if a veil has dropped between her and us. She starts to talk again, quickly, in an urgent hush.
‘I just need to... just let me explain something to you, okay? You have to understand. As much as it’s possible, as much as any one human being can understand. We must explore the concept – you know? Just ask yourself a simple question. What was the trigger? Okay? Where did this happen? Ask Carl. Carl knows. He died once but that was then and now he lives and if I were to tell you the place he’d have to arrive again to be seen unto man.’
She opens her eyes.
‘Don’t cry, Mummy. It’s perfectly natural. It’s a fairytale. An adventure. I simply have to make my way back there to be well again.’
Saskia suddenly drops her mum’s hands and turns round on the trolley.
‘Is Cassie here? Is she with him? She’s pregnant? Oh well. God give me the grace to grow as slow as I need to go and stop when I meet my head.’
Her mother turns to me and smiles.
‘You should see her when she’s well,’ she says. ‘Don’t think badly of her.’
‘Me? No – I’m just sorry this has happened. I wish I could do something to help.’
‘Get us there quickly,’ she says. ‘And thanks for all you’ve done.’
Saskia turns back and clasps her mum’s hands again.
‘I fell asleep – you know? I fell asleep for twenty one years and now I am back and everything is different. Carl knows. He dreamed the whole thing.’
‘Who’s Carl?’ I ask.
The mum shakes her head and tightens her lips. Saskia carries on talking, pressing her mum’s hands, then holding them up to look at them more closely.
‘I can see the colours of your veins,’ she says. ‘I can hear the pattern of your blood.’
We seem to have been travelling forever. Because of the thick fog, Frank has had to slow right down. The cabin rocks gently from side to side, and for a while Saskia has withdrawn into something resembling sleep. Her mum is leaning forwards with her head in Saskia’s lap, completely exhausted, breathing slowly. I rest my head back on the seat rest and close my eyes.
Suddenly I am startled awake by a kick in the leg. Saskia is leaning forwards off the trolley, staring into my eyes.
‘It’s so simple really,’ she whispers. ‘I never really knew. Just breathe. Don’t die. Just breathe.’
Then she leans back on the trolley, and as her mum straightens up, Saskia begins to sing – Alesha Dixon:
I’m gonna breathe slow
Count from one to ten with my eyes closed
'Cause ladies take it in and get composure
For I lose it get composure