‘Nightmare, start to finish,’ says Craig, sitting on the side of the bed. ‘Just call me the Lizard Man.’
He tells me he’d been out of the country for a few years, teaching in the Congo. When the civil war started to bite he was forced to come home, even though he’d fallen in love with the country and the people. It just so happened that his decision to leave coincided with an outbreak of total body psoriasis. Starting with a pervasive itch, his skin started to flake and come away, to the extent that he left a trail of scurf whenever he moved. His legs dried up and cracked into scales. The condition spread until there was not a centimetre of flesh that wasn’t affected – not his ears, his eyelids, foreskin, the palms of his hands. The paraffin based ointment he was using had turned his skin a hectic red; he looked like the victim of a nuclear accident.
After a brief spell in hospital when he was repatriated, he was discharged into temporary accommodation. And it was whilst he was moving from that place to new, longer-term digs that he found he’d lost all his documents, including his passport.
‘The surgery needs it to register me on the system,’ he says. ‘So I’m a bit stuffed. I could get a new one, fast track. But then there’s the issue of the photo.’
He smiles at me. ‘I think I might break the camera.’
I’m amazed he can be so upbeat about his situation. To say that nothing was going right for him was like saying Job was having a bad day. Truly, his misfortunes had taken on a biblical aspect. Even his new accommodation was dreadful – a housing block so racked with social problems it may as well have a pedal at the bottom to open the roof and throw the tenants in at the top.
‘And now the DWP are on my case,’ he says. ‘I’ve got to explain why I can’t work at the moment.’
‘You’ll be all right,’ I tell him, but trail away, uncertainly.
He holds his arms out, right and left.
‘I can’t think many places would have me, even if I felt well enough,’ he says, then falls back to scratching. Chunks come away.
‘But I dunno. They’re the experts. Maybe they’ll find work for me.’
He peels off a scab, and drops it into the bin beside the bed. We both watch as it floats down.
‘At the zoo or something.’

3 thoughts on “zoo

  1. A dreadful case, Jack. Reminiscent of ‘The Singing Detective’ (at the risk of dating myself). Apparently there’s some kind of UV treatment, as well as a load of steroidal creams. I don’t think they know what causes half these skin conditions. ‘Cryptogenic’ is the term they use sometimes, to make ‘don’t know’ sound more scientific…


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