I’m running late. Jess is opening a charity gig, onstage six thirty. It’ll take forty five minutes to make it there this time of day. I’d been doing so well, too. This decision, that treatment, this referral, that email, this cup of coffee…. frenetically pitchforking my way through the day’s workload like a demented farmer at harvest time. And I thought it was all behind me, and I was good to go. Except the lead nurse caught me and said the district nurses had missed a visit and could I go with David as back-up, because it was in a hostel and that was the policy.
‘It’s just round the corner. Then you can go home from there. You’ll be fine.’
I grabbed my bag and left, calling David on the phone as I went. We agreed to meet outside the hostel. A quick visit. Pretty much a drive-by. I should be out of there in ten.
There is a guy in a dark blue tracksuit and trainers sitting on the steps of the hostel, sipping from a can of lager, watching the cars as they pass along the main drag.
‘Champion,’ he says, raising the can. He has buzz-cut hair that highlights the riot of nicks and bumps that cover his scalp. When he smiles, his teeth are gappy and black.
‘I’m waiting for the other nurse’ I tell him, looking up and down the street. ‘He should be here any minute.’
I lean against the railings and try to look relaxed, even though I’m so hyper I wouldn’t be surprised to see the entire building immediately light up behind me and start to tremble.
‘So how are you?’ I ask the guy.
‘S’all good, mate. All good. I’m moving in to a proper place next week.’
‘Yeah. I was six months sleeping down on the front in a tent.’
‘I dunno. Some things were. But then y’know what? I’d step out first thing in the morning and there was the sea and the sun, right there, like, and I’d think – shit, man – you’d pay a million quid for a view like this.’
‘Did you ever get any hassle?’
‘Nah. Not much. There were a few of us down there and we looked out for each other. It weren’t too bad.’
‘That’s good then. Still – great to get a place of your own. Especially with winter coming on.’
‘I’m in a bit of a rush tonight.’
‘My youngest daughter’s playing a gig tonight. It’s like this battle of the bands thing, and she’s opening. Doing a couple of numbers on her loop pedal. And I absolutely can’t miss it.’
‘Well it’s your daughter, man. You can’t miss a thing like that.’
‘I don’t want to’
‘I’m a musician too, y’know?’
‘What d’you play?’
‘Guitar. And I sing, too. Write me own stuff. We’re organising a gig down on the front in a few months. There’s a guy I know might do us a deal.’
‘That’s great. I’ll look out for it.’
He takes another swig from the can and studies me with an appraising, sideways squint.
‘Don’t take this the wrong way, fella, but – y’know what? – if it weren’t for the uniform – you look rough enough to fit right in here.’
David comes striding round the corner.
‘Sorry I’m late’ he says. ‘Let’s do this.’
The guy on the steps stands up and to the side.
‘Tell your daughter good luck from me,’ he says, offering me his hand after wiping it twice on his tracksuit top.
‘Thanks. I will.’
And we hurry inside.