good boy

‘Ah’m on ma owen, as yoo ken no dowet see fer yerseln. Ma gel-fren, she’s garn ta see them there Lady Boyz. So there ye hav’it. S’it. End of. A sorry tale, en’no mistakun. But ah’m very happy fer any’in yous tous can do ta help, y’kno wha ah mean? Ah’m ver’ grateful.’

Rufus speaks so slowly it’s like he’s thumbing each word out in plasticine. Not only is he drunk but he has a strong Glaswegian accent, so it’s almost impossible to understand what he’s saying. The only way I can manage it is to completely relax, watch his mouth, and try to take clues from his inflections and sudden, wildly uncoordinated gestures. He’s naked on the bed, which would be worrying if he wasn’t so completely unbothered by it – in fact, much less self-conscious in his nudity than I am in my uniform. I can’t help thinking about Rufus’ girlfriend, sitting in the audience watching the immaculately made-up Lady Boys, their choreographed gestures, perfect diction, and wonder what she makes of the contrast.

Rufus smiles, exposing a mouth of greying stumps.

‘[Translation] I suppose you’ve come to dress my wound? I’m sorry for the state I’m in, but I’ve had a few drinks and I lost track of where I was. I’m an alcoholic, you know. I’m cutting right down. I only had four cans. The doctor knows all about it. I’ve been on detox three times but nothing worked. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes you just have to accept how things are I suppose. Do you know what I mean? Anyway – what about you? How are you? Thanks for coming. I really do appreciate everything you do.’

I’ve come with Jasmine, one of the Filipino nurses. To be honest, she’s almost as hard to understand as Rufus. She speaks lightly and quickly, barely moving her mouth, strange intonations, swallowing some vowels, stopping unexpectedly on others, and ending every other sentence with an isn’t it or a long, drawn-out aaaaah. Her small stature and delicate features completely belie her tough approach, though. She’s small and busy and she’s used to working fast. She tears open dressings kits, snaps gloves on and off, probes, irrigates, photographs, packs, re-dresses – all with a positivity that overwhelms any resistance. It’s not that she’s cold or harsh. Far from it. She has a kind of tough, Catholic love for everyone, including Rufus. Despite the alcohol I think he can feel it, too.

‘I’m nah hurting you am I?’ she says, roughly prodding Aquacel into the wound.
‘[Translation] No. You’re alright. You carry on. I’m used to it. You’re doing a fine job.’
‘You know, you gah to take better care of yourself isn’t it? It very durty down here, too much durty… How you ever going tah geh better? You listen tah me now. You geh wash now. I hep you.’
‘[Translation] No. You’re alright. Thanks for the offer but I’ll just put on some clean underpants and have a wash later. It’s no bother. You did a grand job. Thanks.’

I hand him some clean-ish Minion boxer shorts from a heap of clothing on the floor. By the time Rufus and I have figured out which way round they should go, Jasmine has packed her stuff away, disposed of the rubbish bag and started writing up her notes. She pauses to watch us, sighing heavily through her nose.
To be honest, anyone would sigh watching Rufus get his boxers on. He rolls around on the bed, waggling his long legs in the air, trying to put both through one hole, then taking them out and trying to put them both through the other hole, the whole time displaying with alarming clarity that which normally should not be displayed.
After a minute or two of this Jasmine sighs again, throws down her notes and intervenes.
‘Give me dat,’ she says. She slaps his legs down, rolls him onto his side, guides his left leg, then his right leg, says ‘You bridge now…’, and as soon as he does, she whips the boxers up with a satisfying snap of elastic.
‘All done!’ she says, winking at him. ‘You guh boy.’

teeny, tiny sharks

‘We’re going to convert the laundry room into a downstairs bedroom for him. There’s a small bathroom next door, so that’s good. And I think it’s nice with the sun coming in like that, don’t you, Stelios? Plus he’ll be in the action – you know? The comings and goings.’
Elena is bright and charming and matter of fact about the whole situation, the matriarchal engine of love behind the family. Her husband Stelios is lying on a riser-recliner, his left hand draped over the side of his head in an attitude of great forbearance, his right reaching forward, as the nurse and I irrigate the fist-sized cavity in his side.
‘How is it looking?’ says Elena, leaning over. ‘Infection still?’
‘I think it’s improving,’ says Gill. ‘Look – see there…and there? A little sloughy, but not too bad. We’ll pack it out again and see you again tomorrow.’
Gill has a fantastically reassuring manner, easy as a mechanic up to her elbows in the bonnet, as happy to chat about where she went on her holidays this year as the way a post-operative wound should progress.
‘Here,’ she says, sitting back on her heels and smiling broadly at me. ‘You can do the next bit.’

The living room is a family shrine. Large, blurry portraits of babies and children, couples being married, couples on holiday, in boats, shops, university gowns, every portrait mounted in swirly, gold-leaf frames With all the ornate furniture, the marble tops and carriage clocks and yellow and green porcelain pot stands, and with the broad bands of sunshine leaning in through the patio windows, the effect is quite overwhelming, like trying to dress a wound in the Cave of Wonders.

‘That was the first place I ever went abroad, Greece,’ I say, gently probing the deeper recesses of the wound.
‘Oh lovely! Where did you go?’ says Elena.
‘Serifos. A beautiful little island. Nice ferry ride out. I couldn’t get over how clear the water was. I think it was the first time I ever swam in a sea where you could actually see fish.’
Stelios groans a little.
‘Is that okay?’ I say.
He waves his free hand.
‘Is good,’ he says. ‘Please – go on.’
‘Anyway – I remember when we got there, I pretty much ran into the sea and swam out as far as I could, and it was all wonderful. But then I stopped, because I thought oh my god, what about sharks.’
‘Sharks!’ laughs Elena. ‘Little tiny teeny ones, maybe.’
‘I had no idea. So I ended up swimming back really slowly, trying not to make a splash.’
‘That’s funny,’ she says. ‘Jellyfish, maybe. Sharks? No. The worst could happen maybe you get tickled by squid.’
‘Or hit by motorboat,’ says Stelios, groaning some more.
‘Your name’ says Elena. ‘Is Jim, yes?’
‘I can’t think what this is in Greek, you know?’
She speaks quickly and emphatically to Stelios, who lifts his hands when and how he can as part of the argument, and it goes on like this for a minute or two, whilst I continue to pack the wound. Eventually, Elena turns to me again and says: ‘Okay. Okay. Is Dimitris for Jim, but Iakovos for James, and anyway some of this depends on what your grandfather was called. It’s complicated. Names can be complicated.’
‘I’ll settle for Dimitris, then. And maybe Iakovos when I’m in trouble.’
‘Are you in trouble a lot?’
‘Don’t get me started,’ says Gill. ‘All done, are we?’