Outside this window #66

A man is screaming. His raw writhing bellows reach beyond crisp navy blue pannelled curtains dividing each A&E bed. The world bustles around him. We stand behind our curtain, the glossy floor tunnelling beneath his curtain. And his screams.

A leaf chases her lover down down to Acre Lane. She flutters, undisturbed by cars hurtling through twilight towards Brixton’s psychedelic Christmas lights, and lands torn neatly in half beside him.

The boys on the bus taunt the girl as they rip into take away sandwiches.

“Are you latino?” their ringleader asks through a mouthful of bread and filling.

“No I lied” she said, not turning around.

The girl next to her is older; she runs interference, as does one other boy who has clocked my eyes staring at the back of this lout’s head.

“Swap places with me,” he says.

“OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS GREEN STUFF.”

It’s the one next to the window. He holds open his sandwich in astonishment, his eyes meeting mine, before returning to his cackling crew who share theirs with him. Their shouting mouths decorated with cheese, egg and cress and some sort of pepperoni.

They do not get a rise out of the girls. They turn on each other, arguing; they have caught the wrong bus. Swearing and shouting they descend the stairs and the lout calls to the girl, “Do you want your Mummy?” a few times in a falsetto, before tumbling out the bus to land on the front steps of Brixton nick.

A few minutes later B uses the Metro to pick up squashed sandwich pieces from the bus floor.

“Everyone was stepping over it, someone could slip.”

It was only a five minute walk to Kings.

Beth, the nurse, pulls back our curtain and asks if we mind.

“That way I can see what his heart rate is doing when I go past.”

My eyes wander across to the bed opposite. The man crumpled on the bed is about my age. An older man holds his hand. His eyes do not move from the screaming man’s face. The older man murmurs; his voice and words soothing the agony, the patient grasping at his hand for more. More calm. More peace.

A baby bawls, podgy legs kicking the air in his clear cot or incubator. His weary mother rests her arms on the lip of his cot, her hair obscuring her eyes gazing down at her baby, a relieved smile growing across her face.

We were led through the dour silence of the A&E walk in waiting room, through a series of imposing battered double doors. We met a cleaner being yelled at by a disorientated patient; she shrugged and kept cleaning the floors, giving us a tired smile as we trouped past.

“He’s in here,” the nurse said. “Wait here. I’ll check if you can see him”.

The doors swing open to reveal the man’s screams. Above the door the words “Resuscitation Unit”. B reads the words and turns to me. Before we can reassure each other, the friendly A&E nurse is back.

“Come through.”

A day turned on its head. Disjointed and dripping through our fingers. A happy ending in store for us. No time for Christmas carols or shopping. No drama. No moods. No shouting. The battered corridors of Kings echo with screams of survivors, and scrubbed up angels in running shoes deliver relief, answers, jokes and care to those in need.