The neighbour continued up the hill. His progress was slowed by his French Bulldog who was more interested in the markings of the other neighbourhood dogs that peppered the pavement and doorways. Just before he reached his building he paused to watch a dusty Toyota Yaris, which was trying to park on the slight curve of the road. A dozen or so stickers from the island’s discotheques and parties adorned the periphery of the rear-view window; Matinee, Cocoon and CircoLoco. A testimony to the car’s summer expeditions and an obvious impediment to the driver’s vision. A less dirty semi-circle revealed that the back windscreen wiper had at least once worked.
Jimmy stared, his eyes slightly narrowed against the morning sun, as the car reversed in. The back wheels screeched against the kerb then mounted the pavement. It scraped the car in front as it lurched back onto the road. Instinctively he pulled the dog closer to him although they were clearly a safe distance away from the commotion. The driver screamed something in Italian to no one in particular, flapping an arm in the air, further compromising his ability to control his vehicle. He continued to park without looking behind him, preferring to use a touch technique, butting the cars both to the front and to the rear. He edged it into the space oblivious to the fact that he was being observed. Heavy bass and stale cigarette smoke emanated from the car as Jimmy crept past. He hoped that a door might open so he would have an excuse to kick it shut again, perhaps catching a leg in the process. The possibility of it both excited and scared him. He felt a surge of adrenaline grip his chest.
The Italians turned their attention to rolling a joint, a quick smoke to bring them down from the MDMA, cocaine and whatever else had been consumed the night before. It was almost 11 am. The passenger was slowly passing a yellow flame under a lump of Moroccan black, crumbling it onto some tobacco precariously balanced on his thigh. LIBERTÀ was tattooed grotesquely on his right forearm. Freedom? Freedom from what? Jimmy barrelled his fingers and pointed them towards the men inside. ‘Pow!’ he spat, in a poor impersonation of Dirty Harry, but the men on their drug high hadn’t even noticed he was there. Jimmy wouldn’t consider himself a racist, how could he be? He had once dated a Pakistani girl. Italians, however, were a different matter. He couldn’t stand the bastards and Ibiza was full of them. They dedicated themselves to the rental of mopeds and sub-letted apartments with huge mark-ups to tourists that naively thought they were getting a bargain. They contributed nothing and sold drugs to whomever they could. They were the real summertime plague. He had never met an Italian that had an actual job, who paid taxes, who didn’t work in black. Italy was probably an all right place to visit in the summer because all the reprobates and degenerates came to Ibiza and Formentera. Undoubtedly a pro-tourism programme run by the Italian government; pay the undesirables to get out of the country so they weren’t littering the streets of Italy. Jimmy was convinced of it. He ground his teeth as he continued onto this apartment which faced the crumbling house of the old lady.
The air in the apartment was only marginally cooler than the air outside, it was going to be murder here later on. Just as well he was going to work. Jimmy threw his keys on a small tall boy that stood by the door. He had bought it at the rastrillo market in Sant Jordi a few years before with the intention of restoring it; sand it down, varnish it, bring out the natural colour of the wood. He thought it might be maple but that was unlikely in Spain. The decrepit tall boy had in fact only gathered dust and the drawers filled with all kinds of miscellaneous, mostly useless crap, but now Jimmy preferred it like that. A welcome contrast to what seemed to him to be the recurrent Ikea based banality of his friends’ apartments.
Jimmy wasn’t, as Maria Dolores had surmised German but English, and proud of it. Born and bred in Billericay in Essex and Wayne was his French Bulldog. Once in the salon, he lay down on the tiled floor enjoying the chill as the cold seeped through the sweat from his t-shirt onto his back. He pulled Wayne towards him and up onto his chest. Jimmy scratched under his chin and around his ears, which were disproportionately large for his head. Wayne reciprocated by extending his square mandible, making the most of the personal attention. It was a ritual they had; their daily bonding. Wayne was mostly black but had a white patch on his throat and a brown patch between the eyes and at that precise moment a fairly severe case of dog halitosis.
“You behave when I’m at work and when I get back we’ll go for a walk to the pub and have a few. What do you say to that, eh?” Wayne harrumphed as Jimmy lowered him back onto the floor, then tottered off to find a cool corner to sit out the afternoon. Jimmy’s routine wasn’t very complicated; dog time, work time, dog time, me time. He thought this simple mantra had served him well. It kept his life uncomplicated and of course the ‘me time’ was open to daily interpretation.
He decided to walk to work although he knew he would be sweating by the time he arrived. Once on the street he stopped by the Italians’ car to tie his shoe lace. The shoe lace was, as always, perfectly tied. Jimmy pulled out the small Philips screwdriver he had previously ensconced in his trouser pocket and punctured both tyres on the pavement side. He grinned to himself, delighted at his small victory.
The city streets were quick to warm up once the sun was high enough to disperse the previous night’s humidity. Today was no exception, even though the summer hadn’t fully begun it was still over 25 degrees. It did not forebode well for the rest of the season. Breezes this far from the sea were sparse and offered little relief. As usual the sky was cloudless. As the sun rose it chased away the shadows, stealing the streets of its shelter. The older men that gathered on the park benches in the morning to smoke and repeat yesterday’s stories had already retired home. A few women braved the midday, scuttling between their home and shops with provisions needed for lunch. Serious shopping waited until the evening. No one walked in this heat unless they had to.
Fifteen minutes later the city hospital loomed before him. Four floors of concrete and purple cladding interrupted by thin receded windows which allowed light to enter but protected those inside from the worst of the summer sun. Jimmy weaved his way through the crammed car park congratulating himself on his decision to walk. He would have lost the plot if he had had to pay to park in the public parking next door to the hospital.
The air-conditioning struck him as he entered the Urgencias department, making the hair on his arms stand up and his nipples harden slightly. He removed his TAG Heuer sunglasses as they misted up rendering him temporarily unsighted. He ignored the habitual melee that greeted him. Jimmy was accustomed to what was the A&E dept in high season. A season which seemed to start earlier and earlier every year. Through the rabble of the reception area he picked up on another English voice complain that she had been waiting over an hour and hadn’t yet been seen. An hour? Perhaps in another couple she might be attended to.
He smiled at the security guard, in his bright green polyester uniform, who for once wasn’t outside smoking. His greeting wasn’t reciprocated. Maribel the cleaner however did smile at him. She was responsible for the perpetual stench of cleaning products that permeated Urgencias. She obviously thought the cleanliness of the department was directly proportional to the stench of cleaning products.
Once in his pale blue nursing scrubs he made his way along the main corridor, which was as always, bustling with people. A porter transported an elderly woman in a poorly fitting hospital gown to the x-ray department. An auxiliary nurse with a tray of food was asking patients their names whilst concerned relatives looked on, anxious that their loved one get something to eat after a night on a hospital trolley. Dr Albiol guffawed loudly as she shared a joke with someone on her mobile phone. Her chin disappeared into her fat neck as she laughed. Jimmy made his way through the hubbub avoiding eye contact with everyone, a well rehearsed strategy he frequently employed. The nurses’ uniform gave people permission to ask him all manner of questions to which he firstly didn’t have the answer to having just walked through the door and secondly couldn’t be bothered to find out because the effort was more than he was willing to expend. Why should he concern himself with other’s work when he had his own patients to contend with? Dr. Albiol, or Miss Piggy as she was less affectionately referred to, smiled at him and gave him patronising pat on the shoulder as he passed. She was still talking on her mobile phone. Jimmy didn’t reciprocate, this place would be much more efficient if fat cows like her did her job instead of swanning around feigning professionalism, lazy bitch.
“Buenos dias.” Jimmy announced chirpily as he pulled over a chair to the nurses’ table in Observation Room 2.
“Piss off, ‘buenos dias’ Jimmy.” Eva Batista mocked his English accent. “You’re late. I told you yesterday I had to be at my kid’s school at 12 and it’s 10 past already.” She stared at him, lips tight, daring him to refute what she had just said.
“I, never mind.” Jimmy cut short his reply.
“Well, this is what you have this afternoon……..” and with a certain amount of animosity she continued, giving Jimmy minimal information: name, diagnosis and treatment summary for each of the 14 patients in her charge. He listened disinterestedly looking down at the nursing admission sheets that she snapped before him as she rapidly talked through them. She dropped them onto the desk but thrust the last one at Jimmy. It was blank. “Oh, and that man you know is in bed 9. You talk to him since you’re the only one that understands him. He asked for you. I’m off.” Eva stood, slammed the chair under the table and left without saying goodbye.
“Adios.” Jimmy sighed and watched as she made her way towards the door. Unusually for a Spanish woman she was a natural redhead, with olive-brown skin, heavily punctuated by chestnut freckles. She was a pear shaped woman with substantial breasts. Her scrubs looked tight across her hips, accentuating her backside. The tunic top, not wide enough to be pulled all the way down, sat wrinkled around her waist. Jimmy smiled to himself. Eva could be a bit of a bitch, but that was just another attribute that attracted him to her. He had masturbated more than once thinking about little ginger Eva. She stopped to talk to another nurse at the door, making a signal towards Jimmy, no doubt exchanging pleasantries about him. He didn’t care, he too could be a bitch if he wanted to.
He wondered who the person he knew was in bed 9. He stood and looked down the Nightingale style ward: two long rows of beds facing each other. However unlike the traditional style Nightingale ward which had a tall window between each bed, the only natural light entering this room was through a series of long thin horizontal windows that stretched from one end of the ward to the other, high above the beds. He padded carefully, his shoes squeaking in protest against the cheap linoleum floor. Drawn curtains prevented Jimmy from seeing anyone but as he passed each bed he could hear muted voices close by, private whispered conversations. The harsh fluorescent light and the off-beige colour of the drapes that enclosed every bed and which almost matched the colouring of the floor, gave him the impression he was in some peculiar Philip K Dick novel.
When he gently pulled back the curtains of bed 9 he saw the familiar face of Alan Rogers, snoring gently, his head securely bandaged. This 66 year-old alcoholic from Bethnal Green, London had a medical file thicker than the majority of people born on the island. Every year his family, in an ill-conceived plan to help him, sent him to Ibiza to ‘dry out’. It was actually a well conceived but ill-disguised plan to get rid of him for a month or so. And every year, true to form, Alan continued his normal habits, albeit in a sunnier location. He drowned himself in alcohol, fell over and spent a few days in A&E, professing self remorse whenever anyone gave him the time. Upon discharge it would only take a few more days until the story repeated itself. He was, as were many, lost in alcohol or drugs, unable to prevent himself from his own self-destructive behaviour.
“For Christ’s sake.” Jimmy muttered to himself. It looked as if Alan had fallen, resulting in yet another head injury. The nurse who had initially attended him had bandaged the head well with an under-chin strap to anchor it. They had, however, neglected to clean the blood from his face. Blood that had since dried out, blackened and cracked and was now flaking onto the pillow case. Jimmy stood there wondering what Alan’s Glasgow Coma Scale was. He should probably record his level of consciousness somewhere, have something written down, now that Alan was his responsibility for the next 8 hours. Just as he was preparing to leave, Alan’s eyes flickered open. They returned Jimmy’s stare but there was no recognition, no light. Jimmy took a step to the left but the vacant orbs didn’t follow. The gaunt, bloodied face looked straight ahead, eyes open but sunken and inert. A disconcerting thought penetrated Jimmy’s mind. What if Alan was the ghost of his future? What if Jimmy ended up like Alan in a hospital bed in a foreign land with no one to look after him? With no one to care. Jimmy shuddered, someone, some people, were stomping on his grave. He backed away from the bed. He closed the curtains again, making a mental note to get the nursing auxiliary to provide Alan with some personal hygiene, remove those blood stains from that tragic face. If there were any problems she would let him know and with that thought he made his retreat.
Jimmy is part of something bigger