“So,” asked Mike, “have you given any thought to what you’re going to do when you get out of here?”
“Jesus, Mike! That’s not something I need worry about for a while. They reckon my legs will be in traction for another couple of months at the least. And who knows how long it will take for me to get back on my feet properly. What’s the sense in worrying about it yet?”
“Well it’s something that you’re going to have to think about eventually. You got anywhere to go to when they do finally discharge you?”
“I’d rather not think about it right now.”
“That’s fine, Jay-Jay. But you can’t put off thinking about it forever.”
Jamie remained silent. Mike decided to push the question further.
“So where will you go? Back home to wherever you ran away from in the first place?”
“I don’t think that would be possible. And please don’t ask me why, I really don’t want to talk about it,” said Jamie, wishing that his legs weren’t in the harnesses so that he could simply turn away from his questioner.
“So it’s back to a life on the streets, is it?” Mike continued, making his question sounding completely matter-of-fact.
“Well, unless some fairy godmother is going to wave her magic wand and find me a place in a hostel or something, I can’t see any other possibility. But as I say, I’d rather not even think about it just yet,” said Jamie, closing his eyes.
“Suppose we were to offer you a place with us?”
Jamie opened his eyes again.
“What d’you mean? Come and live with you and your family?” he asked, unable to keep the amazement out of his voice.
“That’s basically what I meant.”
“Hell, Mike. Why would you want to make an offer like that? You hardly know me.”
“Look, Jay-Jay. I know you’ve had a hard time. I know you’ve been living rough. But that doesn’t mean that I think any the worse of you. Hell, anyone who would risk their life the way you did can’t be all that rotten inside. Anyone can go through a bad patch. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given a second chance.”
“But as I say, you don’t even know me. You don’t know the things I’ve done. The things I might do again.”
“If you’ve done things wrong in your life, I don’t for a moment believe that that you did them because you’re bad at heart. Desperation drives many people to do things they wouldn’t normally do otherwise. I’ve seen that too many times in my twenty years on the force to think otherwise. I like to think I at least know the difference between a truly evil person and one who may have done wrong because he had no other choice. And somehow I think you belong to the second category, not the first.”
“And what evidence do you base that assumption on? Do you think you’re able to judge a person just by talking to them a few times? Or is it because of what I did at the traffic lights? Because if it is, you don’t even know the full story behind that.”
“I saw what happened. You risked your life to save that kid. Or are you going to tell me now that you actually pushed her in the front of the truck so you could become a hero in everyone’s eyes. Because if you are I won’t believe you. Everyone saw what happened.”
“No, of course I’m not going to say that. Apart from anything else, and you know damn well, I still can’t remember what happened between arriving at the lights and waking up in here with the mother of all headaches and with both legs in traction and an arm in slings. But I can remember what had happened before I got to them.”
“Okay,” said Mike. “How about you telling me? Maybe it’s time you let some of it out. You can keep it bottled up inside you forever if you want. But a trouble shared often is a trouble halved, you know.”
“Hell, I wouldn’t even know where to start. And if you knew everything there is to know about me you’d probably stop wasting your time coming to visit me. And that’d be a shame, because oddly enough I’ve started to look forward to having someone to talk to.”
“I’m tempted to say ‘Start at the beginning’. But it’s up to you. Tell me nothing if you like. Or just tell me what was happening in your life at the time of the accident. Mind you, if you want to tell me your whole life story, you’d better do it over several sessions. Apart from anything else, I’ve promised to bring the wife to the cinema tonight,” said Mike, smiling.
“If I told you all the things I’ve done, I doubt if you’d even let John or any of the others visit me again, let alone suggest that I move in with you when they let me out of this place,” said Jamie.
“Okay, so just tell me what you meant by that comment about me not knowing the full story behind the day of the accident. Apart from anything else you’ve got me interested now.”
“Right,” said Jamie. “I’m not really able to do it myself with my arm in this sling. So how about you roll the left sleeve of my pyjama top up and tell me what you see on my arm?”
Mike moved around the bed and did as he was bid.
“Well, what do you see?”
Mike looked at the marks on Jamie’s arm.
“You mean the track marks from the needle?” he asked, sounding as though it was the most natural thing in the world to be looking at.
“Exactly. And I didn’t get those lying here in this hospital bed, you know.”
“So I assume you want this back,” said Mike, taking a pouch out of his jacket pocket and holding it out towards Jamie.
“Where did you get that from? And how long have you had the fucking thing for Christ’s sake. You realise you could get in trouble if the cops found you in possession of that?” Jamie asked. Whilst amazed that Mike had his gear, he couldn’t help smiling at the nonchalant way in which he was inviting him to take it off him.
“Someone gave it to me as we were loading you into the ambulance. He said you’d dropped it as you had run out into the road. I don’t think he even knew what it was he was handing me though.”
Jamie remained silent.
“So, what am I to do with it? You want it back? Or am I to hang on to it for you? Or what?”
“Hang on whilst I pinch myself, because I must be fucking dreaming. I’m sure you know full well exactly what it is that you’re offering me.”
“I know there’s a syringe and needle in here. And a somewhat burnt teaspoon and a carton of citric acid. Oh! And there’s a small polythene wrap of powder which I’m sure if I was to send for analysis would turn out to contain at least ten percent pure heroin, if that’s what you mean?”
“So you know I’m a fucking junkie? And yet you’re still willing to put your own children at risk by inviting me to come and live at your place when I get out of here?”
Mike still had his arm outstretched. “Well, you’ve still not answered my question. What am I to do with it? You want it back, or what? It is yours when all’s said and done.”
“I don’t want the fucking thing! Do what you want with it. Get rid of it would be my advice. Preferably burn it or bury it or something. Just don’t let your kids near it.”
“You sure?” asked Mike.
“Course I’m fucking sure. If there’s one thing that being confined to this bed has done, it’s helped detox me. I’ve been fighting that bastard for ages. Now I’m off it I don’t intend going back on it.”
“Hell,” he continued after a short silence, “I wouldn’t be able to get the stuff into the syringe, let alone inject myself with it. What with my broken arm and all. Or were you going to offer to do that for me as well?”
“You’ll probably never know now, will you?” said Mike, putting the packet back into his pocket and rolling Jamie’s sleeve back down. Moving back around the bed he sat down again in the uncomfortable hospital chair.
“I’ll lock it away somewhere safe. Look upon it as the bottle of whiskey that a reformed alcoholic might deliberately keep on a shelf in the house. He always knows it’s there and that he can open it any time he chooses. But for as long as he never does choose to open it he knows he still has the disease under control.
Jamie looked at him in wonder. Not only didn’t he seem to mind the fact that he was a user, he had even offered him his gear back. He was finding it difficult to understand this man. He was a cop when all was said and done, and yet he almost seemed more like a therapist. His experience of cops up to this had been that either they didn’t care what happened to him, or they were just looking for any excuse to hassle or bust him. This one, however, seemed to be able to accept him for what he was without being judgmental. He’d met very few people in his life who would do that.
“Well if I ever do ask you for it, do me a favour and try and talk me out of it,” he finally said.
“So, you got hooked on junk. That maybe helps explain how you finished up sleeping up on the streets. That or living on the streets led you into the drug. It seems an unfortunate result of homelessness these days. In my younger days it used be alcohol that was largely the culprit. But nowadays drugs like heroin so often seem to be involved. But I got the impression you were going to say something about the day of the accident itself. The state of your arm suggests that you’d been using the stuff for a while longer than just the one day. So what was special about that day in particular, apart from the fact that you became a hero?”
“I don’t know about the hero bit. But that was the day I had decided that there was only one way out of the addiction. I was actually on my way to Tara Street Dart Station at the time. I was intending to throw myself under a train and end it all.”
“I see,” said Mike simply. “Fuck, you must have been in a bad way to come to that decision.”
“You’d probably have had to be walking in my shoes to know just how bad I was. And what makes you think I was being a hero anyway? I probably just decided that dying under the wheels of the truck was as good a way as any of ending it all. Especially if, as everyone keeps telling me, it was a choice between me or an innocent child.”
“And yet I doubt if you’d have thrown yourself under a train if the accident hadn’t happened. I don’t care how low you might claim you were, you weren’t ready to end it all.”
“And precisely what makes you think that? You a mind reader now, or something?”
“No. But I did see you standing in front of that truck. And I’ll tell you something else I saw.”
“Just this. If you’d wanted to die all you needed to have done was to stand your ground and the truck would have knocked you to the ground and run you over. In which case you almost certainly would have been killed. But you didn’t stand your ground. At the last moment you attempted to jump out of the way. It was precisely the fact that your feet weren’t on the ground that saved your life. Because you were thrown out of the way by the impact.”
Jamie lay looking at the ceiling for a while digesting this piece of information. He moved his head to the side to look into Mike’s eyes.
“You telling the truth?” he asked.
“Scout’s honour and cross my heart. Anyway, it’s all in the accident report at the station. Several other witnesses, including the truck driver himself, can attest to the fact.”
“I’ve been wondering for a while now whether I would have gone through with it. I reckon you’re right. I probably would have bottled out at the end.”
“I’d rather put it that you’d have made a conscious decision to keep on living.”
“And I reckon that I’d have just decided that I’d only have made a bloody mess and put the real passengers off the evening meals they were heading home to,” replied Jamie.
“Which only proves my earlier point. You ain’t rotten at the core. You care too much about other people to be that.”
“You don’t know the half of what I’ve done,”
“No. But I reckon I could hazard a guess or two.”
“Go on then, Sherlock. You tell me what you think I might have done. Then I might just surprise you by telling you the truth.”
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