I’m coming home from work on a sunny summer’s day, and I call my husband to tell him when I’ll be back. He’s in the park with the children. ‘We’ll be back around the same time as you,’ he says.
I’m just at the road at the top of our hill when I see him. He’s standing at the side of the road, talking on his phone. Next to him crouches someone with long hair - my daughter? And then my heart gives a huge bump, because she’s leaning over a body lying in the road. Is it my son? What’s happened?
And then my eyes focus properly and I realise that it isn’t my daughter and it isn’t my son, it’s a middle-aged woman and an old man. For a moment I’m completely confused and I think it can’t be my husband after all. But it is. And he’s on the phone to emergency services. The children are nowhere to be seen.
I run up. The old man is flat on the ground, nose to the tarmac, blood flooding down his face, staining the road red. He’s mumbling, trying to move. The woman has her hand on his shoulder, and she’s murmuring comforting words to him. ‘He’s just waking up,’ my husband is saying. ‘He fell down and whacked his head.’ The woman looks at me, ‘Drunk,’ she hisses, ‘Lost his footing. Fell flat on his nose, poor love.’
What a contrast to the week before, the young man unconscious on Upper Street, ignored by cars, buses, passers-by. People start appearing, stopping, offering water and tissues. A man on a bike. A girl walking by. Two men in a van pull all the tissues out of their tissue box - but keep the box because it’s got important numbers written all over it. Another man on a bike seems to be a doctor or a nurse. ‘What’s your name?’ he asks the man, still lying with his bleeding nose on the hard ground. ‘Do you know your name? You look like you’re going to be fine.’
The ambulance dispatcher gives permission for us to try and sit him up. It takes four men to roll him over, prop him against a lamp post. I spot my children, staring from the car. They don’t know whether to look or not.
‘My name is Jack,’ says the old man. His nose still drips scarlet, and it’s a strange knobbly shape, like it’s been made by a toddler from purple plasticine. It’s probably broken, we agree, and it’s probably not the first time. Another woman has joined us. ‘You know, when they say ‘Hit the Road, Jack’ this isn’t what they mean,’ she says. We all laugh. Jack manages a little dazed smile. ‘Your wife’s going to hit you on the nose with a frying pan when she hears about this,’ she tells him.
I take the children home. ‘What happened to the man?’ ask my son. ‘He was drunk,’ I say. ‘He fell over. I’m sure he’ll be fine.’ My husband comes home twenty minutes later. ‘The ambulance turned up and they thought he was OK,’ he says. ‘They’re doing some checks.’
So, for the second time in two weeks we’ve been involved in a little London drama. We’ve both called an ambulance, we’ve helped two strangers. With poor old Jack there aren’t so many unanswered questions. He’s probably done this before. It’ll probably happen again. What makes his story different is the way that everyone tried to help. No one passed Jack by. Every person who went past wanted to do something. The lovely ladies who held his shoulder and tried to make him laugh, even mopped his bloody nose. London suddenly feels like a friendlier place. My little bit of it anyway.