The first thing I remember was the noise; a piercing shriek jolting me upright. The voice screeched for a Justin to come forward to reception. A teenager got up from next to me and scuffled past towards a desk. He looked like a floor lamp, his slight frame bent over so much that I worried his head would topple and hit the concrete floor.
Directly opposite me a sad middle aged man was packed into his seat. A crumpled linen beige work suit suggested he’d not been home in a while. There was a huge coffee stain covering one side of the jacket. I think it was a coffee stain.
Next to him sat a slight grey haired lady. Her eyes were closed and her mouth settled in an upturned position. Despite the smile, she looked frail and undernourished. If she’d heard the speaker, she was doing well to zone out. She looked vulnerable. Maybe she’d wandered off in the night confused and ended up here?
I could feel icy metal on my thighs as I shifted uncomfortably on the skeletal seat. Tugging on the skirt hem to protect my decency, I looked at my feet. A stray toe defiantly peered up at me from the ripped tights. Where the hell are my shoes?
What is this place? The concrete room I was in was windowless, giving no hint of the outside world. There were only 4 chairs and a table in the room and a reception desk in the corner. Everything was grey. The air was stale.
Maybe this is a taxi office? No, the lady seemed too unwell to be ordering a taxi alone… and the teenager for that matter. A police station? Doubtful. No uniforms around or protective barriers for the workers. Hospital? Possibly, but it had to be a basement. Hospitals are bright and warm. This was not.
I moved my head from side to side. No dizziness. How could this be after the night I’ve had? I scanned the room fruitlessly for a clock. I had no idea of the time or even if it was now light outside. Flashbacks came to me. After work drinks; polite conversations in the pub; singing; shouting; strange angry faces … blanks. As usual. I had an ominous feeling that the night didn’t end well and I wouldn’t be home to sleep on it for a while.
The muffled voices at reception were growing and increasing in speed. Justins droopy head started to topple and his body fell forwards with a thump on to the floor. He’d not moved his arms to protect himself. The receptionist remained in her seat. Instinctively I hurried to him, bending to pick him up, but I couldn’t get a hold of him. “Why are you not helping him? He’s in a bad way here!”
“Please return to your seat Miss Taylor. Help will be arriving imminently” shrilled the voice.
Just at that, 2 men were there, lifting the boy from the floor. They placed an arm over each of their shoulders and walked through a grey automatic sliding door. The door was closed and Justin was gone.
“What was wrong with him? Will be ok? Where are we?”
“It’s ok Miss Taylor, please return to your seat. You’re next on the list.”
“Well he’s gone so here I am. Tell me. I’m next.” I stared at her, willing her to tell me what was going on. She stared back and sighed, picked up the telephone and dialed. It was the same phone my mum had when I was little, a dial one. It was a curious look she gave, as if I were guilty of something. I couldn’t work out what she was thinking. “Hello, I have Miss Taylor with me…. Yes now. Shall I process her to room 2 or straight on to 3? Ok.”
“Ms Taylor if you could just go through that door to my right, The one behind me that the 2 gentlemen went through. You will be given further information then.”
I complied. It was obvious that I’d get nowhere with this dragon with the Charlies Angels hair. I’d lost my fight. I just wanted home.
This new room was much like the other, but smaller. I felt some relief when I saw Justin sitting up looking more alert. “Are you ok? Justin, is it?” He nodded, his eyes quickly diverting towards the corner of the room where another door opened.
A woman came towards us. She looked familiar to me but I couldn’t place her. “Excuse me, where are we? Can we go home?”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible at the moment. We need to ensure we have the right information for you before processing.”
“Is this a hospital?”
“Where then?” I was getting exasperated now. Why couldn’t I get a straight answer?
“I have a newspaper and I want you both to read this. You’ll have many questions. Please be patient, I’ll be back when the time is right.”
At that, she walked off, leaving us holding the newspaper.