I told the coppers I din’t do owt wrong. It were nowt to do wi me. They din’t seem bothered. Din’t wanna know what I were doin or nothin. All they wanted to know about were them two men that got out the van and ran off. I told em what they looked like and this woman sat at the side of mi bed doing one of them drawrings, you know, like on them ‘wanted’ posters. I sez “they looked like this” and “they looked like that” and she drew everythin I sez. They even asked me what I thought of the drawrings when she’d done. Pretty good, I sez. Am ardly gonna say t’cops “they’re shit!”, amma?

I really din’t do owt wrong. I were outside Marks and Sparks and it were just annuver normal day in sunny Manchester. Busy and noisy like always. Like am not there. Like it always is. But that were before. All I remember after is bein sat on’t pavement and watchin folk runnin round and bits of stuff fallin in’t road, like glass and bricks and stuff. There were glass everywhere. It looked like road had iced up, glistening in’t sun. It were beautiful. But the thing I really remember, even though I try ‘ard not to, was the woman, Angel Annie, among all them people. She were just lookin at me. Nice lookin’ lass. There’s me, lookin round, thinkin, ‘What the fuck’s she starin at?’ She’s starin at me, but it ain’t like the normal look, the disgust, the toss of a coin if am lucky. She keeps on lookin. Like an angel, she is, watchin out for mi. That’s what I thought at the time. That’s the kinda daft thing that guz round in mi ‘ead sumtimes. All the other folk ignorin mi, normal like. But not this woman. She comes over, runs over, goin “You okay? You okay?” and am like, “I ain’t done owt wrong, miss!” But then I see the look on er face proper. It ain’t no look am used to seein, I’ll tell yer. She crouches down and puts er ‘and on mi shoulder. Am bloody panickin now. “I aven’t done owt wrong,” I sez, squealin like a wuss. Am kicking mi feet on’t pavement, tryin to get miself away from er. But mi creatin just makes er more worried. “Please, keep still” she sez. “You’re bleeding.” She’s even got a voice like an angel. So I reckon.

I don’t pay much attention to miself as a rule. I don’t do this male groomin shit. But when she sez “You’re bleeding” I hafta ‘ave a gander. And she ain’t wrong. Got blood on mi ‘ands. That ‘appens, on an off. Scroungin rown’t bins. Deckin sum thievin twat. Defendin miself from annuver beatin by Bez and ‘is mates. Blood’s all over mi bed, too, though it’s only the Daily Mail, and it is from last month. Probably time I ‘ad a change a beddin anyhow. But as ‘ave told yer, I ain’t done owt wrong. A’ve no idea what’s goin on ere, me. But the woman knows more than I do. Which ain’t difficult I admit. “You got glass all over you,” she sez, and then makes this face, like wussy women do at ‘orror movies. It don’t really urt that much, an am used to people lookin at mi like am shit. So I ain’t that bothered. Instead am lookin at er and wonderin what the bloody ell’s wrong with er. She’s got nice blonde hair and nice skin. Great tits. And she smells nice too. She’s mi Barbie girl. She’s mi angel. That’s when I start rememberin things and right away am panickin again. “Leave me alone, miss!” I tells er. “I don’t want no trouble.”

“You’re hurt, you need help,” she sez. She puts ‘er ‘and on mi shoulder. Really gentle, like. I can ‘ardly feel it. Probably worried she’s gonna catch summat. Don’t blame ‘er. I’ve got tonnes of crawlies, me. Summat weird crawls out mi pants every day. Bit disgustin I know, but tryin ta guess what’s makin me itch is more fun than readin last month’s Daily fuckin Mail. Anyroad, mi back’s against the wall and ave nowhere to go. So I sits there and she’s leanin over mi with er ‘and on mi shoulder. She sez, “I’m going to stay with you until we can get you to an ambulance.” She looks at me wiv ‘er big blue eyes and then smiles. She’s got loads of nice teeth. She’s so close I can feel ‘er breath on mi face. Feels warm, but not sickly smellin like from them kitchen air vents. Am panickin am gonna get a fuckin hard-on. Then she guz to mi, “What’s your name? My name’s Annie.” Only time I get asked mi name is when am in trouble wi’ cops. Or when some twat from the authorities has another form needs fillin. Most cops know who I am anyways, so they don’t usually ask. But as for folk tellin me what their name is, well, I dunno about that. Don’t wanna sound like a broken record, but it’s better not to think about stuff like that.

Mi usual trick is to give a fake name, cuz you see on TV what people can do wiv information. But Annie’s bein real nice. She’s mi angel. Angel Annie. Am gonna tell er mi real name. “Ben,” I sez, cos I think that’s what mi real name is. She starts to say summat then shrugs. When she does some bits fall on’t pavement. “Er…yuv got…er…bits…all over yer nice suit,” I sez. Am feelin giddy so a shut mi mouth. She starts looking at erself and pattin erself down and gettin all girly-like. “It’s just stuff,” she sez. “I’m not hurt.” At least she’s taken er ‘and off mi shoulder now.

But she dun’t go away. She crouches down and keeps on talkin to mi an am watchin behind er at the right carry-on in’t street. People runnin round or sittin down, jus sittin there. Sum cryin. Sum wi blood on their faces, or on their ‘ands. I like the sittin down ones, me. Cuz that’s what I do. The ones with bits of crap all over em, they look like me too. Even mi angel looked a bit like me, before she brushed erself down. Sumthin’s appened and the funny thing is I look like all the other folk now.

So a few minutes guz by and she’s talkin to mi in er angel voice, and then this ambulance comes. In fact there’s a whole load of ‘em. Am panickin again, cos I reckon every time an ambulance comes it means someone’s in deep shit. Usually me. And it looks ‘ere like there’s a load a people in shit. Maybe so many are ‘urt they won’t bother wi mi. But Angel Annie’s on a mission. She guz off, arms in’t air, creatin’ a right fuss, and she’s pointin over at mi, and am thinkin, “Shit, luv, am fine.” But these ambulance people, they’re ‘avin none of it. They see mi and they’re runnin over, two of em, and ‘ave nowhere to go even though am shakin mi ‘ead and telling em, “Am fine, it’s nowt.”

“Can you stand, sir?” one of ‘em asks. “How do your legs feel?” Don’t like people that call me sir. Always after summat, don’t trust em. He looks at mi and then looks over at ‘is mate and sez “Concussion” and the next thing I know there’s one either side of mi, lifting mi up like am some old crock. And they’re at it like Angel Annie, all caring and concerned: “You’ll be fine, sir. We’ll have you fixed up. You’ll be right as rain.” Right as rain. Now there’s a phrase I ain’t ‘eard in ages.

They gets mi in’t back of ambulance. Am lookin round for Angel Annie but can’t see er. “Where’s Annie?” am askin, and the bloke that called me Sir sez “She’s making her own way to the hospital. She’ll be fine.” Mi ead’s itchin like mad – worse than usual – and I guz to scratch it but the Sir guy tells me no. “What’s your name, sir?” he asks, but am not tellin im cos he keeps callin mi sir, like the authorities do. I give im a fake name and like a total dipshit he believes me. “I don’t want you putting your hands anywhere near your hair,” he sez. “You’ve got hundreds of glass fragments embedded in your scalp.” Yeah, and a whole fuckin David Attenborough cast of itchy crawlies an all. But I ain’t botherin to explain cos he’s obviously a total dipshit. I’ll put up with the itchin. Like I do.

There are two other folk in’t back of ambulance, both women. They both got bloody ‘eads and ‘ands. They been cryin. One of ‘em’s still clutching a shopping bag from Kendals. I start gettin big ideas and want to smile at ‘em, as if everythin’s ok. I wanna say summat cumfortin, like Angel Annie did. When they look at mi they do it in that way she did, all sorry and carin like. I can tell, yer know, even through all the blood and shit. I look at the eyes. Eyes don’t lie, unless yer blind, or yer a copper. These women ain’t blind and I can tell, they’re lookin at mi like Angel Annie did. And that’s when I start gettin big ideas, about talkin and that. And that’s when I start to panic. Am thinkin, ‘How much longer in this bloody ambulance?’ Siren blarin through mi ead, is there really any need? And the Dipshit bloke starts telling mi to calm down, talkin to mi like am a fuckin five year old. “There’s nowt wrong wi mi!” am at it, yellin like a nutter, “Let me out, yer dipshit!” and after ‘ave created a bit the women stop lookin at mi, then a catch ‘em givin mi a quick glance, the bad look, the look ‘am used to, and am feelin bet’er again.

When we get t’hospickal it’s bedlam. Jus like a Sat’day night. Dipshit bloke ushers me an’t women into A&E. “Blast injuries, mostly glass,” he sez to a doctor. “And Gandalf may have concussion,” he sez, the fuckin idiot. He disappears and then am led by a pretty nurse to a chair at the side of a bed. “Av you got summat to stop it itchin?” I sez, thinkin a bokkle of White Lightnin’d do the trick. She sticks a needle in mi and sez, “Your name’s not Gandalf, is it?” At least she’s brighter than Dipshit, but she din’t tell mi what was in’t needle so I guz to er, “No, luv. It’s Jim.”

It’s strong stuff in that syringe, cos the next few hours are every bit as good as a White Lightnin session. A whole gang of doctors pick bits of glass and shit out mi ‘air wi tweezers. Fuck knows what else they pick out a there. They’re patient, though, I’ll give em that. They make mi take mi clothes off and ave a shower, which is warm, and there’s no pubic hair in the plug’ole, and then they put mi in mi hospickal gowns and make mi go to bed. One of em asks mi about some bruises and this big scar I got across mi stomach, but I tell im to do one. I must be knackered cos a don’t even worry about what they’d done to mi clothes. Mi ead’s tinglin and am dyin to scratch it. They gimme annuver needle and I fall asleep. Am dreamin about Angel Annie. She’s sittin at a table wi mi at the shelter, drinkin tea. Bez and his mates are at another table, lookin at mi, but they can’t do owt, cos of Angel Annie. “My name’s Annie,” she sez. “I’m going to stay with you.”

I comes round and am in a ward surrounded by walkin wounded. It’s like a scene from a war movie. I start laughin. It ‘elps me take mi mind off mi dream, which I don’t wanna remember. A nurse comes lookin all concerned and I ask er about mi clothes and she says she dun’t know about no clothes, but she’ll find out. Everyone’s nice and helpful. And everyone wears hospickal gowns, just like mine. I got bandiges round mi ead, just like loads of other folk. I feel dizzy. It’s like am not really there. Like am still dreamin’. Like Angel Annie and a cuppa tea. The panic starts again. I make a dash for the main doors, though the stupid hospickal clothes means I can’t run proper. These two blokes, like security guys, come out of nowhere and take mi back inside. “You’ve no right to keep mi in ‘ere!” am at it, cos I know mi rights, me, but this doctor bloke turns up and sez ave ‘urt mi ead and I need to stay in cos I might fall over and bang mi ead even more. I get another needle in mi arm and this time I don’t sleep, but I don’t panic either. So am back in mi bed again.

When the cops come I must still be drugged up to mi eyeballs. Cos there’s no way I would just lie there and not tell em to go fuck emselves. Instead I’m nice as pie. “Were you outside Marks and Spencers when the bomb went off?” one asks, and I sez yeah, that’s where I spend mi Sat’day days. And then one of em sez, “Did you see the van?” and I sez yeah. I saw it come, saw it park, saw these two blokes get out and moggy off. “Can you describe these two men?” they ask, and I sez yeah, and then I do, while this woman copper does her drawring. When she’s done she shows it to mi and asks mi what I think. “Pretty good,” I sez. The bloke who asks mi all’t questions then gives me a little card. It’s got his name on it and phone numbers. “Call mi if you think of something,” he sez. “Why don’t I just punch your number into my personal electronic organiser?” I feel like sayin, the fuckin prick. “I’m at Bootle Street,” he sez. “Name’s Paul.” I don’t trust coppers, me, and ones that give mi first names even less.

After the cops have gone the bloke in the bed opposite is lookin at mi. It worries mi a bit but there’s not much I can do about it. I don’t feel panicky though, which is weird. “You must have been really close,” the guy sez, and I nod. “Bloody IRA,” he sez. “Biggest peacetime bomb since the war.” I think he’s talkin to me, so I nod again. “Where do you work?” he asks. “Marks’s,” I sez. “I’m a partner at Pannone,” he sez. Ave no idea what that means. “Saturday shift, big civil action starting on Monday,” he sez, and then the penny drops. He’s a lawyer! A suit! An he’s talkin to mi, talkin like I ain’t just crawled out from under sum rock. Even though ave just crawled out from under t’Daily Mail. “I was just going to get a sandwich,” he sez. Then he stops. I reckon he wants me to say summat. I want to. I’d like to. But a don’t know what to say. Not used to conversation wi real people, me. “Blown off my feet, apparently,” he sez after a while, and then carries on. “I don’t remember. One minute I’m getting a sandwich for lunch, and thinking about taking my wife out for dinner that night. Next thing I know I’m sat on the floor in a doorway, covered in blood, my clothes in tatters.” He stops again. Shakes his ead, then looks over at mi. “You must have been even closer than I was.”

“The cops,” I sez, forcin it out. God am nervous. Am talkin to a suit! An am not rantin. Am Talkin. “You told them something,” he sez. He’s well interested, I can tell. “The cops,” I sez again. God, a sound like a fuckin retard. Then mi brain starts to work proper. “They moved people on,” I sez. “Cleared everyone out. But they missed sum. Missed me. I saw it. Saw them. The guys who planted the bomb.” The lawyer pushes ‘imself up in ‘is bed. Eyes burnin. He’s hooked. I guz, “It were a white van. Don’t think it ‘ad any writin. It were parked up a while. Then these two guys got out. Din’t run, din’t look shifty, nuthin. Cool as fuckin cucumbers. Walked off, just like that. Then, what? Two, three minutes? BANG! But…don’t really remember it goin off.  Din’t even know it were a bomb.” A dunno what to say after that.

He nods, and then he sez, “I reckon we’ve been lucky. Luckier than some. We’re ok. Minor stuff. Well, my injuries are nothing really. Life’s gonna change for some people.” Am tryin to think of sumthin else to say but am too slow an he beats me to it. “Sorry,” he sez. “You need to rest and here’s me rabbitting on. Just wanted to talk. Still a bit shaky. You know?”

Am about to say, “S’okay, mate. Don’t mind us talking” but then the nurse appears and stands at the bottom of mi bed. She smiles at mi. She calls mi Bob and then sez, “You ok?” I nod. I sez, “Yeah. Cumfy bed.” She sez, “We’ve gone and lost your clothes. I’m so sorry. It’s been bedlam here.” She looks round as if we’re ‘avin some secret conversation, then holds up this plastic bag. “Mi and the girls had a quick whip round and bought you some new,” she sez. “Nothing much. From Oxfam. But we thought, well…” She puts the plastic bag beside mi bed. “Carol,” I sez. It sez so on er badge. I need a badge like that, so I know mi own name.

She turns at the sound of lots of people in the corridor. “Visiting time,” she sez. “Gotta go.” She smiles and then guz. I lie there and watch as all these folk come wanderin in. They all got bags of this and that. Grapes. Chocolate. Great big bunches of flowers. Loads of cards. The bloke opposite smiles and pushes ‘imself up. Little girl runs over to ‘is bed, goin “Daddy!” He reaches down an’ ‘ugs her. Then the whole fuckin family comes moggyin’ in. The guy in the bed buries the girl’s ‘ead in his neck. Over the top of ‘er ‘ead he sez “Hi” to a woman. She kisses er ‘and and gently pats it on the guy’s bandiged ‘ead. Am thinkin I don’t wanna be ‘ere any more. I think a feel bad. It’s the panic. It’s cumin back. I can’t elp it.

The last woman in is Angel Annie. She’s got the biggest bunch of flowers ‘ave ever seen. She looks round, sees mi and smiles. Puts the flowers down on mi cabinet. Sits down on’t chair next to mi bed. Puts ‘er ‘and on mi shoulder, like she did when we were in’t street. “Hello,” she sez. “Didn’t expect to see me here, did you?”

I can smell the flowers. I breathe it in, that smell. Flowers in the rain. Flowers by a grave.

I shut mi eyes. Squeeze em shut. I press mi ‘ands over mi ears and crunch miself into a ball. Tight as I can go. The smell goes away. The sound fades out. I start yellin. Really screamin. ‘Urtin mi fuckin lungs screamin. When am out a puff a wake miself up. Am in’t doorway at Marks and Sparks. Lyin’ on the Daily fuckin Mail. There’s a load a sick on the door. 50p on’t pavement. What the fuck ave I bin drinkin? Is that my sick? Don’t remember. Do people ave unique sick? I mean, can yer tell who’s sick it is by lookin at it? Or smellin it? Bet scientists can. You know, them forensics. Fuck, who cares? Am just gonna sit ere anyway. Watch the world go by. It’s a nice day. I mean, it’s not pissin down, which in Manchester makes it a nice day. Folk walkin’ this way and that. Fancy shopping bags and shiny shoes. People gettin on with it. Busy and noisy. Just gettin on with…what people hafta get on with. Important things. You know. Like the ordinary guy in the street. Like you.

  • Copyright Phil Thomas, all rights reserved