Working on Fleet Street always had a nice ring to it. At parties people would ask for which newspaper I write, and then they would laugh, and then I would laugh. All of us finding some hilarity in the concept of me working on Fleet Street. I did it deliberately, though. No one needs to know my real occupation, what should be my real occupation, which has been stolen from me. Changing jobs, leaving the fire station for a less stressful position at Anchor & Philips Property Developments was a welcome change. Now I was a paper pusher, a call handler and a fire fighter on the sixth floor of an unremarkable office block rebuilt after it was bombed in the Second World War. Thank goodness it was bombed by a German and not a “Jap”. My grandparents had a hard time enough during the war, often relying on the kindness of Russian Jewish immigrants in the East End to get by every day.
Today, things are different. Ms Kirschner the receptionist gives me a brief smile as she does to everyone who walks through the door. The site supervisor often calls out, ‘Hey, Mr Tamigochi, it’s a bit nippy!’ It’s always a bit nippy according to Malcolm. A shame he wasn’t here this morning. Neither was Ms Kirschner on the front desk. Things didn’t feel right without her curt acknowledgment and Malcolm singing the wrong lyrics to pop songs out of tune. I felt that something was amiss. My fireman’s instincts told me there was a bigger story at play. I pressed the button between the two lifts, but it did not light up at my touch. I jabbed it harder, and then again several times. The cold metal remained dull. Where is everyone?
Footsteps hard and fast ran down the stone staircase to the left of the lifts. I went to greet the worker and ask them what was going on. I stood aside as a young woman in 1940s clothing ran past me. She held a baby close to herself. She called ‘Help me!’ to no one in particular. I watched her push her way out of the revolving door and dash off across the narrow road. I stood back, wondering where the television cameras were and why I hadn’t got the memo. Buildings around here are always being used for television programmes. It’s to be expected really.
But there were no cameras, no sound booms, no clapper boards, no runners, no directors’ chairs, nothing that one would associate with a film or television set.
No response. My voice merely echoed around the hallway and back at me.
My footsteps echoed almost as loudly as my voice had when I decided to cross the hallway and exit via the revolving door. The sky outside had darkened – probably some cloud or astrological event I hadn’t heard about, but I saw the young woman sitting on the edge of the pavement, her eyes wild, rocking her baby.
‘Can I help you?’ I looked around as I asked her, hoping some passer-by would witness the exchange and my good intentions. Everyone is so suspicious and quick to point the finger these days. No one was around, which was not so strange when at the “boring end” of a street. I stepped forward tentatively. ‘Can I help?’
She stared at me fiercely through dark eyes and curls. It was then I saw the blood dripping from the infant and the red, sodden mess on the woman’s clothing.
‘Bugger orf, bleedin Jap!’
This had to be a set up, with TV cameras hidden somewhere in the street around us. But jokes are usually funny. A distraught young woman, racism and a haemorrhaging baby are not funny. I approached her again.
‘Can I help? I’m trained in paediatric first aid.’ She looked at me as though she did not understand, so I explained, ‘I’m trained in medicine for children.’
I could see she did not trust me, but her concern for the child outweighed whatever problem she had with me. I knelt down and she let me look at the baby. It was his left leg that was bleeding. I ripped open his old-fashioned clothes to expose the break in the skin where a fragment of roof tile was lodged. I pulled off my tie and wrapped it around the top of the infant’s leg, pulling and knotting it firmly.
‘To stop the blood flow,’ I explained to the woman. I noticed the sky above was now black – as black as night – and I had no idea why. Yet the infant’s blood continued to shed itself down the woman’s dress and onto the darkened pavement, however not one cry came from the baby’s mouth. He just kicked his legs as the woman panicked. She saw that my medicine for children was not working, weeping openly through the hand that wiped her eyes and nose. She built like a volcano, finally erupting with a loud wail.
I looked around. No one was there. Surely someone had heard her? Why was no one coming to help? I spun around this way and that, at a loss as to why no one was coming to help while the woman’s screaming grated louder and louder until the baby shattered into pieces on the broken kerb, the blood no longer flowing.
My writing group were given a prompt, the hardest we’ve had. This is the first half of my response.