An idea that reminds me of a hilarious scene in The Wire when several sailors, aware they’re being interviewed by the police fall back on the old chestnut of sadly only speaking one language.
Not an observation more a situation buzzing round my head between two of my favourite writing characters. Soviet brothers stuck in England who accept their situation with a mix of disdain, passion and the understanding that the other foot can drop at any second. They keep their bags packed just in case.
Oh and their names are Sasha and Yev Lightbourne by the way. Sasha’s the older one.
Time is odd in hospitals. There are clocks everywhere but they don’t mean much. You’re either seen, or you’re not, and it’s usually the latter.
They’d both been sitting for over three hours now. Sasha’s foot still hurt despite the painkiller. He knew it wasn’t broken, (he’d done that in the past and the hurt was nowhere near as bad) but it had ballooned. Faced with the risk of circulatory damage the triage nurse had no choice but to cut his shoe apart.
The instrument reminding Sasha of the carpet scissors the connected men innocently carried, back when he was in Tbilisi, serving his country, doing as he’s told. Now he was here, holding his shredded Nike, still his property, still his responsibility, for now. As soon as he could walk it was going in the nearest bin. But that was then, for now he was compelled to wait for further tests.
He was happy to do this; he’d waited for worse in places so bad he’s like to forget their existence. But for his brother… well, let’s just say waiting was not what his brother was made for.
‘The Wi-Fi here is rubbish!’
Sasha turned to look at his brother. Yev could never say anything quietly. Even now, slumped, tapping away on his tablet he radiated loud irritation. He fidgeted loud, he snorted louder. It amazed Sasha the pair were the same blood, but that’s life for you.
‘What do you expect? It’s a hospital’.
‘I expected better Wi-Fi for sure. I mean, seriously, look at this’. Yev shoved the screen beneath Sasha’s nose but the scrolling code meant nothing. Just sequences of letters and numbers, they seemed to make sense to Yev but all Sasha saw was nonsense. He couldn’t deny though they were more sluggish than usual. Haphazard and erratic, not the usual smooth production he’d often seen, peeking over his brother’s sizable shoulder during the days they hunkered down in Starbucks.
‘Where am I in the queue’? he whispered. For the first time the Russian was intentional. Yev refused point-blank to learn English but Sasha knew his brother understood more than he admitted. It was an annoyance at times but it made sense if he ever found himself entertaining PC Plod.
‘You’re holding around 7’ came the muttered reply, ‘but they keep knocking you back. You were as high as second at one point’.
‘Of course, the joys of triage’ sighed Sasha. He didn’t blame the place. If some poor civilian got choppered in after being scraped off the tarmac he understood that certain cases took priority. But enough was enough. They’d been stuck in this airless, timeless hole since midnight. It shouldn’t be this busy! Yep, the pain was definitely starting to bite now. Sasha felt his mood darken with the revelation.
If Yev wasn’t doing his ‘thing’ and snooping into the hospital network he wouldn’t know anything. He’d just wait. The thought made him shiver. Waiting was fine within reason; for contacts to arrive, for actions to commence, even to get his foot fixed, provided he had some idea of when that would be. But to wait just to wait? No, there were many reasons he’d left the motherland behind him, being told to do things “just because” featured high on the list.
‘AWWW… YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!’ Yev cried, probably louder than even he had intended.
The room wasn’t full but it was definitely getting fuller, Sasha didn’t even want to guess what set his brother off this time. The entire waiting room turned as one to look at them, if there was one thing more guaranteed to make people notice than someone shouting, it was someone shouting in a foreign language. Sasha saw the woman in a second, she was irritated, her walk an obvious indication, he knocked his brother’s knee with his own without thinking and Yev put the tablet away without comment.
‘Can you keep your voices down please’ the nurse said hotly. The annoyance in her voice was evident; before he knew it Sasha was talking.
‘Sorry,’ he said calmly ‘he’s just found out his car’s-’.
‘Yes. But can he just keep his voice down please’ she said, not interested in reasons.
Sasha smiled again, his foot was killing him and he felt his friendliness slipping.
‘I’ll see what I can do, but you must see he doesn’t understand English’.
‘If he can’t remain quiet I’ll have to call security’ she replied, seemingly unfazed at the situation. Yev was listening to all of this with his usual innocent expression adopted when surrounded by English speakers, knowing everything but looking vacant, seemingly an easy persona to adopt.
‘What’s this woman saying’ he said, innocently looking Sasha in the eye, the corners of his mouth twitching.
‘She says you have to be quiet’ Sasha hissed in Russian, the nurse still standing over them like an irritated schoolteacher.
Yev turned and looked the nurse in the eye, a quick and obviously rude inspection before turning back to his brother.
‘Tell her to go back to wherever she comes from and get them to see you quicker. Then, maybe, we can get out of here before tomorrow arrives’.
The nurse glared at Sasha, waiting for translation, who was beginning to get annoyed himself at this forced role of go between.
‘He says he will do his best to keep himself quiet. He is just tired’ he said calmly, hoping the nurse believed him, for lying was not his strong point. The nurse looked at both of them in turn, a withering glance for each before angrily walking back the way she’d come, slaloming benches with pained, waiting patients, all trying to gain eye-contact with her or muttering to themselves about the disturbance.
When she was gone Yev slid down in his seat chuckling, Sasha whacked his brother angrily to sit upright, people were still noticing and that was never good. An older Caucasian couple grumbled at them, no doubt annoyed that foreigners were using what they obviously considered their National Health Service. He stared outright back at the pair, and after a second they turned away.
‘Why did you lie to her?’ he asked, smirking.
‘Because, Yevgeny, as I’m sure you heard she was threatening to call security. If they come they will take one look at you and you can bet the police won’t be far behind. And the last thing we need is the police’.
Yev said nothing to this, it was one of the few things his brother’s argument was uncontested. Both brothers were tall, but whereas Sasha’s height ended at a passable six-foot one Yev had spurted to an uncommon six-foot five. 6’5’’. Even sitting down the man looked mammoth, arms and legs folded in on themselves like origami. It intimidated many, especially in an environment such as this one, where people are injured and defenceless or worried about loved ones who are, and it’s not like Yev could sit still and not draw attention. Even if he did so he would still tower over everyone else in this place, and while he was not ex-Spetsnaz like Sasha his time in the FSB had taught him all the basics of physical confrontation he would ever need.
It radiated off the pair. A mother and her son, head tilted back to stem the nosebleed, pattered to the nearest bathroom for more towels, and swiftly changed seats when they returned. Distance equals protection, Sasha thought. He let his head rest back against the wall behind him, eyes purposefully out of focus as he relaxed; the ceiling tiles sharp lined squares becoming blurred.
His head snapped up on cue, eyesight pin-sharp and honed on the woman saying his name as precisely as possible, seemingly unbothered by the not-English surname in front of her. He squinted. It was the same woman who had told them to put a sock in it less than fifteen minutes before.
When their eyes met the realisation was anything but magical. He didn’t bother smiling, instead he jumped up on his one good foot and turned to pick up his jacket, a stalling ploy but he needed to be sure of one thing first.
Yev’s eyes met his as he snatched up the fabric.
‘Well, look at that, an opening’.
‘How far down the list was I?’ he asked softly,
‘Far enough to keep us here past breakfast’ came the reply.
Russian was now compulsory given that his idiotic younger brother had just queue-jumped the most sacred of British institutions; and in a nation where queuing was a pastime too, heck, in some places it was an unofficial religion, only with harsher consequences if you were caught demeaning it. and all for the sake of one man’s stomach.
‘Alexander Vasique!’ the nurse shrilled again.
Sasha stuck his hand up to indicate he had heard, before turning and hobbling across the crowded waiting room. He felt the eyes on him and the shivers down his neck made his body react, head calming, shoulders loose and ready before he reminded his subconscious where he was and why he was there. It was reactive he reminded himself, something woven and wired into his DNA, it would always be there but he was in control, always, always in control. He just hoped he could get this ankle seen and strapped and then they could be out and away before any cyber-defences this place had reacted to Yev’s illicit intrusion.
Home in time for tea, safe and sound returned.
The phrase made him smirk, a look not shared by the nurse who now bade him follow her through the security doors and into the Resus unit. Real life was not fairy-tale his grandfather had reminded him, one day long ago.
No thought Sasha, it isn’t. But that still doesn’t mean there isn’t people and places in this world that walk where angels fear to tread, with the ability to level mountains. Or in this case, bend the rules when needed.