I know what I told myself – I said David, it's time to start over, there is no way I'm going to go all panicky and pathetic about being all on my own, but that was just flagrant delusion, because I am going panicky. Look at me! I haven't even got to the right door yet and my hands are sweating. This was a bad idea. A very bad idea. New roommate . New room. New city. Oh Lordy, new everything. Just what was I thinking?
The corridor's too long. They've made a mistake. They must have done. I'm positive my room isn't even in this building. Why would they put anybody on a corridor without windows? Why would anybody design a building with corridors without windows? It's a prison – that's exactly what it is. There's no air. None. What happens when the bulbs blow? It would be pitch black. Anybody could get attacked down here. Anybody.
Now look, I'm shaking. It's broad bulb-light right now, for God's sake. Nothing even remotely like that's going to happen. Oh, I really need to concentrate on finding this room before I drop my bag. Oh, sugar, I will. I will drop my bag and all of my things are going to spill out all over the corridor in front of everybody else who's moving in and they're all going to laugh at my Y-fronts because all other twenty year olds in the world wear boxers. It's not my fault that my mother bought them for me when I was growing up. If she bought me boxers when I was five, then I'd be comfortable wearing them now, but she did not and I am not and I'm sorry, Mrs Secretary Lady, but room one hundred and twenty three is clearly not on this corridor!
Unless it's that room right there, with 123 nailed to the door. Oh Lordy. Slight premature reaction there David. I think I should calm down now before somebody calls the drama police.
Right, well, it's very handy isn't it? Next to the fire escape. That makes me feel better about the whole situation. I won't be getting burnt alive. Student accommodation can be an utter death trap. I read all about it before I even considered coming to university. Candles are the worst. People fall asleep and set the wall on fire. I won't be having that problem though. Candles set my allergies off. It's the smoke.
The key's a bit stiff. I might ask for a new one. It doesn't hurt to ask, and I really think that they should be told about it, because other people might have much more trouble getting inside than I do, especially given that this is supposed to be a disabled access room. It was a good idea going forward for this Helping Hand programme. I must remember to call Debbie to thank her. I'll write it down as soon as I get inside. I can make a list of all the things I have to do. Yes. That sounds like a very good idea. I have a nice new set of gel pens just waiting to be used.
There are lots of positives about moving here. It's the same course, isn't it? It'll be ok. It'll be fine. One university's the same as any other in all the important ways. I should get a grip. Student accommodation's all the same anyway – old decor and standard furnishings. Beds with no headrests, a desk per person, bookshelf, dodgy pine wardrobe, a sink in the corner, so really, the change isn't all that great. See? It's exactly how I thought it would be, just with a few grab bars and thing. And look – ensuite. I spent all of last year dreaming about that. And it's clean. Look how clean it is. See, wasn't I right? I just need to relax a bit. I can put a few posters up and get all my books out and then I'll hardly notice the difference between here and there. I have my blanket, don't I? And my own pillows. Even the view from the window isn't altogether original, but it's nicer than my last room,
look – there's a tree and everything, even a bit of grass. Didn't have that in London, did I? No I did not.
It's going to be just fine. Rooms like this are always beige and depressing before they have things in them and my roommate hasn't unpacked properly yet either. He hasn't chosen a bed yet. His bags are all over the room. No sign of him though. Oh well. When we're both unpacked there are going to be lots of things in here to make it homely and once term starts properly I'll be so busy I won't have time to feel low.
I dump my bag onto one of the two unmade beds, trying to avoid wondering about the interesting stains on the mattress because, oh Lordy, I really don't want to know what they are.
No sleeping alone either, remember? That's good, isn't it? With a roommate, there'll be no need for the night light. Nothing's going to happen with someone else in the room.
Yes. I think that this year is going to be alright. And my roommate's going to like me. I just know he is. I'm a very kind and considerate person. Looking after people is exactly what I'm good at and I'm not going to make him feel at all awkward about anything. My bedside manner is amazing. Dr Ashford always used to say that, and she never said that to any of the otherstudent nurses. He's very lucky.
There, I'm already feeling better. I'm so silly sometimes. We filled in those forms with all of the likes and dislikes, so I'm sure they've managed to match us up nicely. It's a bit like a dating agency, isn't it? Well I hope Contestant Number Three is happy with the bed by the door because I am not.
Oh sugar, there isn't much cupboard space. I'm going to have to fold things up really small. Well, that's fine. I'll just have to do more ironing than I'm used to. I'm not going to let anything get to me. Not one, tiny, little thing.
There's a noise in the corridor and then someone fumbling with the key. My roommate, finally. It must be. Nervous, I pull on a smile, but carry on unpacking. If I'm friendly, he'll like me. That's how it works with the patients in the hospital.
"Fuck man! My spokes are massively twanged. Vert ramp face plant off a 650c lip trick 'cause he fakied into me. What a total nerf! And for a fucking icepick! Posing wanker."
Two guys tumble in as I'm shaking out my yellow fleecey blanket. I stare. They stare. The taller looking one is carrying the other – the one with the loud (and bleeding) mouth, hair covered over with a shiny helmet. They look enough alike that I guess they're related. Something about the face shape is the same. The taller guy opens his mouth to say something, but he's shoved forwards by a guy in a blue beanie behind him, pushing a thoroughly mangled wheelchair into the room with no one in it.
"Oh, yeah. Stand in the fucking doorway, morons. Great plan."
And then the third guys sees me too. Hoodies, DCs, and silence. I'm wearing a green skinny fit t-shirt, drainpipe jeans, tennis shoes with green laces and I'm clearly out of place. Oh Lordy.
"Yo, Tookey," the injured guy squirms, breaking the silence calmly by wrapping his knuckles on the man's head. "Bed please dickwad? Stop staring at my roommate."
I look away, almost embarrassed as the tall, dark-eyed skater type dumps what must be his brother down onto the spare mattress without much attention. The injured man bounces a bit with the momentum, but doesn't seem to notice or care. He unclips his red and black helmet and runs fingers through the dark, close cropped hair he shares with his brother. He shoots me a look, chuckling as he wipes the blood away from his mouth with the back of his hand. "Manky."
His brother strains an awkward smile at me, then turns away. I get it – I'm intruding, but there's no where else I can go.
"Want ice?" The brother asks in a tone that lacks patience. I have a feeling he's done this routine before.
"Fuck yeah," my roommate grins, spitting a few bloody globs onto his clean, folded sheets as he sits up. I swallow. That is so unhygienic. "Bit my fucking cheek. Don't go telling Mum, yeah Took? Nothing's broken."
"'cept your chair," he grumbles, hugging the doorframe on his way out of the room before pushing off it with an annoyed, big-brother look. Tookey. Interesting name. Interesting eyes. Oh Lord; not what I need right now. I swallow, trying to collect myself. He'll be going to the small kitchen I passed on the way to this room, in search of frozen things. First day here though, I doubt there'll be much. I have an ice pack in my bag. Maybe I should tell them that I have an ice pack. It would be useful. I'm supposed to help my roommate. That's what it says in the contract – that's why they give me money off the rent. I should really say something, but I doubt they'd pay attention given they've barely acknowledged I'm here. The door closes behind Tookey and the guy on the bed laughs.
"Like he hasn't wiped out three million times before! So far up himself."
"Ry, you got your streets in the cupboard?"
"Yup. Cheers Pete. Grab a beer if you want. There's stacks in there."
Pete- the guy in the blue beanie, with dry blonde tufts sticking out of the bottom of the hat, goes over to the wardrobe I didn't claim and pulls out bits of a collapsible chair, slotting the wheels into the bright red frame as if he's done it a million times before. I watch. Good nurses watch everything. Dr Ashford said so. There's a pair of crutches stuffed haphazardly at the back of the wardrobe too and a fair few clothes. The bags strewn about the place, are, I realise mostly half-unpacked.
Pete shakes his head, setting the assembled chair down on the carpet, shrinking what little space is left. "I'm good Ry. Gotta jet. You want one?" Side by side, it's easy to tell the difference between the two chairs. The mangled one looks more robust and there are a variety of straps around the seat and foot rests. The wheels look sturdier and have less camber and the whole frame looks thoroughly bashed about. In contrast, the red chair is lightweight and quite sleek-looking (for a wheelchair). Neither of them resembles the NHS things I'm used to dealing with.
"Nah, I'll wait 'til Took's gone." Ry shifts slightly, pulling himself into a different position with strong arms. The rest of him follows fluidly, without resistance, and he lets himself down to the floor with mercurial agility.
"God, I really fucked it, didn't I?" He says, dragging the mangled chair closer for a better inspection. "The axle's totally crushed," but Ry isn't upset, he's grinning madly, dark blue eyes sparking with interest. If they weren't blue, they'd be nice eyes, but they are blue and I don't like blue eyes. Blue eyes scare me.
I can only imagine what happened . Actually, that's untrue, I have no idea what he was talking about when they came in the door. I can't even put fantasy to what he described. Ice picks, nerf balls and lips. I'm not so sure I want to know.
Pete steps past us, not bothering with a goodbye or even the hello he never gave. I feel a bit invisible, which I should do something about. I won't get anywhere standing here playing wallflower.
"What, erm – what happened?" I manage, sitting down carefully on the floor next to my bag, trying to avoid getting in the way, or touching any of his things.
Ry looks at me and repeats more or less exactly what he said when he first came in the door – something about a fake vert ramp and a face with a lip and that nerf again. He has a massive grin on his face. I stare blankly, then nod. "Oh, right. Lordy, that sounds painful."
I have no idea what language he speaks. His pierced eyebrow raises. And you know, I don't think I entirely get away with pretending to understand him.
"A guy on a BMX rammed into me coming off a trick at the skate park 'cause he's too cool to look when he's going backwards," he says softly, not making such a big deal out of translating as I thought he would. "Splinter city."
I wince on his behalf. "Ouch."
"Yeah. You could say that. I'm Ryan," he leans forward, extending his palm and when I take it he does a thumb grab then nudges our knuckles together like some secret handshake. I bring my hand away slowly, unsure that he's finished, which earns me another chuckle. "That was Pete, and the other wally was my brother John, but everyone calls him Took. Who the hell are you?"
He's smiling, so it's not hostility. See that, David – a smile, so there's no reason to be spooked. He's a nice enough guy. We'll get on fine. We will. They personality matched us. I'm sure we have loads of things in common.
I smile and straighten up, folding my hands in my lap. Introductions are really important. They help you make a good impression and I need one of those now that I've proved my total absence of cool. "I'm David. I'm a student nurse. I'm in my second year. I transferred from Queen Mary's in London, and I really like working with children. Your turn!"
Ryan nods once, slowly. "I'm doing Mech. Eng. You're quite sheltered, aren't you David?"
I blink. My mouth opens, and then it closes again on a snap. "I – I. Um. Not really. No. Would you like an antiseptic wet-wipe? You have a nasty graze on your cheek."
Ryan laughs again– happy and humorous rather than malicious, but it still leaves me feeling foolish. "Antiseptic wet-wipe? Fuck me. Took's going to love you." He shakes his head, leaning back to grab for one of his bags and rummages around inside for a minute while I sit there awkwardly, unsure of what to say or do. I know it's fairly easy to tell that I'm gay. I don't try to hide it, but whether or not Ryan meant something by that sentence, I don't know. Feelings of love and wet-wipes don't usually go hand in hand.
He comes up with a slim, rectangular, black plastic box which he opens up to reveal a variety of tools. Shifting the mangled chair onto his thighs for easier reach, he un-cranks the wheel nut, easily removing the buckled wheel after a moment of struggle.
"I'll... just find that wipe."
I scurry back to my unpacking, thoroughly bemused. This was not what I expected from my roommate at all. My first aid bag is easy enough to find and I open the zip with a little pride. I've only got one antiseptic wipe left. I need to stock up. What kind of a nurse doesn't have all the supplies he needs? A bad nurse, that's what kind, and am I a bad nurse? No, I am not. Right, well that's another thing to add to the list. Must go shopping.
I've always wanted to be a nurse. Well, ever since I saw Jonathan Kerrigan play Sam in Casualty. I didn't have a problem with blue eyes back then. Lordy, I sound shallow, but that's just what got me thinking about it as a career. There's no way I'd be anything else now. Even my uniform makes me smile. I love it, I really do.
I hand the sterile wipe over just as Ryan's brother comes back in the door. He rips the packet with his teeth, still fiddling with his broken chair.
"Cheers. Hey Took. Ryan here's a nurse. What d'you reckon to that? Better than last year's roommate, hey?"
I smile at the compliment, trying not to look annoyed when Ryan uses my last antiseptic wipe to clean the oil off his hands. Tookey hands him a bowl of ice and casts a side glance over me. I don't feel particularly comfortable when his eyes skim me up and down, which I know is ridiculous, because he's not trying anything. He's allowed to look, isn't he? Yes, he is. So there's nothing to get all het up about.
"Yeah. Much more qualified than me. If he's got any sense he'll stuff you full of drugs and shut you up."
"Sounds good to me," Ryan scoffs, sliding easily towards the red chair and effortlessly heaving himself up into it. He takes a second or two to adjust his legs and I realise one is shorter than the other, the knee bulging out a little more, giving his lower leg an uncomfortable-looking twist. I don't know his medical history, but a deformity like that makes it unlikely that he's in the chair due to a spinal cord injury.
"Oh, I can't write prescriptions," I put in, because I like to get that out of the way early on when I meet people. I start putting my neatly folded clothes away and Tookey gives a low laugh.
" You guys are going to have so much fun together," he says and I get the distinct impression he's being sarcastic, but I don't really understand why. We are. We are going to have fun together. We filled in personality forms and they matched us up. Even if it isn't obvious right now, I'm sure we're so similar we're practically soulmates.
Ryan tugs a bag onto his lap and unpacks the contents by chucking things into a variety of piles on his bed. He must have some kind of system, but it just looks chaotic to me. "Leave your board here? I'll teach him ollies. It'll be awesome. He'll be doing half pipes by Christmas."
Tookey snorts. "Yeah right."
Half pipes? Skateboard? I don't think so. "I don't really get on that well with heights, actually." Tookey throws his brother a casual look that says I'm not surprised and I try to sound like less of a wimp. "Anything else, I'm fine with. Blood... guts... Last year I had to help push this old lady's
bladder back inside her because her pelvic muscles had gone completely and everything had fallen out of her fanny. I just don't really like heights."
Ryan snorts, laughing uncontrollably.
"You're saying you shoved your hand far enough up an old lady to put her bladder back in the right place? That's well sick." Tookey looks disgusted.
I nod meekly, trying not to picture myself done out like a vet, with a plastic glove up to my arm pit and my hand up a cow's arse, because it really wasn't anything like that. "It wasn't very far."
I'm ignored as Tookey turns to Ryan again. "I'm off, so... pills are in the bag that rattles, mum put some cake in somewhere. Unpack before the mice get to it, yeah? Uhm... and waterproof mattress cover's in that one."
Ryan's pierced eyebrow peaks up in annoyance and he looks over to me and back again quickly, smile vanishing into a scowl. "Thanks, John," he bites out, clearly as embarrassed as anybody would be by his brother's statement. On some levels, it's silly for him to be embarrassed because if I'm going to be living with him, I'll find out most things sooner or later, and sooner would generally be easier for both of us, but his brother was pretty tactless. Nurses get a little bit of training about how to deal with sensitive issues, but at the end of the day a lot of it's down to personality. I don't think Tookey would make a very good nurse. Oh Lordy, this is awkward. Nothing I can say to make it better, though, is there? No.
I go deaf. I keep my head down and continue to fold my clothes painstakingly into the cupboard at the end of my bed, because it seems like a good thing to do. Seems like a very good thing to do. Ryan cracks an ice cube loudly with his teeth. His brother makes sure to take the six pack of beer in the wardrobe with him when he leaves. My short-haired roommate looks appalled.
"Fucking hell Tookey! I just bought those!"
His brother shrugs at him, "Petrol money, mate."
And then the door slams and it's just the two of us, in our little, tiny room, with his very, very blue eyes and his very, very red chair.
Ryan breathes out a bull-like snort, slamming into the bed frame angrily with a sharp shove of his wheels. "Wanker!"
Oh Lordy. He's got a temper. Everything's so much easier in a hospital where you've got an orderly to back you up if anyone turns aggressive. Right, well, there isn't one here. I'm just going to have to find a way of dealing with this, aren't I? I've got nothing to run home to, have I? So this is the only option left. If I want to be a nurse this is what I've got to do. Balls, David. Grow some, darling.
Ryan leaves the piles of things he's been jumbling onto the bed and grabs the bag his brother mentioned, pulling out the folded plastic sheet. His eyes flash up to meet mine as he chucks the incriminating object down on top of the folded duvet cover.
"Hi, I'm Ryan," he says and I know he's imitating my enthusiastic introduction. The accuracy stings. "Occasionally I piss the bed. Your turn!"
Oh sugar. I'm in need of diplomacy lessons pretty darn quickly. I swallow.
"I'm David," I mutter, knowing that I should play the game. I pause, not knowing what to say for a moment, before the answer tumbles out of me too fast to stuff back inside. "I got raped last year." I
gasp at my own words and he stares at me. "Can I make your bed? I am absolutely shocking at hospital corners," I ramble, turning away from him to fold out my own sheet. Oh Lordy. What was that? I've known him twenty minutes and I'm already telling him my deepest, darkest secrets. I haven't even told my mother that! I should tell me mother that. Oh Lordy. "I need the practice. Last time we got assessed on it, the staff nurse made me re-do my bed eighteen times. Eighteen times. Can you imagine it? My fingers were sore. And I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, what on earth is so difficult about tucking in a sheet? But I just seem to get it all the wrong way round. Reverse hospital corners – that's what I do. I tell you, I'm a total laughing stock."
I move my duvet out of the way, busy with my self-imposed distraction of trying to fold the perfect corner. I'm crouched down and firmly not looking at him. Guys don't get raped. Dirty, filthy, little, sissy fags get raped, and it's probably their own fault for being such utter whores. I know it sounded like a good idea at the time, but moving here may have been a rather large mistake. I don't know if I can handle it.
I move to make space as Ryan wheels up behind me, jittery because I'm unsure what he's doing. He grabs one of my new pillows and stuffs it inside a pillowcase. "It only happens when I fall asleep drunk," he says matter-of-factly, tossing the pillow back down onto the bed and reaching for the other one. "You practice 'hospital sheets', I call pillows and duvets. It'll be gnarly."
Oh Lordy. I don't even know what gnarly means.