Steamboats - Chapter 5
On The Rocks
On the ground floor corridor of Purdysburn I pushed my way through these swinging doors made of thick plastic . Patients wandered around in dressing gowns like slaves to an unseen dictator . Now and then a doctor or nurse in a white dust coat would pass by, like a
ship carrying a cargo of lost souls to an unknown destination somewhere along moon river where the light never shone .
Adrift in an ocean of thoughts , patients shuffled past with their imaginary friends in a who were all searching for fool’s gold . I said a silent prayer that they could be delivered from their slavery and that they could be set free from the chains of sickness and once find themselves . I saw steamboats and dreamboats all happily sailing away along long cloistered corridors to sections where medication trolleys sat like an rescue ship for castaways on a deserted island . It was medication time and nursing staff were handing out small rose coloured cups of largactil to the patients .
Little days in big ships caught up on the rocks waiting for another day to come and when it does there are big days in little boats that get smashed up on the rocks and many are drowning in the murky waters .
Institutionalized life can linger for years with no escape from the hazy daze of tranquilization . The cost of caring for mental health patients is high and still there is no
solution available in many cases .
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tucker standing there as if he was choking and gasping for breat . A nurse came to assist . Patting him on the back .
He spat out something on the floor and his coughing restrained .
“You’re all good now Tucker” Said the nurse .
“ Am I really ?”
He replied .
“Good as gold .“ Was the reply .
“If you say so . What would you know anyway ?“ He replied with a laugh .
The nurse responded abruptly
“If it wasn’t for people like us, you’d be in a bad way .“
Tucker laughed and replied .
“If it wasn’t for people like us you wouldn’t have a job . Standing there in you clean uniform with your high and mighty ideals .“
“That’s enough of that talk Tucker.“ The nurse said making some notes .
Tucker spat on the floor . I walked over to him .
“Hey Tucker, good to see you again “ I said reaching out my hand .
“Oh it’s you . Tell me something am I as bad as they say ?”
“You’re not bad at all Tucker . “
We both laughed and the nurse gave us a stern look . I smiled and said .
“I’m Paul . Tuckers friend . Its ok to visit .“
The nurse looked lost and replied .
“I never thought Tucker had any friends.”
“Well he does .“
“The only friend people like him have is the one inside a bottle and if you ask me that’s the best place for him .“
Then she walked away and resumed her duties on the ward .
I was stunned by the what the nurse had said and looked at Tucker .
“Are all the nurses here like that one ?”
“There are a few but mostly the are ok .“
I replied ,
“Well that nurse should change her profession and become a cleaner so decent people like you and me can walk along on clean floors . “
Tucker burst out laughing .
“You’re doing my head in . Stop it , so , what’s your name again .”
“My name’s Paul ,we spoke on the bus the other day “
I said .
“Paul , nice to meet you . I’m not the old fool they think I am “
He said and he hobbled away . I followed and saw he was having trouble walking .
:Are you ok Tucker ?”
I said as he sat down on the edge of his bed in the ward .
“Maybe , she’s right . I should just stay with the bottle and be happy “
I looked and him there sitting with his head down and said .
“Tucker , most nurses are ok . They do a great job but now and then you’ll always meet one who might have a few problems . Don’t let her get you down. The thing is you know when you need help and you reach out . That make’s you smarter that the likes of her. “
Tucker looked at me and he started to smile . The he said .
“Yeah , that’s true . I am smarter because I know who I am . What would she know ?”
“ So did you have a fall . How come you’re limping ?
I asked and he replied .
“I went for a shower last night and slipped over . Just an accident. My mobility isn’t as good as it used to be “ He said .
I half believed him but kept my suspicions to myself . Just at that moment another man from the ward approached and said .
“Hey you with the limp . Could you spare a cigarette .
Tucker took a packet from out of his bedside and handed over a cigarette saying
“Tucker you’re dead on.”
The young man said looking at me .
“I’m Gerry. “
He said with both hands shaking like a leaf ibn the wind .
“HI Gerry , I’m Paul .”
“Nice to mi mi mmeet you ” He said through a nervous stutter .
“So Gerry , how are you.”
“See Paul , around here we have a respect for each other.”
“You have to earn that first “:
Tucker said .
“So far Tucker you’re no where near getting that from me .“
Both of them started to laugh .
“See me , I’m going home soon >
Gerry said .
“Here is your home .“
Tucker said and he laughed .
Gerry said and went and sat on his bed .
A voice was screaming in the corridor . Two make nurses went to assist .
There was a scuffle and the patient was sedated .
“That’s’ the only peace he’ll find in this place today “
Said Tucker . He stood up went over to the window and tried to open it up for some fresh air to come into the ward but there was a chain on the window preventing any hope of that from happening .There was a mixture of smells in the ward of vomit , urine and dirty socks . A strange concoction to say the least .
The domestic staff did their best I’m sure but the job was beyond them . The demands of running a clinically clean environment in some mental health institutions was almost impossible .
I looked at Tucker there who just sat staring out the window into space and said .
“You’ll never get out alive Tucker “
He started to laugh and responded .
“At least I’ll die trying “
We both laughed for a minute and I said .
“‘Doesn’t this place het on your nerves Tucker ?”
“It does but I need the treatment so I don’t end up legless everyday. “
“ Do they get it right in here for you ?”
I asked and he replied .
“They never do anything thing right here , but its better than doing nothing at all . How would you like to have two of these? “
He rolled up his pyjama trousers and showed me his two wooden peg legs .
I was shocked because that was something I never knew .There was a look on his face that spoke to me . Then he began to dismantle both the wooden pegs from underneath his kneecap .
“So now you’re just showing off .“ I said .
He began to talk as he left his wooden pegs on the floor .
“I have to tell you something see the thing is , it wasn’t the drink that did this , it was the night I got run over by an armoured car. “
‘How long ago was that Tucker ?”
I asked and he replied .
“Many moons ago . I’ll never forget that night . Those British soldiers who went out of their to run me over on the Cliftonville Road .”
‘Did they mistake you for a terrorist ?”
I asked and he said ,
“All I was carrying was a bottle of cider not a rifle or a petrol bomb . May God strike me dead if I’m telling a lie there was I peacefully making my way home to my Mother’s house when they swerved and drove up the footpath and collected me . I never knew anything else until I woke up in a hospital bed without my legs and that’s the truth . I was shipwrecked on the rocks that night and never went sailing again .”
Gerry stood up and started laughing and said .
‘That’s not the way I heard the story Tucker . They say you stumbled out of the pub and walked right in front of their Saracen half blocked to the eyeballs on cheap wine . They never had a chance of stopping in time .“
Tucker replied .
“Sure what would they know and what do you know about that night . You weren’t there and let me tell you Gerry if it wasn’t for the British army I would still have my two legs this very day. “
Then he spat on the floor beside a rotten apple core that was lying there .
“Yu yu , you’re getting very distinguished these days Tucker”
Just at that the nurse walked into the ward .
“Ok its time for a wee song , come on Tucker let me that one you always sing to us “
She said and Tucker sang When Irish Eyes Are Smiling .
Everyone joined in and after it was over Tucker said .
‘You’re a sad excuse for a singer Gerry. You could carry a tune even if you had a fork lift to help you get it done .”
Gerry replied ,
“Ah ah as far as I, I’m concerned yu yu you can go go to hell”
Then one of the doctors came into the ward .
“That’s enough of that today Gerry . You have family asking when you’re being discharged .So if you’re going to start any trouble then we might have to reconsider what we had planned for you. “
Tucker intervened .
“Doc we’re just having a bit of fun, he never meant any harm.”
I could see what Gerry had meant before when he said they had a respect for each other .
The nurse helped Tucker to strap back the pegs on his legs and the doctor did some observations . A few nursing students came into the ward and stood by Tuckers bed .
The doctor said ,
“These are some nursing students visiting us today .
Gerry said .
“I’m getting out of here today “
“I’m not so sure about that Gerry . We will have to wait and see .“
The Doctor said and Gerry started to get upset and said .
“Well then next week but I will be getting out and I will be standing there with a bottle in my hand on North Queen Street . What about yu yu you Tucker . When are you gee geit getting out ?.“
“Never you mind about me , I’ll be here for few sessions so I’ll see you when you get back .“
Gerry was still upset and replied
“That’s not gu going to ha ha happen Tucker. “
The students were making some notes as the Doctor said .
“Ok Gerry would you like to come with us now?”
After they all left the ward Tucker and I were alone . The he started to talk to me .
“ I was on the boats most of my life .From an early age I learnt the ropes and went to sea .It was the only life I knew until my Mother got sick . That’s when returned to shore to look after her . So when she died I didn’t know what to do . That’s when I found the drink made things easier for me and I went to sea no more. So don’t worry about me if you should me out there lying on the street , I’ll get by .“
He lay down on the bed and rested and I sat for a while and did the same .
Another patient walked into the ward and shook Tucker from his sleep
’Tucker all I’ve got are dog ends . Could you spare me a smoke “
He asked .
Half asleep Tucker sat up and said .
“What is it you say ?”
“It’s me , JJ . Can you give me a cigarettee Tucker . My heads away with it and my nerves are wrecked in this place .“
“I was fast asleep JJ and heard this voice thinking who’s that waking me from my deep sleep . So , it’s you JJ . Wait a minute .“
Tucker took the packet of cigarettes from the bedside cabinet and handed over a cigarette to JJ . The he said to me
“The thing is Paul we all in the same boat and we’re all seasick . So we help eachother out . That’s what life’s all about .“
JJ looked at me and said .
“I’m getting out today . If every you need somewhere to stay I have a spare room I my flat on the Lisburn Road . You’d be no bother at all .‘
I smiled and thanked him for his offer .
Tucker was a generous man in many ways . He looked at JJ and said,
“Paul’s a friend JJ . Ok . He’s writing a story about people like us .“
JJ gave me his address and said .
“Come over anytime . I’ll tell you a few stories .“
He seemed like an interesting person , there was something wild and strange about him with his unshaven face abd red eyes that looked through you not at you .
He had this worried look that almost shook him to the core .
Every time Tucker smiled you could see the empty spaces where some teeth had once been and on his face , deep tracks of anguish stretched open revealing his rough and weathered beaten skin . This old steamboat had found some sanctuary upon the rocks and had earnt the respect of many who knew him .
Before JJ left the ward he said .
“I’ve got people to see , places to go . There’s only one superstar around here see . That’s me and there’s only one of me . So I’ve got to go .“
He left me with a smile and Tucker said
“So that’s JJ . Some call him King Rat , he knows how to survive . Do yourself a favour , stay with him a while , walk a mile or two with him and you’ll discover something about life . He knows a few things . ”
I thanked Tucker for his company and said goodbye .
I realised that he was the kind of person that you can never forget . His life was hard but he remained kind and forgiving . Life for him was frightening in many ways but he learnt to cope and somehow carry on . You have to give credit where it’s due and there are many who never earn the kind of respect that they deserve . Tucker was another of the sinking crew who remained on board the steamboat .
Now is the hour and its time for me to move on to meet a few more passengers with their stories to tell .
Good bye Tucker , fare thee well Its been nice to know you .
End Of Chapter 5
Link to Chapter 6