‘No, but women in labour can.’
‘That’s why we have birthing partners.’ She winks, and I chuckle, buttoning up my coat, ready to face the cold.
‘What time are you done?’ I ask.
‘Six in the morning.’
My face bunches in sympathy. The red-eye shift. ‘Don’t wake me when you come in.’ I dip and kiss her check, just as an almighty bellow rings through the air, a woman in labour screaming to high heaven. ‘I’m never having children.’ I shudder, backing away to the door.
‘Yeah, me either,’ Jess confirms. ‘Hey, only a week to go!’
The mention of our upcoming trip makes me grin like a fool. ‘Vegas, baby,’ I call, hearing more screams. They flatten both of our smiles and remind us that we have a few more shifts to go before we can get really excited. ‘There’s a vagina awaiting your presence.’
Jess sighs and wanders off. ‘I’ve seen enough vaginas to last me a lifetime, but I plan on counteracting them with nothing but cock in Vegas.’ She looks over her shoulder, all coy, and a laugh rumbles up from my tummy, erupting and drowning out the pleas for drugs coming from the room down the corridor. ‘Time to push, sweetheart!’ she sings, all enthusiastic to her patient as she disappears. I smile and let myself out of the maternity unit.
After collecting a takeaway tea from the café, I break into the cool winter evening and start the long walk home. The fresh air instantly starts to soothe my tired body after my long shift. Walking to and from work isn’t just done out of necessity. On my way to the hospital, the brisk half-hour walk does a grand job of waking me up, readying me for my shift. On my way home, the lazy stroll helps me clear my mind and wind me down. Besides, I couldn’t afford a car even if it made sense to have one. Which it doesn’t. The drive would probably take twice as long as the walk, and parking at the Royal London is nearly impossible.
As I sip my tea, I check my phone, faltering a split second when I see a missed call from an unknown number. I clear the screen and round a corner, trying not to let my imagination run away with me. It’s probably just a sales call, I tell myself. Or one of those irritating marketing surveys. It couldn’t possibly be him after all this time. Ten years since I ran. It’s been ten years since I escaped him.
I stuff my hands into the pockets of my mac, bringing my shoulders up to my ears to keep the chill at bay, and march briskly on my way, pushing the memories away, but never the heartache. It’s particularly chilly tonight, but I smile, thinking Vegas will be hot, hot, hot. My first holiday in years. I can’t wa—
A loud noise from behind startles me, and I stop to glance back, wary, before scanning the street for other pedestrians. There are none, just the dim glow of the streetlights in the darkness. Warehouses on the other side of the street have stood empty for as long as I can remember, and the row of houses on the same side as me are mostly boarded up. Jess nagged me constantly when she found out I took this little shortcut, to the point I told her that I wouldn’t go this way any more. But I’ve done it for years, and it shaves a good ten minutes off my journey. There’s usually someone taking the same route. But not tonight.
The hairs on the back of my neck rise as another crash echoes around me. It prompts my feet back into action, and I start an urgent walk away from the sounds, constantly looking over my shoulder. My apprehension lessens the closer I come to the end of the street, towards the main road, but then a low, pain-filled whimper pulls me to an abrupt stop. I turn around, hearing the sound of a car screeching off in the opposite direction. And as soon as the loud noise of the engine fades, more whimpers. Instinct kicks in and takes me back down the street, despite my uneasiness. Someone’s hurt. I can’t just walk away. Maybe it’s the nurse in me. Or maybe it’s simple human nature.
I break into a jog, trying to keep my footsteps as quiet as possible so I can listen for where the noise is coming from. I catch another low cry. It’s a woman. I pick up speed, reaching the entrance to an alleyway. I can’t see a damn thing. ‘Hello?’ I call, pulling my phone from my bag.
‘Please help me,’ a woman begs, distress evident in her voice. ‘Please.’
‘I’m here. Just a second.’ I faff with my phone, searching for the light feature, flicking it on and shining it down the black alleyway. A woman comes into view, propped up against a brick wall. ‘Oh my God, are you okay?’ I rush towards her, using my phone to guide me, until I’m crouched by her side, assessing her. She looks dazed, and as I shine the light in her eyes, I conclude very quickly that she’s concussed. I scan her slight frame, searching her body for injuries. Her clothes instantly make me wonder if she’s a hooker. Sadly, I see them at the hospital all the time.