doorstep challenge

I pocketed my keys and glanced down the stairs.  Through the front door’s lower pane of glass I saw feet and legs, horizontally splayed across the doorstep.


Was someone trying to extract a letter from one of the flat’s letterboxes?  Was it a labourer working at a meter I didn’t know was there?  I descended the short flight of steps and opened the flimsy door.  Ours was a block of flats tucked into a missable corner of the court, but it had long concerned me that the lock was weak, the door easy to break if you wanted to.  One not especially hard, well-placed kick could see you inside without much problem.

On the doorstep I discovered a man in his mid twenties, lying prone across the doorstep.  He wasn’t addressing the letterboxes or any concealed meter.  He wasn’t addressing anything at all.  Closely cropped hair, unshaven and wearing dark clothes – a black shellsuit-type top, he wobbled unsteadily on his knees, neither conscious nor unconscious.

“Hello mate!” I addressed him, wondering if he posed me any immediate threat.  I didn’t want to touch him but carried on talking loudly at him, trying to rouse him.  “What’s going on here?!  You alright pal?!”

Gradually he stirred, facing away from me, heavily concussed, never looking directly at me but aware I was there.  His face was bleeding; crusty red, caramelised-marks scarred his face from a beating he’d taken maybe an hour or two earlier.  He slowly found his unstable feet and staggered away from the building.

I followed close behind.  This wasn’t good but did it merit an emergency call?  I gestured the sign of telephone to him as he sketchily looked back at me, tottering off in zigzags, knock-kneed.  He walked squarely into a bush and bounced out of it.  “You sure you’re all right?  You want me to call anyone?  Ambulance?”  He found the narrow gap out of our courtyard and away, towards the canal, perhaps retracing the same route he’d used to get in.

Maybe it didn’t warrant blocking up an emergency phone-line, but it needed reporting.  I remembered seeing an Ambulance parked out the back before I left the flat, just over the footbridge.  It struck me as peculiar because if it had been for a hotel resident – the only building in that immediate vicinity, it would have driven into the hotel car park, not outside.

Compelled to report it I decided to walk in the direction of town, rather than in the direction of the bay, as planned.  I’d find a policeman or car or ambulance soon enough.  A police van overtook me and stopped at a set of traffic lights fifty yards ahead.  I broke into a run to catch up with it, knocked on the window and, faintly embarrassed to feel breathless after what was a short run, quickly explained my findings to a distinctly nonplussed looking driver.  “Oh yeah, we’ve just come from there,” he said, looking pissed off.  “I’ll turn round now.”  Clearly something had happened but he wasn’t going to tell me what.  Our short exchange concluded before the lights changed from red.

While I’d clearly judged the character as unsavoury from the outset and might have extended more basic human sympathy had he not fit a certain type quite so well, I’d done my bit.

As I was headed in that direction, I walked on into town, a taste of unsettling violation permeating within.  Whatever criminal violent shit had brought that guy to my doorstep?  What actually goes on a stone’s throw from where I live, work and sleep?  A cosmetically safe, respectable place where other singles, couples and families live?  It’s city living.

Even so, you don’t really want those things happening so very close to home.  They’re just for films and fiction.  Not for what happens when you open your flimsy front door.


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