AT THE top of the Ormeau Road on Monday night, Squinter and pooch hang a right on to the Knock dual carriageway to make our way towards the Knockbreda Tesco.
It’s a chilly evening – four degrees – but a steady stream of fellow dog-walkers and joggers are making their way along the footpath in both directions. They’re considering a dark bundle lying on the ground, but they’re all continuing on. As Squinter approaches the bundle, a pair of white trainer soles becomes visible, and as he draws even closer a quilted jacket and black monkey hat reveals that this is in fact a human being. Squinter’s read the horror stories about people choosing to pass by fellow human beings in distress, but he’s never seen it so vividly and depressingly illustrated.
Holding the leash with one gloved hand, Squinter squats and places the other hand on the man’s shoulder – for a man it clearly is, lying on his left side facing away from the traffic – and gives a light shake. No response. Squinter says a few things along the lines of “You okay, mate?”, but again reply comes there none. Taking his courage in his hands, Squinter removes a glove and slides two fingers under the man’s collar to find that his unshaven neck and jaw are cool, although not cold; after a few seconds of fumbling, he’s unable to locate a carotid pulse, nor is he able to establish whether the man’s breathing.
Squinter stands and pats his pockets in search of his mobile phone, but it’s nowhere to be found. An image flashes into his head of said phone sitting on the front passenger seat of the car, where it had been tossed when he set out from home a couple of hours earlier. That’s not something the crime prevention Trevors would be hugely impressed by, and it occurs to Squinter, not for the first time in his life, that mobile phones have a habit of not working or not being there just when you need them most.
Squinter gets back down on his hunkers and does a bit more light pushing and a bit more vocal cajoling, again to no effect. A recce of the area reveals that the nearest homes appear to be across the lights on the other side of the carriageway. Squinter’s still squatting with his hand on the man’s shoulder, considering how best to address anyone who might answer the door, when suddenly the man on the ground rears up like a blue whale breaking the sea’s surface, a mixture of gasp and grunt mimicking a blowhole’s explosive emission. Squinter’s not sure whether man or dog was most terrified by this sudden development. His heart and stomach immediately and violently swapped places, while the terrier spread its back legs and began barking hysterically.
It must have been a disconcerting sight for passing walkers, joggers and motorists to see one man with a dog on a leash half falling, half rolling away from another man clumsily attempting to get to his feet, but things calmed themselves down after a few seconds. Clutching an adjacent fence, the large man – mid-40s perhaps – pulls himself to his feet and tries without any apparent success to focus on the man and the dog before him. Squinter regains his composure sufficiently to quiet the dog and ask a few questions about the man’s condition, none of which are answered. But when the man begins to make his way back towards the Ormeau Road, using the fence as a support, Squinter considers his work done – or kind of – and carries on his way.
What caused the man to hit the deck, Squinter will probably never know. A few backward glances confirmed that the man was making steady if inelegant progress towards his destination, if indeed he had a destination. The dog barked one last time and looked quizzically up at its master. “You’re right,” Squinter thought, “should have just let the poor bloke kip.”