Together we walked – I hobbled – back to the bright yellow fibreglass security hut and Pius opened the door.
“Come in and sit down,” he instructed me. Still feeling weak from my encounter I did as he ordered, grateful to be off my leg – the cut was beginning to ache and sting like a real bastard. I began shivering involuntarily as the effect of adrenaline wore off and my body was suddenly sore, cold and stiff.
I put my injured foot up against the edge of the desk and gritted my teeth as I pulled my sock down to inspect the damage. Although the sock dragged off a slice of skin, all in all it didn’t seem to be as bad as it felt and I sighed with relief.
“I have a first aid kit,” Pius said, lifting a green box off the wall. Opening it he pulled out some cotton wool and some iodine tincture. “I am going to clean the wound and dress it. I do not know what is in the river water,” he said peering closely. “Your wound does not look too bad. I think your sock protected you from the worst.”
I noticed Becky looking away, clearly upset by the blood trickling freely down my ankle. Pius was adept at field dressing and he soon had it cleaned and bandaged. My shakes had almost gone completely replaced by a ravenous hunger. I inspected his handiwork.
“Looks really good. Thanks very much for that. You’ve probably saved me from infection.” I thought for a moment. “I don’t know about you but I could murder some brekky, Pius. Is there a café nearby? Can I buy you some? It’s the least I can do,” I asked.
“You can eat after that?” Becky asked, aghast at my apparent brushing off of the disaster that had nearly claimed me just moments before.
I shrugged, suspecting the hunger was simply a natural response of the body trying to get some quick energy to replace the reserves burnt off.
“I’m okay,” I stressed, squeezing her hand.
“There is a Nando’s on the other side of the railway arch. You can get there quickly if you want,” Pius suggested. The thought of Piri Piri chicken made my stomach grumble in anticipation. The big man shook his head. “Thank you for the offer, my friend, but I am unable to leave here just yet as my shift is not over. When it is I have to get home to my family.”
We said our goodbyes and leaving Pius behind to finish his shift Becky and I walked off in the direction of the chicken joint, my injury reduced to a small throbbing sensation. Approaching the main junction I became aware of a strange noise filling the air. It was as if waves were smashing on a rocky shoreline but it had a different, heavier quality to it. The air began to vibrate to a low thrumming as the noise intensified. It was like standing outside a football stadium listening to the crowd go wild as a goal was scored.
“What is that noise?” Becky asked, looking all around trying to identify its source. The sound seemed to come from everywhere.
Even from a hundred yards or so away it was obvious to me that no traffic had passed over the bridge in a while. A couple of cars on the other side of the junction to us that had been waiting patiently at the red lights for their turn suddenly screeched away like the devil was chasing them, the traffic lights still on red. The faces of the drivers registered terror. A shiver slithered down my spine.
“Shit, what the hell have they just seen?” I asked out loud, my nerves jangling again.
“I don’t like this,” Becky replied. “Not one bit.”
“Me neither, babe. Come on, let’s get back to Pius. Now,” I insisted, my tone suddenly desperate. I wasn’t sure why I made the gut-felt decision to backtrack, perhaps it was Pius’ apparently unshakable demeanour or something else, but I’m glad I did make that choice – he was a very good man in the Apocalypse.