Cashing in my unlucky ticket
It’s late and I stand at a bus stop and watch my breath cloud the air after a day of wiping tables. From where I stand, I can see a woman with hair scraped back from her gaunt and yellow face.
She begins to heave in great lungful’s of cold air and shouts obscenities down the empty alleyway. I wonder what she can see that I can’t. Maybe she’s haunted by the ghosts of her past who once upon a time believed in her. I myself, fear those very ghosts.
The woman and I both hold the same ticket. The ticket is made of thorns which poke and prick in all the worst places.
The ticket is unlucky. We were presented this ticket at birth and even though we didn’t ask, it brought us both here to this alleyway.
The rancid taste of tobacco hits the back of my throat as I inhale deeply from a cheap roll up.
Again, the questions I ask myself every day. How did I end up here? Why did I end up here? Is it my fault?
I reach out into a desperate daydream of a future me very different to the woman stood here now. I see myself applying for university and proudly holding a sparkling degree with my writing skills expertly honed.
I see a high-powered confident version of myself, writing exclusives and racing around the country, chasing my next big story. I see a woman, powerful, confident and strong. Stronger than others because my lived experiences have relentlessly driven an ambition that was fuelled and grown from a life without privilege.
At home, I begin researching universities and application processes. I write a to do list on the back of a cigarette box and tell myself that tomorrow, I’d use a few pounds of my tobacco money to buy a blank notebook and fill it with potential.
This would be the new me, an intelligent me, the me who was born to write stories.
I settle on a university and fill in the initial forms on my phone because I don’t have a computer.
I add the word ‘computer???’ on the back of my crumpled cigarette box and feel sick thinking about the cost of such a item.
I glance over at the damp and mould blooming black and poisonous around the windowpane as doubt welcomes me with a curled and bony finger. I turn off the light and let the darkness consume me.
Most young people applying for university are excited about a future that could be mapped and explored. Many of them with family members stacked up behind then, nudging them forward with warm love and pride.
I begin to feel foolish and dirty to even reach out for a glimmer of hope that maybe I could be a successful writer.
I may as well proclaim that one day I’d be a rocket scientist for all the likelihood there was that I could ever be more.
Professional success is more likely to bloom if you come from an advantaged background and that is a cold, hard fact. But a person cannot choose what family they are born into.
Being born disadvantaged is down to potluck.
The absolute and harsh unfairness of this inequality weighs me down and my shoulders slump as I realise my ambition alone may not be enough to get me to where I want to be. To where I should be. To where I would belong.
I lie back on bedcovers that smell like mildew and think of my parents.
One is a mist like spectre living on the edge of my conscious thought. When I dream, I can see his moustache stretched wide and feel the prickle of the sharp hairs on my soft forehead.
Six-year-old me flies down a perfect road with perfect houses on perfect pink roller-skates. The man with the moustache is holding out his arms for me, he believes in me. But as I reach his open arms, he disappears.
Had my life have stayed on this track, things may have been different. But a six year old has no say in integral life choices such as the location they live, the school they attend or whether their parents should divorce.
Even as a child living in a poor household in a South Wales village, I could feel the weight of being different.
By the time I was a teenager I knew that circumstances completely beyond my control would very likely dictate a serious lack of opportunities.
I give up on sleep and stumble around in the darkness to find a lighter. The night is cold and I can hear my neighbours arguing even though it’s past 2am. Their bin is spilling takeaway wrappers onto the already filthy floor. Something nearby rustles in the unkempt hedge and I wonder if it’s another rat.
The glowing embers of my roll up sting my fingers as a bitter wind causes them to land on my ragged cuff. I look at the paper as it slowly burns down and think of Hans Christian Andersen’s nameless Little Matchstick Girl who stared into meagre match flames and to see a better life for herself but then, dies anyway.
Her demise was a result of society offering no helping hand when she needed it most.
The Little Matchstick Girl didn’t die from hypothermia, she died because she happened to be born without privilege.
I scoff at myself, as I stand on a terraced street in one of the most deprived areas in Wales and bring another smoke to my lips and light it. Then in a sudden flare of rage, I take the roll up in my hand and dash its life out on the pavement.
The sudden swish of air causes it to glow red as it clings to life and I carry on stabbing it into the ground. With every stab I hiss out angry curse words.
As the last flakes of ash gutter out and blow in the breeze, I again think of what my life could be. I think of writing my way to the top and editors fighting over my work like hungry vultures.
I imagine my purse heavy with security and house deeds with my name emblazoned upon them. I think of living in a neighbourhood with neat picket fences and neighbours who mow their perfect lawns on Sunday’s.
I think of feeling pride for myself.
I imagine my hopes and dreams to be an intricate web heavy with tasks and milestones. It takes one sticky silk strand for spiders to begin to spin a web. Only then can it build more and more strands into a structure five times stronger than steel.
I look up at the clear night sky and realise I would need my own first silk strand.
My social class will be a weapon I can wield because it will set me apart from the rest.
As I close out the bitter night air, something stirs deep inside me that feels like anger, injustice and so many other things all at once. My cheeks rise as I feel the relieved smile reaching the corners of my tearful eyes. I realise my life has a reached an integral turning point. I will bend and buckle the path my social class has forced me to walk and no one will be able to stop me.
I know that attitudes towards me and other people from disadvantaged backgrounds will form a system heaving with prejudice. If I ever do get to where I want to be professionally, I’ll scream this injustice from the roof tops, over and over until someone listens.
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