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Streetlights wink in the distance as she shuffles down the cracked asphalt of neighbourhoods gone wrong. Her lips are blue with the cold and her frosty, impenetrable eyes are glued to the ground as she dances her way around the puddles left from the earlier shower of bitter rain. Her hands are stuffed in the pockets of her bulky jumper; she doesn’t own a pair of gloves. Every holler and laugh and shriek wrecks her small form as she jumps with fright and her sharp eyes flit about in search of nothing and everything all at once. Something indefinable clouds her eyes.
Her mouth opens slightly as she nears the heart of the city; the streetlights dance across her soft face and she inhales in the scent of the archetypal metropolis. She smells the fuel puffing out of the stalled taxi, the ketchup squeezed onto cheap hotdogs, the distinct odour of cheap perfume mingled with sweat, she smells the rubbish rotting but she also smells the indescribable aroma of desire. And the desire fills her up until she is wishing for the impossible and hoping for all the ludicrous things young girls dream of.
She ignores the goose bumps prickling her arms and legs as she stops outside every shop window to gaze inside at the wonderful, spectacular things that she promises herself she will one day own. Her stomach grumbles involuntarily as she passes the locked doors of the bakery. The hunger is a horrible constant reminder of how low her life has sunk. She examines her bony wrists with a sigh and wraps her jacket tighter around her body partly to keep out the harsh wind, but mostly to hide the shocking sight of her protruding ribs. They are not an attractive quality, not at all.
She spots a teddy bear in the window of a toyshop, it is much nicer then the one she remembers her younger self clutching when she hid in the cupboard watching, not realizing. She looked on with a sort of dark curiosity as her father pulled back his hand and it landed with a loud clap on the side of her mother’s pale, frightened face. The scene plays in her head over and over, a tortured reminder of her childhood.
She convinces herself every night as she squats in an abandoned building or in the doorway of a sleazy bar, that running away was worth it, that this wasn’t as bad as what she’d suffered through at home. But sometimes, when she is curled in a ball trying to warm her stiff, freezing body or when hands touch her in ways that make her tremble with a new type of fear, the line blurs and she’s not so sure anymore. What is the right choice, when every prospect makes her skin crawl?
This is not what she imagined life would be. She didn’t understand why those girls who traipse into school in shiny shoes their glossy hair shining, got everything whilst she sat there on a bench quietly tucking her dull, oily hair into a ratty beanie. She occasionally pretends to be one of them, hoping they’ll believe it too. But she shakes herself out of it when she notices how they cross over to the other side of the road just to avoid her.
Her thoughts are always filled with one question, Why me? She’s prayed every night to God for as long as she can remember, but he appears to have no mercy and it makes her weep to think that even God deems her as worthless. Those are the only words she knows to describe herself - worthless, insignificant trash. If she were to wear pretty clothes and style her hair, would they consider her a human? Because at the moment she feels like a monster out of a fairy-tale; the ones she always felt sorry for, as they seemed so alone.
The cold air caresses her lungs with fierce hands as her legs slow and she collapses with exhaustion in the doorway of the public library. She reads the words carved into the old stone with a small smile before she closes her eyes. ‘A house without books is like a room without windows.’ She wishes she’d enjoyed reading more. She used to know people who could get lost in a book and not come out even when they were hungry. Even if the world was falling apart around them. That was never her though, but she used to hope that one day it would be. In her head she’s dancing in a room full of books with coloured spines and delicate italic writing. There’s a fire burning bright in the corner of the room and she can practically feel it warming up her freezing bones as she slips into unconsciousness.
Early the next morning, the city is already bustling as the brilliant sun rises up behind the silhouettes of the tall, bleak buildings. People are running around chasing taxis and chasing jobs. Chasing a life they feel they must have. The girl goes unnoticed for a long time, remaining a part of the city’s background.
A few buildings down, a man lies in a corner wrapped in a plaid sleeping bag holding his hands over his ears in an attempt to block out the constant buzz and hum of the city. They are one in a hundred million, but you can’t just rule people out because of a statistic. Do you want to be the one to tell that girl that her dreams will never come true? That her desires will never be fulfilled, when all she wants is to live?
“This city reeks of desperation,” a tourist mutters to himself, eyeing the girl sleeping in the doorway of the public library with wary eyes.
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, sir,” a local man pipes up, his eyes glinting with faint amusement as he gently places his jacket over the young girl’s sleeping body, “This city does not reek of desperation, it reeks of ambition. And you know what they say about ambition, it is all-consuming and unrelenting.”