Lucky, by D E White
The headlights slashed the road, leaving welts of light in the tarmac, and she shivered. This side of town was quiet after midnight, with no clubs and pubs to spill their alcohol-fuelled customers onto the rain-soaked pavement.
The car slowed to a stop beside her and she rammed her hands into her pockets to stop them from shaking.
“How much is it, love?”
She swallowed the lump in her throat, thinking quickly. “Fifty here or seventy at the hotel.”
He laughed, spluttering a little in his amusement, spit spraying out onto her bare arms. She flinched, but stood firm, noting the beads of sweat dripping from his pale forehead, the layer of flab circling his throat. His car smelled of cigarette smoke and the nauseating scent of one of those cheap air fresheners. She could see it hanging by the driver’s mirror, a pink Christmas tree spinning gently on a thread of white cotton.
“Twenty in the car or I’ll find someone else. You aren’t that special, love!”
Just do it! But even as she started to speak, to accept his offer and get some money in her purse, that cool, sensible person she might one day become stepped in, scornfully and coldly telling him no. No, she wouldn’t do it for twenty pounds; or for anything.
“For Christ’s sake, you’re the one standing by the road in that little dress showing everything off!”
He really did spit this time, and the phlegm hit the pavement near here toe, lying like a dismembered slug on the concrete slab. The man revved his car, roared off in search of easier prey and she let out a long sigh of relief. The warmth of her breath dancing like smoke in the cold night almost made her smile, but then her gaze dropped to the slug of phlegm. A familiar feeling of shame and failure hit her in the gut. Even this, she couldn’t even make money like this. The cool voice spoke again, telling her she had been lucky; telling her that if the driver had been off his head on drugs, or had a nastier nature he would have taken revenge for her brush off. Lucky – that was a joke.
The cold of the night sliced viciously through her thin black dress with knife-edge precision. She gave the material a desperate tug downwards, trying to cover her thighs as she began to walk, tottering slightly in the high heels. The plastic straps bit into her cold feet, and as she tripped on an uneven pavement slab, the stab of pain brought tears springing to her eyes.
Neon bright lights directed her to the town centre, and she settled on a wooden bench. The stale smells of fish and chips, vomit and beer still lingered from the evening rush, and she took another deep breath, inhaling the food, imagining it filling her aching, empty stomach. From her small pink plastic purse she took a mobile phone, and sat staring at the screen. Her fingers were so cold, she fumbled with the buttons, shaking now, misery blooming like a poisonous plant in her chest.
“Kayla? Bloody hell, girl – where have you been? Tell me you got some money tonight. Gav says if you didn’t, you can’t come back here.”
“I said I’ll call later … Alice? Have you taken something?” Her friend’s voice was trembling, too high and to sharp. Kayla could imagine the drugs racing around her bloodstream, making everything that bit brighter, more electric. For a time it had been exciting, offering opportunities and escape from her dull life.
“Did you get some money?” Alice was insistent, words rattling out mechanically, like a faulty car. There were voices in the background. Angry voices.
Kayla looked at the empty square, listened to the gentle rustle of litter dancing in another gust of icy wind. She was so cold, so very cold and sad. The unhappiness pierced her soul as the first flakes of snow pierced her skin, tattooing loneliness into her heart.
“No, I didn’t get any money. Alice, I don’t think we should…”
“Kayla! He won’t let me…” Her voice was cut off, and a male voice took over.
“Kayla, you’re no good if you can’t pay the rent. You’d better piss off back to where you came from. I need girls I can rely on, and if you can’t make the grade you can leave. I’ll get Alice to leave your bag outside… Or maybe I’ll just burn it!” Gav cut the call before she could ask about her friend.
Another car roared past, crammed with teenagers, radio blaring. The driver hurled a cigarette butt out of the window and it glowed fiercely on the pavement. Kayla slid off her bench and grabbed the glowing end, pairing it with a piece of litter. For a second, sheltered by her numb hands the tiny flame licked into the paper bag, and she hunched over sparse warmth. Then, a vicious gust of wind and it was gone in a streamer of smoke.
Even her tears were cold, but the cool, powerful voice was back. It had been getting louder for days, dominating her thoughts, stopping her from working, removing her from the company of Alice, Gav and the other girls. With the cold came clarity and a clear head at last. Now the voice spoke strongly about going home. But home to a claustrophobic sibling-crammed house, to her mum yelling at kids all day, then sinking exhausted into a drunken stupor? She couldn’t do that. The voice told her not to be stupid, home was where you made it, not just London. She was sixteen, she could do what she liked, live where she wanted.
Kayla sat up suddenly, dropping her mobile phone. She didn’t bother to pick it up. She wouldn’t need it again. Instead, from deep inside her purse she unrolled a leaflet. The woman handing them out had been insistent, or she wouldn’t have bothered to zip it safely away. Once, in the excitement of sharing a new life with Alice, she would have scorned the idea of help, but now the photo on the front on the leaflet spoke of warmth and new opportunities; mostly of warmth if she was completely honest. Back to basics.
An old man pushing a rusty shopping trolley clanked past the silent Co-Op. He was muttering to himself, shuffling carefully around the benches until he reached hers.
“Got lost, did you?” His voice was educated, but rough with drink and cold. “Should be down on Bonder Street with the other prossies, not up here where decent people sit.”
“I’m not a prostitute,” Kayla told him, standing up and stamping her feet. God, the cold was so bad she couldn’t feel her limbs, and her teeth were chattering so much her jaw hurt.
The man peered at her from hooded black eyes and sniffed. His heavy wool coat and mittens were threadbare and his body carefully insulated with layers of newspaper tied around his midriff with a length of string.
“That’s what they all say in the first year.” He frowned leaning closer, “Want my advice? Get out of here right now. Go down the station and get away. You make your own luck at your age. Time you get to my age you can’t make luck, not for money or love.”
She turned her head to avoid the stench of his breath, and his mood seemed to darken.
“Get out of here!” he shouted, waving a filthy mitten. “Stop bothering me and just go, girl!”
Lucky. Was that what she was? The train station was just two streets away. She stared at the address on the leaflet, felt the last coins left in her purse, and then started walking, stumbling just a little. The shower of snowflakes falling from the dark sky, spinning and whirling, made her smile at last. They transformed the ugly, deserted street into fairyland and she walked faster. One stop on the line, straight to the hostel, get herself sorted, register for some kind of help… The plans were spilling eagerly out of her mind, and the cool voice had taken over completely.
The old man wheeled his trolley carefully into the Co-Op doorway, stamping his feet, squinting at the dark, skinny figure of the girl as she walked away. Although the bitter cold and the sleety snow made his eyes stream, and his nose drip, he watched hawk-like until she turned the corner at the end of the road, opposite the George pub. Just for a second, a smile of satisfaction lit his battered features. Sometimes a bit of help was all they needed. That and a bit of luck…
Find out more about the author D E White here.