In response to, well, our, Flashback Track Friday post. I fancied writing some flash today.
B-B-B-R-R-R-I-I-I-N-N-N-G-G-G. Despite the shrill bleat of his alarm, he takes some rousing, he has not heard an alarm for the last two months, not paid heed to any clock. But today is D-Day. Make or break.
A hasty shower, then straight out into the world. First impressions? It is drizzling – he hopes the rain will stay off. He walks in the direction of the rail station. The closer he gets, the more the litter builds. Discarded cans and bottles. Abandoned takeaway wrappers. Nobody to care. Close to the station now, he walks past a parade of shops, each with barred windows, prepared for the worst.
At the entrance, no need for a ticket. He plays the game, knows the dodges. He’s street-smart, this boy. All his life, he has had to be.
The station. The litter, worse – the railway company leave the place to fester. Why bother? As long as the trains run on time? The enclosed space resembles the city’s rubbish dump, with matching perfume. It was not a place to wait for too long, if you could help it. He is careful to skip over the pebbledash of fresh vomit, somebody’s calling card from the night before.
The platform. If his timing is right, he will not have long to wait. By the tracks, a rat scurries past. Who could blame it? He remains standing – the waiting room proper locked away long ago, and the reek of urine from the outside seats makes him think twice about moving any closer.
The train is on time, and pardons him from the smell, the graffiti. The first good result of the day.
Two stops later – just two stops – he alights. Though he has not made this journey for some time, his feet have switched to autopilot and propel him forward. He has been treading this path almost half his life. He smiles wryly as he walks through the station’s car park, remembers the time he was discovered, cigarette in hand, by the deputy headmaster. An early brush with authority. But none of that matters now, he is free to do as he pleases, whatever happens – he ceased being dependent on the school the moment he’d close that last booklet.
His feet become heavier; his pace slackens as they push him forward. He becomes nervous. But, the result will be the same, whatever – his fate has already been sealed. He passes the Social Security office, emits a long stare. His brother’s fate, to sign on every fortnight. A blinkered future. Is this his destiny, too?
Along more unkempt avenues, he is pushed finally through the school’s wrought iron gates. It does not register, but this is the last time. He sees people milling around the entrance. Fellow classmates – ex-classmates – also reluctant to discover their destinies. More emerge from the building, some anxious, others jubilant.
Up the steps, through those doors which open out into the foyer. To his right, the School Office. A nervous queue of four. He paints a smile and greets without thought, joining the queue. The headmaster is there, smiling, chatting. A big day for all. The boy does not engage. He remembers their last meeting, when he was told that this was it. He would be permitted to sit the exams, but no more. No retakes. He’s out. The school has had enough of him, and he of it. At the front of the queue, he gives his name. A mere prompt – the secretary already knows him too well.
The secretary smiles and turns, and from the pile behind him, selects a sealed envelope. The boy’s name shines through the window.
He shuffles away, finds a quiet corner. Now or never. He tears open the envelope, and after a second, the text registers.
The grades required, he has achieved, exceeded. His reward? A university place, far, far away. His escape route from this place, his passport to a new life.
He breathes deeply. Mission accomplished. He needs oxygen, he wants to feel the breeze on his face. He decides to walk back, for the day has suddenly become brighter. He turns, starts walking, ten feet tall. He passes through the gates once more, there is no sadness, no nostalgia. He does not look back.