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She lives among the broken glass and shattered dreams. She goes where the wind takes her and doesn’t look back. She sings because she has a song and lives because she has a life. She survives. Because she is a fighter.
A lone flare in the night sky.
The girl steals along an alleyway, quieter than a whispered secret. She seems ethereal, her eyes darting this way and that, her hair dancing slightly with the wind. It’s as though she’ll disappear if you blink. She is dressed in tatty clothes which have long gotten threadbare. Her bare feet make no noise on the cobblestones.
A young boy hums past on a scooter. She draws back into the shadows, as though she can melt into their depths. When she feels safe, she darts out and scurries along the next alley, gone before anyone has time to acknowledge her. She pauses as she passes a metal pipe. Two olive green eyes have snared her attention. It takes her a second to realise they are her own. She doesn’t see her reflection often.
She continues on her way, the pair of wary eyes etched into her brain, all she could make out amongst the grime coating the pipe. The wind flits across the street, whistling up the alley and caressing her hair, enticing it into the air and tangling it together.
A piece of shabby paper lands at her feet, and she bends to pick it up. She doesn’t know why she does it. It is pointless. She cannot read.
Reading is one of the few things she is unable to teach herself, unlike most other aspects of the wandering life she leads. Yet her eyes squint persistently as she tries. It’s no different. The enigmatic black scribbles mean no more than ever. She sighs, fighting back the crushing tears that threaten to overflow. She wonders why she has to make it so hard for herself. If she just let things lie…
But it is not in her nature to simply leave things be. Life wouldn’t be worth living if there wasn’t some new challenge for her to take on.
The paper writhes in her grip, a beheaded worm struggling to be free, and she releases it. It soars into the sky. She watches it until it’s out of view. If she could read, perhaps she could finally choose a name for herself. A permanent one.
Somehow, to her, not having a name seems akin to not having a true sense of self. As though she doesn’t know who she really is. To her, it seems silly that such a trivial thing like a name should cause her so much angst.
But for her unknown name she feels a sense of ownership. She has imagined her name in countless forms. Sometimes, she dubs herself Primrose-Posy Violet Charbonnet de la Orpington, or something of the like. Occasionally, to bequeath herself with an extravagant name makes her feel like she’s not nomadic, but the daughter of a rich gentleman who lives in a castle with turrets and servants.
But other times, simple names like Mary Brown set her at ease. She can pretend that she is the daughter of a countryman, and devotes her day to milking cows and gaily skipping amongst the wheat fields.
It’s darkening. Night seeps through the pores of the sky. She must hurry, or she’ll miss it. She flits across the streets, watching the deluge of people reduce to nothing. She’s done this only a few times, but she finds her way easily.
She plants her foot in the first rung-like hole in the trellis and swings herself up, fingers snatching for the nearest plank of wood. When she wobbles too unsteadily, she pauses, clinging on to the trellis, because her life depends on it. She’s metres up. If she falls, it’s certain death. Her hand brushes into a spider web, and the irritated occupant drops onto her hair. She shrieks and bats at her head. The spider retreats, making a leap for the trellis next to her and scampering out of sight. She watches it go, still quivering. She is less than fond of spiders.
But now she continues to climb, reaching up her hands and skilfully swinging her sneakers into footholds.
Night dims her vision, but the light from the house nearby illuminates her way. She hauls herself onto the roof, squeaking when a tile gives way and plummets to the ground, splintering into a thousand shards. She kneels precariously at the edge of the roof, leaning perilously over the side, trying to catch a glimpse of the broken remains below her. It’s too shadowy. She moves on.
She scuttles over the rooftop, nimble as a monkey and silent as the grave. The floodlit blanket of the city sparkles, a busy nest of ants bustling around with light bulbs on their backs.
People are beginning to gather below, chattering animatedly, faces upturned, waiting for the same thing she is. The girl perches on a roof, her legs dangling over the edge and swinging, like an excited little kid in a chair. Her arms are stretched out behind her, palms down. She searches the depths of the stars, their light reflecting in her wide eyes. A bang knifes through the peace, setting her life on fire. A frothing trail of red soars up into the sky, fades, and then bursts. A spray of yellow spurts from the red, arching across the sky, then dying. Screeches of excitement ring through the air.
The girl leans back, head tipped up, a grin plastered on her face. Her features are lit up by another stream of shimmering blue, which erupts and sends down a waterfall of green. For a few minutes, the sky is a canvas, and someone is splashing colourful paint all over it. The girl is flat out on her back now, her hands cupped under her head, her hair splayed around her. The ground below mirrors the sky – flashes of colour as people capture the enthralling moment on their cameras. The slightest of smiles curves the girl’s lips.
She watches the sky explode, a minefield overhead, occasionally lifting her hand as though she could touch the stars. The fireworks continue, but some people leave. She must get back, before the show concludes and she is abandoned in darkness.
She flies over the roofs, shimmies down the trellis, her path irradiated by the blasts. Once her feet are safely on firm ground she pauses and gazes up at the sky. The fireworks come more slowly now. It’s nearing the end.
She scampers back to her alley, taking her time but always making sure she remains unnoticed. There’s a small gap between the houses on either side of her. Through it she can just make out the remaining few firecrackers. She stands there, arms hanging by her sides, just watching.
As the last firework fizzes into nothing, she nestles inside of her makeshift bed and tilts her head against the wall behind her. Her eyes vaguely search the night sky. It’s still aglow with the ghost of the explosives. The moon is a radiant lily pad on the glistening pond of the sky. A dragonfly of a shooting star flashes past, too quick for her to make a wish. She has a thousand wishes. She wouldn’t know which one to express.
Her hands run through her hair, braiding it with deft precision, then enduring the mental torment that she doesn’t have a hairband to secure it with. She lets her hands drop limply to her sides. Her hair unwinds and waterfalls down her shoulders in a cascade of dirty blonde splendour.
One final, stray firework rockets up into the sky and bursts, sending down the multitude of shining trails. Her head goes up, her eyes are wide as she takes in the detonation. A single tear snakes its way down the contours of her cheek and drips into her lap, where it darkens the grubby fabric, fades, and is lost to time.
She shuts her eyes to bar back the tears. The bitter taste of despair swims in her mouth. One finger curls around a lock of her hair, twisting it absently.
She shivers once. Something has landed on her arm. She inspects it, then, shakily, slowly, lifts her hand out in front of her. The speck parachutes down onto her outstretched palm. She swallows hard, and her fingers close subconsciously around the fleck of hope.
She raises her head to the sky, feeling another fragment settle on her lips. Now she cannot repress it. She illuminates the night like a thousand candles with her last grin.
Her eyelids flutter. She sleeps.
Early the next morning, the ground is sheeted with merged and melted snowflakes. Still they come.
Huddled somewhere in a secluded alleyway, burrowed in a nest of mouldy blankets, sodden newspapers and resolute self-reliance, is a small girl with no name.
Snow falls on her brow. It weaves intricate designs in her tresses.
Her eyes are closed, her forehead is soft.
And even in death, she smiles.