• London, United Kingdom

2. Scratch – scratch

Illustrated by Emily Barrios

It was during those times when poverty appeared on every corner of the city. Children were poor, there was no milk for breakfast, the house was made of cardboard, there was no water, no electricity, no television. Society was ambiguous in its futuristic vision, the daily reading of the little black notebook my mother had, kept the depth of my hopes high and gave me a fresh breath of air that smelled like lime and strawberries. The words love and hope sounded real; still, each day I went to sleep poor, cold and damp. 

My night dreams were fragile, and my silence intensified. The hole on the ceiling above me would let the moon shine its glowing light. It was beautiful, but it kept me awake, it was then that the fantasies came, it was like entering a desirable world, where nobody was poor, the house was not made of cardboard, I had a bed, it was everything I wanted, comfort. Even though everything in my fantasy was different, my mother’s little black notebook was still there, with the same stories that gave hope and love. The next morning everything was gray, it was cold, yet it was time to go to school, my uniform was wretched, I was embarrassed, despite that, I would remember the little black notebook, those stories that moved me within to break free from all the gray, from everything poor and everything wicked. 

One day I was running home with my notebooks full of writing that nobody could understand, and notebooks that I didn’t like to read, notebooks without purpose, notebooks that didn’t fill me up like the little black notebook. Amid all that, I wouldn’t stop dreaming and my vision was to see myself out of that poverty or at least to have a new uniform. So, I started to work on the street after school, I would sell candy bars at the traffic lights, I would offer them to each car. I would gather enough to buy one scratch card, but we needed to eat. Each afternoon was hard, filthy, and cold. There was no hope for years to come based on what I saw around me. One day, I decide to talk with the clerk at the gas station. 

– Sir? – I said.

– Yes, what do you need, little one? – he asked.

– Sir, do you know which is the best scratch card and how much it costs? 

– Of course, little one, the Scratch-scratch is the best one, it has $20,000 and it costs $5.00 

– Wow! – I muttered.

– Do you want one? – the gentleman asked. 

– Not at the moment – I replied.

It was then that I decided to spend two more hours on the street selling candy, people would leave work and there would be more people on the street to whom I could offer my candy, this way I could save for the Scratch-scratch. The $20,000 would not be half bad for my family, I could have a new uniform and notebooks that I would like to read. Maybe it would be enough to buy wood and replace the cardboard in the house and cover the hole on the ceiling and maybe I could sleep better. A bed would not be bad and new shoes for my mom would not be bad. 

As the days went by, I felt tired, but just the thought of getting a chance at having some new things, kept me going. I had homework to do, I would sit next to the gas station to work on that, the gentleman from the station would sometimes come and help me with math, it was not a subject I was keen on. My mother worried often, but there was no work for her, it was hard to find a job when your shoes had holes in them, everything was so complicated, things were inaccessible one way or another, the one beautiful thing was my mother reading the little black notebook every night, with those old stories, it was hard to believe they were ever true, but they were comforting to me. I saw myself on top of the world just thinking about how lucky I was to have my mother, sometimes, I felt ungrateful for always saying how wretched everything was and being so negative, but I think it was impossible not to feel that way. The best moments were with her and the little black notebook. One day we were talking, and she said: 

– Frida – With her soft and delicate voice, she pronounced my name. 

– Tell me, mom –I said.

– Frida, each day that goes by is a day of new challenges, dreams and hopes. I know that everything seems gray and unfair, but together we can get far. Your dedication and mine will bring us new times, dreams and the capacity to withstand anything that comes our way.

– With tears in my eyes, I realised that I was exhausted, I needed to sleep, my small body demanded to rest. 

The hole on the ceiling did not bother me that night. It was one of those days in which there was only my mother and I, in our own little world, filled with love and longings. 

The next day, I got ready for school, I had a smile on my face, I felt recuperated from the long hours of work. I was still thinking about the Scratch-scratch, the $20,000, I kept wondering if it would be a good idea to invest $5.00. I would only get one chance; I can’t afford to spend $5.00 every week.

That day, I left school and started to work on the same corner, once I saw I had enough I ran to the gas station. 

– Sir! – I yelled

– What’s going on, little one? – he asked. 

– I want a Scratch-scratch, let me choose. 

– Are you sure, little one? $5.00 is a lot for you – He said. 

– Yes, sir. I’m sure. I know I will win and I will be able to buy new shoes for my mom. 

– Alright, little one, as you wish. – He said with a hesitant voice. 

Once I had paid, I felt scared of scratching it, I was afraid of not winning, of having spent money I didn’t have on something that might be impossible to achieve, what have I done? I think this was a bad idea, I started to cry, I felt I had let my mom down, what am I going to say? I have spent the money we use for food on something uncertain, on something that might just be a fantasy. A few minutes went by and I decided to take the chance, I scratched and scratched but couldn’t see a thing, I don’t know what kind of look I had on my face, but some people started approaching, they were curious to see if I had won. 

– Hey, girl! I’ll give you $1 for that – a man yelled.

– No, thanks! – I replied.

Little by little, I started to notice that there were more people approaching, I began to shake a little, I hadn’t even finished scratching my Scratch-scratch. Suddenly, the man from the gas station yelled loudly at the crowd: 

– Leave her alone! You despicable human beings!

– Thank you, sir – I said.

– The man from the gas station asked me if I had won something.

– I don’t know yet. – I whispered. 

– How about you go inside the station and finish scratching there? Nobody will bother you there.

But people went mad, I don’t know what happened, a mob started to form, they wanted that I give them my Scratch-scrath, the man from the store started to fight them off, he was protecting me, I hid my Scratch-scratch in my pocket and started to run, the people started to come after me yelling “She won!” “Get her!” “She has $20,000 in her pocket!

People kept yelling and I kept running without looking back, I couldn’t feel my legs, I saw a pile of rubbish and hid in it without thinking, amid the stench and all the trash. The mob couldn’t see me. Suddenly, I saw the man from the gas station, he was looking for me, he looked sweaty and short of breath from all the running. I walked directly towards him and hugged him, he carried me and asked where I lived, I asked his name, the man from the gas station was called Tino. Tino took me home, all the way there, he did not complain about having to carry me. When we arrived in the house my mum came out and held me in anguish, she asked what had happened. Tino explained the events, my mom invited him in for a cup of tea to thank him. While Tino drank his tea, he read the little black notebook with the beautiful stories handwritten with lovely calligraphy. My mom got me cleaned up an told me to never work on the street again. Still shaken from the trauma of what had happened, I pulled out the Scratch-scratch from my pocket so that my mom could finish scratching it. When she did, we had won the $20,000 from the Scratch-scratch that, for a moment, I had regretted buying.