Her clothes were more or less all right. They were clean and they suited her. OK, the pants were a little wide and one shoe had a little hole in it, but the hole was on the instep, where no one looks. No one could tell at first glance that she bought the whole outfit in a thrift shop. And it is hard to wash long hair in a bathroom sink, but she managed that too every morning.
She lived in an abandoned warehouse with ten other teenagers who had all left their homes, and the others partied every night. There wasn't a single moment of the night when everyone was asleep, or a single moment in the day when everyone was awake. There was always noise and movement around her, and so she slept in little bits of time, ready at any moment to wake up to defend her things. Fatigue and the constant confusion of this life made it hard to look for work. But she had to find work, because she didn't like life on the street. The other girls had shown her the solution. "Survival sex" they called it. But something insider her refused. All she wanted was an ordinary job in a store selling clothes, something she knew how to do. Because there was no way she was going back to her mother's store and live with her mother and her mother's new boyfriend, who asked her to . . . she had to find a job here. She focussed all her energy on that. She searched for weeks to find the best clothes she could afford. She never went out so as not to get dirty. She guarded her things like an angry cat.
And she found a job! The store owner said he liked her "look" and he was impressed by her experience. She started work on Monday morning and looked forward all week to Friday's payment. But she stood still in shock when the first clients came into the store, a group of teenagers the same age as her. Their clothes were worse than hers! Worn, dirty, holes everywhere! But at second glance, she saw that the holes were fake. They had been sewn in with a machine. The spots were done with ink. The clothes had been made that way. They were expensive. That was why the owner liked her "look". The shop was next to a rich neighborhood and the street kids' look was in fashion.
It is difficult to describe the cold contempt she felt then. "They've taken my struggle" she thought. "They've taken my tiredness and my shyness and they've made it into a game. And it doesn't matter to them that they paid a lot for those clothes. It's a game for them, looking poor."
After that moment the girl changed. She stopped taking things so seriously. If the respect and the dignity she'd been working for so hard, was someone else's toy, why worry about it? After that, she was ready for anything.
© Margaret Wesseling, 26-1-6