Evading North Eastern Europe’s financial crisis towards a fresh start in life, Gina walked up the stairs of a small plane in a modest airport, away from her deserted town. It was dawn. Nearby, Gino carried in a suitcase, the photo album of her teenage years. He waved, a speechless goodbye. A single tear slipped down his forced but brave smile.
Gina waved back at Gino from her window seat. Then she turned her back and to herself said, “Our love is too precious and rare to be consumed, if we smoke its last puff… my love, I’m afraid it won’t last.” Then, up towards the heavy humidity. She went. The plane’s wings opened and the engine roared. The day was gloomy and the lovers were doomed under a grey sky. Nonetheless, Gino ran on the sideline, as if he could sprint against a programmed plane racing to its destination. As if he could compete against her heart’s desire.
It was too late for last minute regrets. Gina travelled. She landed with a handbag containing a year’s worth of hard labor, it amounted to the total of her savings account. She thought it would be enough but as she soon found out, enough can be scarce, especially in Central London…
At nineteen, Gina had no work experience on her resume. Since she had been a ballerina all her life, she didn’t feel that she needed any. She proudly accumulated dance trophies instead, used them as a reference to work as a lapdancer and to complete her portfolio of slim silhouettes. At the front close to the stage, the bored singles would throw cash. In the back the married men observed and in between them, underaged boys with fake IDs filmed on their smartphones. Word of mouth spread her moves onto the internet where videos of Gina and the pole were shared and liked. Flattered, that’s how her dreams of fame ignited.
As a new arrival, the wild flame burning for fame quickly became tamed by the nightmare of anonymity that brought her back to reality. From the start, Gina was treated like the baggage charged in the rear of a car by a driver unloading from a late plane at a crowded airport. Next, on the red double decker bus, people coughed and gossiped pushed and showed off but seldom Gina heard them, begging her pardon. At first impression, the class was lacking for a kingdom that supposedly reigns on being well mannered.
A valued merchandise, on room hunting day, Gina was greeted by greedy smiles; the seducers of foreigners with hungry eyes. The rippers of new arrivals willing to pay sky high prices for a rotten part of the capital’s pie. The targeted consumers are many kinds, from families in one bedroom, students in garden sheds to singletons sleeping on old mattresses on kitchen floors.
The picture looked rosy online but Gina’s face was by now pale. Her room’s walls shared an unsolicited intimacy with next door’s victim; a closeness separated by boards made from cartons painted in brilliant white meant to hide the darkness that filled their box rooms; spare spaces of despair. Distressed sorrow, Gina gazed at receipts for deposits, train fares, pasta, bags of rice and cigarettes for dessert. She added up the numbers, the trip just two weeks in, had already cost her half of those long sweaty nights slinking around disgusting cigar smoke and embarrassing spotlights.
One year later, Gina’s had been moving around long enough to feel a deep anger in the tips of her fingers and she had taken to writing ranting notes as a means of venting the ulcer that boiled up through sheer frustration.
“Some properties would have been habitable if one doesn’t aim for high lifestyle standards or,
if the open electric cables weren’t spread along corridors,
if the shared kitchens weren’t run down with rats,
if the loft rooms had ladders to enter,
if the entrances had doors,
if the rooms had windows.
And before ringing a builder for a quote, hold your breath because you haven’t met the landlords yet;
These scammers have raptor eyes and shark teeth. They treat you like a doormat, putting their feet on your carpet whenever they please, pretending to be a mate or flatmate while in fact the situation is more like you being an inmate in a cell and them, a guard on duty invading your privacy. The pocket full of keys announces the bling coming and wanting a contraband deal or overtime for cash on the side. The beasts hidden by shiny white snow masks that cover their self serving crimes. Holding next week’s cleaning rota over you. You who pays for your cell, must not only live with but also clean the other inmates defects.
That said, the main and most encountered rule suits the non smokers and angers those who do. That is the rule stating that your lungs are more valuable than your flatmates livers. Gina isn’t lost in translation, neither is she confused as she insists on the following facts;
It is a smell and fire hazard therefore it is forbidden:
to light a cigarette with a lighter,
to smoke and pollute your own mind in your own room,
to have the wallpaper covered in yellow smoke stains.
It is not a smell nor a fire hazard:
to light bath candles, burn chimneys flames, to heat food with the gas fire burning,
to smell each others burnt fried bacon in communal areas,
to cook with yellow frying oil near the white walls.
In London as it is in all capital cities, people don’t contest breathing in the polluted air. Even so, it is unacceptable to decide to breathe one’s own toxicity in one’s own room. It seems everyone has jumped on the anti smoking bandwagon, next they might even sign up to a no breathing in public places policy to save oxygen, while automobiles will legally carry on fuming at us.
To conclude, as long as a cigarette isn’t lit, it is not disrespectful to drink alcohol, wake up the neighbourhood in the early hours, smash your room and decorate your landlord’s walls with the colorful paint made in your liver before passing out because it’s an accepted part of the trendy pub culture. There are those who choose the American dream and there is Gina, here, in her English ruin. Her savings would have been enough to survive in this overpriced city, if only she didn’t expect any decencies in life.”
Gina’s wheel of fortune stayed stuck in Gino’s arms. Since they split, fortune didn’t roll over for the better. There had been no hitting London’s champagne bars at night or delightful celebrations of a new life. For Gina, enough was enough!
To replace the lap dancing hours which barely meet the rent, she needed to hurry and find sophisticated dancer jobs, like she’d seen on her favorite TV program called “Dancing with The Stars”. Taking control of her destiny, Gina had scrolled through old emails to retrieve the address of an online recruiting agency which contacted her via one of her social media profiles way back when she was still with Gino.
The agents were in fact, like film directors, the kind that stir up the tragedies of daddy’s little enraged princess, escaped from Disneyland and looking for a ride to Hollywood Boulevard. The meeting went well, the Hollywood map holders were flattering. Gina wasn’t surprised that they all agreed; she has a body that most women envy and most men lust over.
The agent reiterated to Gina: “It won’t last forever, showbiz is today or never my darling. In this business we must load the gun before we get shot. The sooner you get on board, the faster you will be propelled to stardom; a Madonna in Vogue, Britney Spears of the Brits.” how could Gina resist…
The job didn’t turn out as expected. It wasn’t dancing, it was an undressed type of modelling but still, satisfying. In exchange, Gina moved into a free of charge cosy room, with red heart wallpaper and comprising a rosy bed cover. A black Mercedes Benz waited for her every night outside the gates of the mansion house she shared with her co-actresses. Every night the driver turned up the volume of the sound system of the engine that took the group of hopefuls to photoshoots that soon became orgies. In the back of her mind, Gina often wondered, “What would Daddy thinks of this? Well better not to tell, especially not to Mummy, who knows how much more her heart can take?”
Time passed fast underneath the glittering make up. Gina looked down on herself for succumbing to staged promises of fame and she blamed the choices that cost so much because she had wished to feel special. In addition, there was the attention and the parties that felt like ecstasy and the designer dresses that all the girls swapped plus the new best friends and grown up handsome men holding money, power and her key to this exploitative industry.
On a silver tray, her white powdered nose helped a lot but she wished for at least one of those men to display even a little bit of Gino’s courting manners. Gino had transformed into a bitter sweet memory. He’d always been a romantic, that’s why she wasn’t surprised when she heard he got engaged. Gina’s heart ached when thinking of him. Sometimes, she looked back and wished she had never turned her back on his tear, even though at the time she was sure the view ahead would be bright. That’s why she made that choice. She trusted the sellers of empty words over her gut instinct. Well not anymore.
Gina started numbing the mixed feelings of fear and shame in daily drug cocktails aroused by vodka shots to relieve the pain. Until she passed out, Gina functioned barely conscious. Finally, one morning, a slap awoke her senses. She collapsed on the ground distressed by a positive pregnancy test result. The degrading naked movies, stopped. No cash left for not much left of who she used to be.
How gross she thought, that the agency offered work to her well over four months pregnant state. Gina refused and for once in a long time she was proud of herself. Not for long though.
She was far from proud on a day at work in the hotel. Gina once had glossy dream of success and now she cleaned people’s floss out of spit filled sinks. Watching her heart’s vision shrink, the starlet within her fizzled out and Gina remained physically chained to her past mistakes as she knew she would soon give birth to her future. One day, in a hotel room it didn’t matter. She danced while wiping the mirror and seeing a spark in her eyes, she suddenly realised that all it takes to light a fire is a burning spark.
In life when one is ready to light their potential, a spark is often nearby waiting to be seen. Like Gina’s latest friend, Freddy. An aloof and high but kind, kind of guy. They met, on a night bus and had a sad chat about their exhausting lives and her desperate state. Freddy offered half his bed until the birth. In exchange, she provided affection and some cooking for him. Compared to what she used to do; Gina struck a lucky deal.
Freddy at the wheel, sneezing with red eyes, pressed the accelerator, running all the red lights. The harsh reality, hit Gina. The water leaked and she pushed, a soul entered and the boy screamed. The birth happened and Gina’s dream of fame instantly faded into a long gone fantasy. She was responsible for the care of the child of an anonymous brute. However, she had created a lover for life or at least for as long as children are supposed to idolize their mother.
Gina left her country with light luggage and returned to her home’s airport with a stone heart and heavy baggage, the crisis still existed and the sun has deserted. After Freddy was arrested for drink driving, Gino got married to a ballerina, Gina collected the remains of her strength to focus on long term planning.
She decided to move back to her strict and conservative parents house. Needless to say, they were close to an heart attack when they saw the child. After all she was supposed to have spent two years at an overseas religious university. The scam plot was organised by one of her childhood friends at the help of a very liberal and atheist mother, one who didn’t think twice in making the adult phone calls and faking the signatures of freedom that Gina needed to break out of the oppressing rules that her loving and possessing parents imposed on her. Consequently, they were forced to review the effectiveness of their tight rules, to question the validity of their values and the origin of their beliefs which they suspect might be a bit, outdated.
Grateful to have been welcomed back home even if it isn’t perfect, Gina learned the hard way that it could have been worse.
Ever the optimist, she trains as a dance teacher during the week while her mum takes over her babysitting shifts instead of watching the bingo on TV. At weekends she volunteers to advise and warn wide eyed dreamy girls of the dangers of naivety, about not renting in London unless they can live with being pawns of the fraud and afford to get ripped off spending half a wage for being the cause of the demand that drive the prices higher.
Though, Gina still entertains her vice at night, in between milk baby bottles she takes lonely mens phone calls and saves their money to free herself from them. Meanwhile, she dreams again… One day Gina will run an inspirational campaign to encourage the tormented to hold onto their dignity and to warn the impatient about the danger of rushing abroad.
She will tell them this, “To make your dreams come true, start with self respect. That is done by not selling out your body unless it is going to move graciously on a ballet stage, accompanied by acclaiming claps and a classy classical tune in the background. There is always another chance in life as long as you don’t repeat the same mistake twice. Moreover learn to trust your instinct because it knows that shortcuts too often lead into a labyrinth that never seems to end…”