#30days30stories: change

5 Sep

A story about change

Begging for change

“Spare a bit of change, mate?”

Jay cringes and grits what’s left of his back teeth together. Even as the words rush out of his mouth, he’s wishing he could stem their flow. He can’t. They spill out almost involuntarily, almost like breathing.

This is what it’s come to. Begging, borrowing and fantasising about having the balls to steal has become as natural as breathing to Jay. As much as he tries to stop it, he can’t. I know that sounds ridiculous to those of you on the other side of the fence that Jay jumped, but it’s true. This is a physical need. It’s like trying to hold your breath when you know your body is going to kick in with its reflexes. You know you’re going to be forced to take a big gulp of air, as if your brain is saying: “You’re not getting out of it that easily, sunshine.”

Jay’s in the grip of something much bigger than him, something scary and dark and hungry. And the only thing that sates it seems to be money.

Moolah. Cash. Reddies. “Wonga,” as the fat chap on telly says. Or perhaps used to say. Jay can’t remember the last time he concentrated long enough on a TV screen to notice whether an advert or a programme was showing, let alone the last time he owned a TV. No time for that. Every waking moment is a cycle of paper chasing, or rather, in Jay’s miserable case – copper chasing.

It wasn’t always like this. Once, Jay was a nice, ordinary lad in his twenties: decent bird, alright group of mates, boring but easy enough office job. Footy on a Saturday, unfathomable pension plan, car taxed and MOT’d every year on time without fail. But then, as people so often do, he got restless. Thought there might be more to life than all this. Turns out there is, but you might not want to know about it.

You don’t need the nitty gritty details. The chaotic, dismal squats, the feverish arguments, the cruising-at-30,000-feet highs, the Mariana Trench lows, the constant, unscratchable itch – ever present – and the running. Always running. You’ve read enough tales of spectacular descents into squalor to know how these things play out. Mark Renton. Gemma Brogan. Harry and Marion. They got it. They all turned up for the first day on the job, brimming with just enough enthusiam and despair to make them pros in this world. Funny thing is with Jay, he never really seemed to put his heart into it.

A bit like in his old life, Jay only ever seemed mildly into it, knocking out half-arsed attempts to get enthusiastic about the lifestyle. And this is a lifestyle. It’s not a career, or a hobby. You buy into it; wholesale. A pyramid scheme with no get-out clause. It’s the dark equivalent to joining the circus.

You leave everything behind – family, friends, hope.

Money.

You leave behind money, and any proper means of acquiring said currency, only to spend the rest of your miserable life chasing it.

Every day, from wherever Jay wakes up to wherever he sleeps – if he does sleep, that is – he’s asking for change.

There’s just never enough change to make a real difference.

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