Pulling the red nylon bib over my head, I sprinted onto the tarmac playground that doubled as a netball court and waited to be told what position I’d be playing. Please centre, please centre,’ I murmured as the PE teacher divided us up. My friend Anna chucked the ball in my direction and I caught it neatly. Until I was 15, my biggest concerns probably fell into got a teenager uk categories: friends, boyfriends and whether or not I’d remembered to pack my gym kit that day for school.
My mum had died when I was a baby, so my two sisters and I were raised by our grandparents in the middle of nowhere in Wales. As it was, it took exactly 72 hours for all of that to change. I’d never been to London before. To be honest, I’d never really left Wales, so the first thing I noticed was how loud everything was. I felt like I’d been wearing headphones my whole life and someone had suddenly lifted them off.
When I’d left work, the air had been thick with summer humidity, so I was wearing shorts and a thin t-shirt. I had a small cross-body bag with my pay-as-you-go phone, a lip balm and my bankcard, but that was it. By Wednesday afternoon, I was completely skint. Without any money to pay for another night in the youth hostel, I found myself sitting on a wooden bench outside Euston station, sobbing into the sleeve of my sweater. I didn’t have enough money to top up my phone and call my grandparents, and I didn’t want to have to go back, tail between my legs, anyway. I didn’t see the man drive up and park his car a few metres away. I only looked up when he walked over and crouched down next to me, one knee in a puddle.
I’ve run out of money but I don’t know what to do,’ I told him. I don’t want to go home. Hey, I live near here,’ he said. You can come and dry off and get some food, then we’ll work out an action plan. As I dried off in the passenger seat, the man spent the 30 minute drive to Baker Street telling me he’d grown up in London and worked as a taxi driver. His name was Michael, he said.
London was always daunting at first, he said. It just takes a bit of time to get used to. I watched the streets and the tall white buildings whizz past the windows, and I felt myself relax for the first time in three days. It took a plate of chicken, rice and peas for me to open up. I didn’t fit in back home and how I hated my boss and how my family didn’t care about me anyway. I told them about how my phone had run out of credit but how I couldn’t imagine anyone was looking for me.
As I recounted my story, I noticed a few other girls coming in and out, taking plates of food back to their rooms. I woke up naked and alone, with a splitting headache. I’d left my clothes in a heap on the floor the night before, but when I went to reach for them I realised they weren’t there. Instead, there was a dressing gown on the chair by my bed. Confused, I put it on, and padded upstairs to ask for my jeans back.