Open University Assignment – Start Writing Fiction
1.4 Portraying a Character-Activity 9
Make a character desire something, and make the desire his or her driving force. Write a scene or a summary that creates reasons why s/he can never have what s/he wants. (‘Three hours between planes’ is a good example of this.)
It’s now or never, I think to myself as the train comes to a stop. We’re at the airport, the end of the line. All around me, sleepy passengers gather their suitcases and bags and depart the double doors. Slowly, I rise from my seat, sling my light backpack over my shoulder and get off the train, stepping into the cavernous lobby of the Hartsfield Airport. There’s so much going on around me. People standing in line, waiting to get checked in on flights that I imagine will take them to exotic places. Children crying, couples exchanging goodbye kisses, a man yelling at a ticket agent, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen wearing dark sunglasses indoors, dragging a wheeled designer bag behind her, striding confidently toward the escalators. I think she must be a model. All of the life surrounding me excites me. It’s one of my good days. I feel happier than I have in a long time. I try and forget about the other side of the coin.
I pull out the ticket that I bought with the savings I’ve stashed away from my part-time job for the past year. New York City. It’s been my dream to live there since I was a little girl. To me, it was a fairyland I’d created in my head spun from stories I’d read and scenes from movies and television shows. Kisses in the rain, sun-dappled walks through Central Park under trees bursting with color, Broadway shows, proposals atop the Empire State Building. I’d already rented an apartment through the mail. Two months paid in full. I finger the warm metal of the key in my pocket and felt an electric thrill rip through me. After the two months were up, I’d get a job, figure out what I wanted to do from there. The important thing was, I’d be making the decisions.
My whole life since I was 10 years old has been on a routine set by someone else. School then home. Or school, doctors’ appointments, then home. Now it was school, doctors’ appointments, work, then home. I worked as a caregiver for an old lady. I read to her, gave her lunch and dinner, basically kept her company until her night nurse got there. She’s the only one that knows that I’m leaving. She told me she spent a summer in New York between her sophomore and junior years of college and it was the best three months of her life. I told her two weeks before I was leaving so she could find someone else. She promised not to tell my parents. I was an adult after all. I have the right to leave if I want to. Once I land, I’ll call and tell them I’m okay. Right now, as far as they know, I’m at school until 1:30, then at Mrs. Jackson’s until 7. I am off the grid. Freedom feels so delicious. I do an excited twirl in the middle of the lobby, ignoring the strange looks I get.
I march up to the security agent and show my airline ticket and driver’s license, bouncing on my heels with an energy that my body can’t contain. She looks a little like my mom. Bronze skin, small brown eyes, hair dyed light brown and brushed back into a sensible bun. Uniform immaculate and neatly pressed. A woman that no one really notices until she makes a scene.
She eyes me and my ticket suspiciously. I probably don’t look like a girl who would buy a one-way ticket to New York City. I look like a typical subservient, respectful little black girl, which I have been, up until today. I’m wearing a pastel pink sweater set that complimented my clear, milky brown skin, white jeans and sandals, my jet black hair was neatly straightened and swung down my back. The only makeup I wore was clear lip gloss. The security agent looks as though she wants to say something, to stop me, but I was 18 after all. There is nothing she, or anyone, could do. Reluctantly, she waves me through.
As I go through security, it starts. My brain gets hot, my face starts to sweat despite the frigid temperatures. I get confused with all the orders being barked at me. Take this off, put this here, no not this line, that one, that’s not allowed, it’s not your turn yet. As I slip my shoes back on and put my backpack on my shoulder again, I blink back tears. I think about the medicine bottle I’d left behind, sitting on the dresser in my bedroom. I’d reasoned that I’d get a new prescription once I’d gotten settled in the city. I just wanted a few days to feel like me. I want to feel the leap in my heart when I see the lights of Times Square for the first time, or the beauty of Central Park, or the grand Plaza Hotel rising above the treetops like a castle. I want to close my eyes as I sat on the balcony of my apartment and feel the energy and hustle of the city. The pills would only muddle all of that. My mom watched me every morning as I took each pill religiously, but today I’d pretended. I held it under my tongue, swallowed the glass of water, and spit it on the floor once she’d left the room.
I’m still determined. I ignore the weakness in my legs, the heaviness in my chest. I continue down the escalator, then to my terminal. I feel it, rising in my throat. The coin flipping. I sit down at my gate, I curl my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around them. I put my face into my legs and start to cry. I try to be as quiet as I can, but I can hear myself getting louder and louder as though I have no control over it. My voice seems to fill the terminal. I know people must be pointing, watching, laughing. But there’s nothing I can do. I feel the ticket and driver’s license still clutched in my hand slowly slip away. People are asking me questions, I think. My head is underwater and on fire. I don’t know my name or why I’m here, or where I’m from or if someone’s with me. I can’t answer them. Don’t they understand? All I can do is sit here and cry and scream and wait for this feeling to go away. Muddled voices “safety concern…unstable…cannot board…in no condition…” In what feels like a few minutes, but what must have been hours, I hear my mother’s voice.
“Oh Nic, what have you done?” I look up and see the shame in her eyes, the crowd of people behind her, staring. She hands me my pill and a plastic cup filled with water and I take it without question. She holds out her hand and I take that too. It feels cold and rough around mine as we start to walk out of the terminal, all eyes on us.