As I turned the corner, it began to rain.
Large, cold drops fell upon my forehead as I gazed up at the iron grey sky, and I realised immediately that it was not going to stop anytime soon - if anything, it would get a whole lot worse, judging by the increasing strength in the icy wind; which mercilessly found its way through one of the many holes in my coat and sent violent shivers down my spine. Muttering under my breath, I kept on walking as quickly as my aching legs would allow, stubbornly avoiding the gazes of the crowd in the midst of which I soon found myself. Had it been at all possible to remain blissfully unaware of my appearance, I would have welcomed the judgmental stares, for they would not have affected me as they did now. I knew all too well what a tangled, disastrous mess my long dark hair had become, I knew all too well that each and every one of my bones was visible to the critical eye even through several layers of clothing. I knew that my worn-out boots were at least three sizes too large and that my stockings did not match, and I knew that if I opened my mouth just a tad, one could clearly see that I, at the mere age of twenty-two, had teeth missing. All of this, I knew, without anyone reminding me, whether it be through condescending glares or harsh words spoken without care or thought. There were times when I would stare back defiantly for the sake of it, but lately I had found this to be too much of a risk. Drawing attention to oneself in such a way is foolish, and always ends in arguments and accusations of lacking manners. Therefore, my dark eyes were fixed upon the ground as I walked; glancing up now and again only to make sure I had not lost my bearings in this part of the city that I knew so scarcely. She may be poor, but at least she knows not to look anyone in the eye who is above her on society's ladder. I could not help but smile to myself, aware that this might be interpreted as a sign of smugness. Society only favoured those already privileged, there was no doubt about that, and it had failed me from the very beginning. Growing up in the slum, I was lucky to even have reached adulthood; my two younger brothers had both succumbed to illness before the age of ten, but the damage had still been made and I would carry the scars for the rest of my days. It was not through anyone else's efforts or good graces that I was still alive, but merely through my own survival instincts. Never once had I received help from anyone, not even my equals; although that was somewhat understandable, as little as they had. In most circumstances, human beings tend to their own families first and foremost, not necessarily because they are selfish, but because it lies in their nature to do so. My mother was the same, when I was little. When she disappeared, I was on my own.
"Watch your step, woman!"
Lost in thought, I had failed to realise that a gentleman in front of me had stopped, and thus I bumped into him at full speed. The impact of this, although not incredibly strong, was nearly enough to knock me backwards, and for a few terrifying seconds I was convinced that I was going to fall. Finally regaining my balance, I gazed up at him in horror, seeing nothing but disgust in his intense stare as he eyed me from head to toe.
"I am so sorry, sir." I gasped, "I'm so dreadfully sorry."
The man kept on walking without a word; apparently finding me unworthy of any more attention. I remained still for a few moments before resuming my brisk walk, a sharp pain lingering in my right arm. Rubbing it, I wondered whether something may have gotten dislocated, but the pain did not appear quite severe enough for that and thus I dismissed the concern. Yellow leaves were falling all around me, slowly and gracefully towards the ground where they eventually gathered in little heaps - soon, there would be none left on the trees, they would merely stand there; bare, exposed and ugly against the grey skies. Nature is unforgiving like that, running its course relentlessly and without mercy. It holds within its powers the ability to change constantly, and all the living things that inhabit it can only do their best to adapt. A tree will always regain all its former glory in the spring, once the delicate buds finally burst and become new leaves. Flowers will go to sleep in the cold, dark earth only to be woken up by the sun's gentle beams, only to bloom once again. When a human has truly lost her beauty, her dignity and pride, it can never be restored to what it once was. When a human is left outside in a snowstorm, she will not adapt, she will die unless she finds shelter. This concerned me that year as it did every year when I watched the leaves fall; a certain sign that winter was approaching. The previous one had been particularly tough, and if history was to repeat itself I knew for certain that I would not survive. My life has been threatened many times since I was born, and every time I have felt it, not only physically but in another way which I cannot explain; for it is simply a feeling in the pit of your stomach. Where it has its origin I do not know, but back in those days it was always present, like a constant nagging sensation that alerted me to the fact that I might die at any moment, should I manage to forget about that for one minute. It was a relief and a fear unlike any other, and in one way I was ready to surrender to it, to welcome it into my heart and forever let go of whatever hopes and dreams still remained there. I was no longer afraid of dying, having witnessed the phenomenon on an almost daily basis for the last few years; it seemed easy enough. Living was the difficult part. Surviving in a world that grew darker by the hour, where nothing was ever to last and you could trust no one but yourself. Sometimes, I wanted to let go. To lie down in the darkness and close my eyes, drifting off into a forever sleep as the world kept moving around me. No one would mourn for me, a lonely child without family or true friends. No one would pray for my poor soul as it took flight to someplace far away, wherever that place might be. I wasn't sure I still believed in a Heaven, but anything would be better than the streets of London, I thought. I had done no wrong; what little I owned I had earned from begging and I only stole if absolutely necessary. Apart from that, I had not committed any crimes whatsoever, and I had never once thought about selling myself for money. If there was a God, surely he would not judge me? Surely He would let me inside his kingdom, where joy is everlasting and loved ones never leave your side?
Amelia Hayes is my given name. I was twenty-two years and three months old, and on that particular day I had eaten nothing but an egg. I watched the leaves fall and fully accepted the fact that I was unlikely to reach my next birthday, for it would take nothing short of a miracle to save me - and if there was one thing I had never once believed in, that would be it.