Mouth-watering wafts of bolognaise, pizza and garlic bread drift into the damp night as diners come and go. You breathe the aromas in. Your stomach gnaws at itself when no food follows and hunger hits.
Later, when the last of the restaurant goers linger in the street exchanging hugs and kisses, back slaps and handshakes, you push your beanie hat forward, mumble something about loose change. But you go unheard, you are invisible. The revellers disperse, hail taxis or walk tipsily up the drizzly road, food full and red wine merry. You had a life like that once.
You scuttle deeper into the recess of the dry cleaner’s doorway. It’s larger than most, provides more shelter. The premises is unlit overnight, you hope that drunks leaving the nightclubs won’t spot you while you sleep. You pull a damp blanket around your shoulders and drift to another place.
The room is softly lit, the atmosphere tense yet exciting. Cocktail waitresses move silently around tables topped with pea green felt. You order a whiskey shot. Place chips, await the turn of the cards. A diamond king scuppers your hand, the croupier rakes your stake away.
Change your game, change your luck.
A small white sphere bounces noisily over spinning metal frets and red and black pockets. You cast your bets. But that little marble refuses to play ball and before long your kitty has lost its purr.
Out of luck and out of chips, you make your way to the one-armed bandits lurking at the side of the room. You feed a hungry machine with handfuls of coins, pull its lever again and again, watch the symbols whir and stop. Cherries, oranges, lemons, BAR. Never the right sequence, never a winning combination. You slide your last coin into the slot, yank the handle, watch the reels revolve and judder to a halt. The faces of your three young children appear where fruit should be. You wish you could see them for real. Still the machine refuses to spill.
You flip your bank card out. Pay to play the jackpot machine, skilfully negotiate puzzles and games, accumulate points heading ever closer to securing, ‘that big win.’ But you falter at the last. An image of your ex-wife’s face flashes across the screen. “Game over,” she says.
But it’s not her voice. It’s the dry cleaner’s staff wanting to open the shop. You apologise, they tut. You gather your stuff, notice someone has left a ten pound note in your beanie overnight. You scoop it up, kiss it. You’ll treat yourself to a greasy spoon breakfast, tea and a warm up.
You head up the high street, a spring in your step. This must be your lucky day.
But you bypass the cafe. Seek out the bookies, take a punt on a long shot. Fingers crossed you wait for the result to come in, and you wonder…
If fate deals you a second chance, will you turn your life around?