Life in the slums wasn’t so bad. At least, it’s not as grim as everyone else makes it out to be.
You need to know the right people, where to go, what and who to avoid, and you’re set. Simple enough.
The nicer parts of town? It’s a jungle out there, man. You want to be careful around the posh corners of this city. It’s a den of vipers, and you’re a succulent mice.
Every day, I had to deal with their bullshit. You see, the college I attended was in one of the nicer parts of town. Sure, I had to take the piss-scented subway to get to it, but still, it beat my turf by miles.
Trimmed garden. Scratch that, actual garden and courtyards. Not one run-down apartment block on sight. I may as well be in a different country.
The people were peculiar as well. Their dialect and mannerism were unique. I had to restrain my language. They were a cultured, well-informed yet fragile bunch. Truth that challenged their worldviews were painful. They were prone to denounce me as ignorant.
Of course, why wouldn’t they? I was a poor guy from a forgotten ghetto. The only reason I could study there were because of affirmative action. I’d be stuck selling crack otherwise.
In spite of my views towards my sheltered peers, I was thankful for this opportunity. It allowed me to see life in a different lense. Not one tinted with resignation and crime, but rather with hope and potential.
I was majoring in literature. Many of my classmates scoffed at this. Not in front of my face, of course. They were too well bred to shit talk. But of course, they all thought a poor guy who managed to study in their college due to pity had nothing to say.
It wasn’t worth getting mad about it. I considered it a matter of cultural difference. They didn’t see people but classes. More’s the pity.
Our varied courses were elucidating, at least for me. I felt as if the world unraveled before me. Others, however…
Vacant stares as the professor lectured us in the ways of the literary world. Some didn’t care one bit and were on their smartphones all morning. Were his teachings old news for the upper crust? Were they not taught to value education? Your guess is as good as mine.
The semester was about to end. As such, we were set in groups to hand in a final project. I got paired with the most privileged children in class. Yes, children. Not once I’ve noticed any semblance of maturity from them. The grass is quite different from the other side. I wouldn’t say it’s greener.
We had to come up with a short fiction story. Each one of us had to contribute, and then we’d all review and edit it before handing it in. Sounds easy enough. I wish it was.
First of all, asking these kids to take responsibility in anything is like pulling teeth. They were conversing over who slept with whom during our first meeting. Which party to go this weekend? So on and so forth. Riveting stuff for them, tiring diatribe for someone who wanted to get things done. In other words, me.
It had to happen. I had to speak up and talk about the project proper. From blank stares, to sneers, all the way to glares. Were they aware that we were in college and not in a social club? But I digress.
I tried to break them free from their frivolous chatting. I asked if anyone wanted to pitch ideas for our story. Radio silence.
Very well, they’re followers, not leaders. I let them know the idea I came up for our project and delegated responsibilities for every one of them. Further disapproval emanates from their faces. Raised eyebrows, smug smirks, you name it. Poor people seemed so amusing to them.
As I was about to jot down each one’s roles, one of them interrupted and said “Who made you the leader?”. Fair enough, I thought.
“Would you do us the honor of leading this project, then?”, I said. His face contorted, as if aghast for receiving a retort. I paid no mind. He had to learn that not everyone is going to lick his boots forever.
He fumbled some words but they amounted to nothing of note. Once more, an awkward silence permeated the room. To break it off, I took up the mantle of the leader once more. “If no one else has any other idea to propose, we’ll proceed with the idea I pitched”, I said.
I’ve babysat kids less bratty than this bunch. Some huffing and puffing aside, they accepted each other roles. I’d write most of the story, with contributions from one of them. The other guy would fill the role of editor, to make sure it’s in proper hand-in condition. So far, so good, wouldn’t you say? If only it was so easy to work with spoiled rich kids.
The next meeting arrived the next day. The same guy who questioned my leadership came up with a whole manuscript. Suspicious, I asked him how he managed to finish it overnight.
He attempted to hide his contempt, and answered: “Simple. I hired a ghostwriter for five bucks. Why put effort when you can pay some poor to do it for you?” The things I have to hear. I pity him, he knows no better.
I explained to him that what he did would get us a failing grade, as it’s not our original work, but rather plagiarism. Once more, looks of disbelief assaulted me. “Are you for real, dude? That’s how life works.”, he said. Further, he stated: “We’re only here because we’re rich and need the networking contacts. Assignments are a formality, you’d know if you belonged here.”
And so I trudged on, living life one step after the other, come what may.