The Life of Ryan is a story I wrote in 2012. It deals with a situation that compares the then recent rioting in the Cities of England to those of twenty years previously, and draws a strange connection!
The Life of Ryan
He lay on the bed gazing vacantly up at the ceiling. He knew it wasn’t good; - where he was right now, but what was he going to do? This was about as big a kick in the teeth a he could take. Life just seemed to deal him a crappy hand every time.
It was right then in the quiet of that very moment as he gazed at that ceiling that his mind began to fill in the blanks. He started to think about the past, in search of the ‘how and why’.
He’d always had his problems, he’d known from an early age that he was never going to be a high flyer; English, Maths and all that; - just a total clash of interests with his creative mind, - he never got to grips with the basics. He knew he had learning difficulties but he wasn’t stupid, nobody ever called him stupid! It was drawing that was his thing at school. Yeah, that was it; he remembered with great fondness the occasion when the looming Mrs. Thornberry with menacing eyes had asked him to show her his effort at the maths question he was supposed to have been attempting, and the look of flawed astonishment on her face when he moved his hands away to reveal the intelligently crafted drawing he’d created instead.
Then there was the time he got kicked out of school for a week for fairly wrecking the English exam. A grin of smug satisfaction crept across his face as he recalled the moment, allowing himself to relive that feeling of slight accomplishment; it had certainly gained him some street cred! – But that grin quickly vanished as he remembered where he was right now, - what it had all led to. The mates he’d got involved with were an unsavoury lot, he knew that really, but, they were his allies, his social life, and, well, . . everything really. And that was the trouble.
So, as he lay on the bed turning it all over in his mind he started to question himself; ‘Could he have done better?’ School had been hard, he’d had no help and, in fact, when he thought about it, in his nineteen years he’d had more help from his Uncle Pete over the last six months than from anyone or anything else in his life! Pete had worked on getting him to ‘Learn Life.’
‘Just get out there and try something boy.’ He’d said ‘ If you can’t move forwards, go sidewards. It’s a bit like the busy high street; if you get stuck in traffic sometimes you’ve just got to take the side road to get to where you want to be; - might take longer but so what, you’re doing something . . you’re moving, not just sitting there stagnating.’
He’d never forgotten these words, but now when he’d tried his best, all still seemed to have failed. He’d gone down to the local chippy on the seafront in this hometown of Brighton to try and get the job that Pete had supposedly ‘set up’ for him! What had happened? He’d fallen at the first hurdle because he couldn’t read or write well enough to even fill out the application form properly. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job! Now he was confused, what was to come next?
What came next was quite remarkable but it didn’t happen as one might have expected. In fact the years that followed can best be surmised in the tale of two Saturday nights! The first of which came upon him quite swiftly:
They’d broken in, he’d just tagged along for the lark of it all. Admittedly he’d felt a little uncomfortable about the damage caused but it was the tool in his hand that was supplying the kick: The adrenal flow that begun within him seemed inseparably connected to the output from his spray can, as if he was the energy powering a creativity over which he had little or no control! He would just carry on producing works of art almost anywhere, in this case on this particular evening it was on the coffee table of a private apartment the gang had broken into. Sirens sounded and blue lights flashing and reflected in the mirror opposite raged in his face, but still he couldn’t stop, not until he was happy with his work. The others had fled, he’d got caught. Of course it wasn’t good but he’d left his mark and because of the initial actions of the police officer at the scene and the victim, - the owner of the apartment, the right people got to hear about it. Soon he found the mark he’d left had spread far and wide and with it came success, happiness and responsibility.
And so nearly a decade had rolled by when on another Saturday night he found himself telling his story to an eagerly listening audience.
‘The gang I got involved with were not really a good influence, they were mates yeah, but we kind of attracted trouble everywhere we went. It was the graffiti you see, we were just sort of hooked on it. None of us could get jobs so we just sort of sprayed about all day! – walls, pavements, buildings, wherever we liked.’
‘So you really were just a carefree lot that got high on your aerosols rather than glue sniffing yeah?”
(the interviewer grinned)
“I guess you could say.’
‘So, tell me, how did this lead to where you are today, what was the turning point?’
‘The turning point for me was the Wentworth street raid, it’s as simple as. That was when I got noticed. If the police hadn’t come to that flat on that night no one would have probably ever noticed my work of art.’
‘So the police came, you were all caught red-handed but your mates blamed it all on you right?’
‘Yeah, I don’t think any of us thought about it at all, it was just as soon as the blues appeared it was a matter of who has to take this one for the team.’
‘And the arresting police officer actually admired your work as did the owner of the flat you’d broken in to even though it was the tool of criminal damage, and so it got noticed by Lord Donaldson the notorious art entrepreneur. . . This is fascinating stuff Ryan.’ (The presenter turned towards the camera.) ‘Don’t go away, we’ll be talking some more with Ryan Perry-Tomlinson after the break. We’ll be right back.’
The familiar orchestral riff kicked in and Ryan sat smiling nervously, glad of the mental break for a minute or two. He was relieved that it was turning out much as he had expected but he knew what was coming. This guy wanted the lot, why shouldn’t he? After all, that was his job as an interviewer, and he was there to answer the questions. People wanted to know about him, people had paid good money to come and see him, live, in the flesh tonight! This guy would have done his research, he was bound to know the details even though he’d hidden it well over the years, so why wouldn’t he ask?
Ryan could feel his heart beat quickening. He had managed to conduct himself with reasonable composure so far but now he was beginning to feel the pressure, that slight nagging unease, that quiet before the storm. He had to have an answer ready but he couldn’t formulate the words in his head, he probably only had thirty seconds, - a minute at best. He felt the dryness in his mouth and the slight discomfort from his quickening breath.
“Welcome back” roared what Ryan was quickly coming to feel was an annoyingly cheerful voice. “We are delighted to be talking this evening with Ryan Perry-Tomlinson, many of you will know him simply as ‘Mr.Graffiti’ but I guess that isn’t really a very fair name to describe all you have managed to accomplish is it Ryan. .?” . . the interview continued as Ryan answered the questions telling more of his story of his climb to fame.
“Then, one day quite recently . .”
‘Here it comes.’ he thought
“ . . you turned down the chance to become a fully paid Mentor to some of the young people in your home town of Brighton”
He made up his mind, he would have to come clean and explain!
“Why was that? Don’t get me wrong you’ve done very well for yourself but this surely would have set you up for life!”
“Well it’s like this” Ryan replied “I . . well I just didn’t feel I could take that post knowing the shortcomings that I have, that I have always had.”
“You’re talking about your academic difficulties right?”
‘This is it’ he thought as he took a deep breath. The audience was silent.
“Yeah, you see, I can neither read nor write, no better now than back in the day.” ‘Okay, now I’ve said it!’
There was a slight pause, only the silence could be heard. The interviewer gazed at him with a look of some astonishment.
“Are you saying after all this that even today you cannot read and write?”
Ryan nodded slowly. In the deathly hush that followed he could feel the build of adrenal flow once more.
“That’s incredible, so it’s stopped you taking the Mentoring job! . . it does make you think, with all your talent just where you would be today if you could have mastered the read and write thing?”
In the silence that now surrounded him Ryan thought for a moment, then he calmly answered:
“I’d probably be working at a chippy, on the seafront in Brighton!”