Gilded Butterflies

Graphic Maria Chabelnik

As she walked through crowded streets, and her glance caressed buildings she would probably never walk into, she thought of elevators. She thought of nice elevators, the kind of elevators with a clean mirror and rectangular handles, the kind with nice buttons that are cold to the touch and whose borders light up in colours when you press them. Those elevators only exist in the nicest of buildings. She then thought of the kind of elevators one wants to avoid, with rugs that lost their original shade years ago and are now coloured by substances that are up to interpretation. But, why was she thinking of elevators? 

She was distracted that morning, or, rather, she wanted to distract herself. She had woken up to an automated text message from her phone carrier stating that her phone bill was ready to be paid. After the act, she realized she had a stunting $2.57 left in her bank account. But she would get paid in two days; this wasn’t an emergency. She had an apartment to go back to, food in her fridge, an OPUS card, and three gigabytes of data: what else could she need?

Still, two days of walking around a city to get places means two days of walking by all kinds of stores. She inevitably walked next to a coffee shop. The idea of latte art and boxed oat milk, for which they charge you 50 cents more, invaded her mind. She wanted a coffee. Not the filtered coffee from her Keurig machine; she wanted… a coffee made by a barista… a coffee, and maybe even a croissant. But alas, not today.

She wasn’t poor, but she wasn’t rich either. She was, quite simply, a student; more specifically, a student without a trust fund provided by her parents. She didn’t even know what a trust fund was. And what had she done to get her bank account to $2? What had she spent her money on? 

Well, she had spent it on food, mostly. Not the cheapest food, but still food. She had spent it at coffee shops while studying, she had spent it on lunches on the days she had long breaks. She spent it on one long island iced tea, and half a pitcher of a fruity drink (the name she couldn’t remember). She spent it on a pair of pants that was on sale. She spent it on rent, groceries, her phone bill, and her monthly OPUS card. That was it. 

Still, she had almost no money left for the next two days. 

Was it annoying? Yes. Had she been in that situation before? Yes, and she would certainly be in it again in the coming months. 

It is almost impossible not to be in that situation when you are a student (who isn’t rich, but isn’t poor either; a student without a trust fund, whatever that means).

She sped up her walk. She didn’t want to look at the coffee shop anymore; it upset her. 

She was almost at the metro. She was in time for class, at least. 

She didn’t want to miss a minute of this lecture. She had gotten a C in the midterm, which dragged down her average in that class. This C would, one way or another, affect her GPA for the worse. She had to make up for it. 

It was a ridiculous midterm too—a test on Shakespeare. It was hard to find the relevancy of it. However, she remembered his plays, she remembered his poetry. He was worth studying. She remembered five heartbeats in a line, and gilded butterflies, and Megan Fox, and, was she really dating Machine Gun Kelly now?

But, was it worth it, after all? The hours worked at shitty jobs, smiling at customers that yelled at her in return. Was it worth it, living in a small apartment that had no space for a dining table? Was it worth it, to have studied for hours and still have gotten a shit grade, because her eyes couldn’t stay open after her shift, and because her mind couldn't memorize both the order in which she had to place the new scented candles at work and Shakespeare’s wife’s name? Was she laughing at gilded butterflies, or were they laughing at her?

She couldn’t say.

The metro stopped. It was one of those stops where the door opens on the other side, and she felt awkward for a second, holding on to the bar, with her back facing the doors. She turned around. The next stop was hers. The train started advancing. She turned around again.

The metro arrived exactly 15 minutes before her class started. It was a five minute walk. She was right on time. Today had the potential of being a good day, despite what her bank account said. 

She left the metro station, the breeze welcomed her back into the outside world. The weather was not bad today, she had her favourite jacket on and it felt warm. She was wearing the pants she had bought last week, they were wide-legged, comfortable. Her tote bag wasn’t too heavy either, since she only had one class. Her left shoulder was only holding the weight of one book, her agenda, and her pencil case. The day had the potential of being a good day.

She went into the building and decided to stand on the right side of the escalators—she had time today. 

She walked into her classroom and took a seat in the middle of the room. There was no one next to her, another small thing to celebrate.

As the professor entered, she took one last look at her phone. She had received a text from a friend.

She opened the message.

“Hey, I think you might have forgotten but I paid for your food at the Thai place the other day and you said you’d pay me back. I’m kinda running low on money right now, could you transfer me the money?”

This article originally appeared in The Money Issue, published November 2, 2021.