Stale, damp air filled the passage in the covered bridge over the railway. On his left, steep steps went down to the platforms. His train would be departing from platform 5, but he continued to the end of the walkway and descended the steps to platform 1, like he did every morning.
For nearly a year, he had done this every weekday. The habit was so cemented now, there was little point trying to break it.
Once on the platform, he joined the queue for the coffee stall. Latte again today, he thought, should he get a shot of syrup as well? An extra 10 pence. But the syrup made the coffee taste somewhat sickly. He would just get a regular latte.
She was there again, the blond girl. Annabelle her name was. At least her little badge said so. She had worked there for as long as he had been commuting by train to work, but not on Tuesdays. It was Wednesday today. Hump day, as it was called among those working weekdays.
“What can I get you?” She said.
“Latte, please,” he said with a smile, thinking for the hundredth time that she was very pretty.
She smiled as she operated the coffee machine. “How are you this morning?”
“I’ll be better once I’ve had my coffee,” he said with a chuckle. It was a lie. He had already had tree cups of instant coffee before he left his flat. One cup before his shower, two cups after. He didn’t need another coffee, but habit demanded he get one.
“It’s going to be another hot day,” the girl continued, “Are you stuck in an office all day?”
“I am,” he sighed. “You’re not.”
She laughed. “I finish around midday. Have a good one!”
“And you!” He was already walking away as he said it, back towards the stairs to the bridge crossing. Behind him he could hear her striking up another conversation with the next customer. She was good at her job, he thought. He wouldn’t enjoy seeing so many strangers, having the same conversation over and over again with different people, but Annabelle always did it with a smile.
He walked along the passage. The windows where high on the walls and he couldn’t see the railway tracks beneath him until he reached the first opening on his left. Platform 2 and 3. He continued to the next one and descended the steps to platform 4 and 5.
Fifteen minutes later, he was halfway to work and his coffee cup was still half full, but the contents had gone cold. He never finished the coffee. After drinking about half of it, he found the flavour too rich and sickly. He would throw the disposable cup, along with half the drink, into a bin at Wimbledon Station. Some mornings, when payday looked uncomfortably far away in both directions, he would scold himself for spending his hard-earned money on something so pointless, and he would promise himself to give up this bad habit. Bad habits can leave you broke. The next morning, he would break his promise.
But habits can be broken.
He had done it before. A few years ago, he had been a smoker. A slave to regular nicotine fixes, anxious when he didn’t know where his next fix would come from. He had broken the most vicious cycle of all. He had stopped smoking. He hadn’t done it to save money, or to be healthy. He had done it because his friends said he couldn’t. He had killed the addiction, just to prove them wrong. Powerful thing, pride.
He had relished in the immense feelings of freedom and power when he realized the cravings had stopped. He couldn’t think of anything he would rather not do than breath in the poison. He also knew he had done something quite difficult, and feelings of pride and power were lifting his mood and confidence, even now.
Habits can be broken.
The moment he got off the train, he could feel the decrease in air quality. London was near, a bustling, beautiful hub of consumers. He walked past the huge car park outside his workplace. So many people opted for driving themselves to work. Were they in denial about anthropogenic climate change? Or where they just sufficiently dissociated from the effects? He figured not. He figured they were simply set in habits that they had not the energy to break, repressing the knowledge of the damage their consumption habits were causing.
He felt quite good about commuting by train. He applauded himself for not contributing to the pollution. He thought again of the coffee cup, or rather the coffee cups. Hundreds of them. Every morning one was added to the public waste bin. More where produced, more where thrown away. A small contribution, he told himself. A drop in the ever-growing sea of waste. Perhaps he wouldn’t buy one tomorrow, he mused, but he made no promises.
It was a matter of habit. And habits can be broken. Perhaps, over time, he could train himself to get on the train without a coffee.
At 6:37 the next morning, he was once again walking through the passage from Guildford Park Road to platform 1. The temperature had barely dropped during the night, and he hadn’t slept well. Sweat was creaming his shirt, and his hair was already regaining the grease he had washed off in the shower. Too hot for this early hour.
As a teenager he had played football in the sunny summer afternoons, never noting how such exercise was ludicrous under the scorching sun. Had the summers got warmer? Or did a decade make such a difference to his physical condition? He was not unfit; shouldn’t he be able to cope with the heat of the British summer?
He joined the line at the coffee stall, still musing on the state of the world. The noise of a city waking up to its daily rush entered his awareness. A train left from platform 2. He never paid much attention to the din of the city. Surrounding him were the expressionless faces of people, like him, blocking out their surroundings, living an old habit as was expected of them, buying their coffees in disposable cups, commuting to workplaces where they didn’t want to be, only to spend their money on consumer goods and services. Services that served to dissociate them from their consumption habits.
It isn't socially acceptable to care too much for the planet. If you care too much, people will call you a hippie. If you call them out on their wastefulness, they'll dislike you. You're expected to close your eyes and ignore what you know. It's more than a habit; its a social expectation.
The girl called Annabelle had spoken to him, waking him from his deep pensive daze.
“Latte?” She asked, possibly for a second time.
He didn’t answer. He was not sure that he wanted a latte.
Her eyes regarded him from beyond the counter, an expression of concern spread across her face.
“No,” he hollowed.
“Then what can I get you?”
Suddenly confused what he was doing on platform 1, he shook his head. “Nothing,” he mumbled. Then regaining his presence, he continued, “I just came to say good morning.”
A grin spread across the girl’s face, and she leaned slightly into the counter. “Are you feeling okay this morning?” She chuckled.
“Yeah. It’s a bit hot though. Don’t you think?”
“Global warming.” She nodded, knowingly.
“A great day to go to out for ice cream.”
“Are you asking me out?” She tilted her head, her eyes where brimming with either mischief or anticipation, he couldn’t tell which.
“Maybe,” he said. In truth, he had never considered it, but why not?
Her grin grew wider and she turned to bustle around with something inside the stall.
“Here,” she said, handing him a slip of paper. “Have a nice day.”
Glancing back on his way to the stairs, he saw her still beaming.
An older gentleman, who’d stood behind him in the queue, winked impishly.
The heat wasn’t bothering him anymore. He skipped up the steps and across the tracks to platform 5.
Today, he didn’t hold a dreadful cardboard cup. Instead he held a piece of paper with a pretty girl’s phone number. He hadn’t saved the world or anything, but he had broken a habit. And if the world were to be saved, habits must be broken, many habits, by many people.
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Nice work. So easy to get stuck in a habit. So easy to be thoughtless and just do what you're used to. One minor minor point, and I apologise for the pedantry, but be careful with where/were.
I loved this story! Very nicely written.
Great story!! I liked the message behind it, and it was very well written. Keep writing :)
Thank you :)