SHORT STORY

All-Consuming Thoughts

Photo by Tânia Mousinho on Unsplash

Today has been strange- to say the least. Well, strange by any other country’s standards but by British standards, probably not strange at all. Alicia had been seated at the window on a bar stool in the warm cafe on Waterloo Road for hours. Within that time she had witnessed all the seasons that would appear in a lesson in Geography about the climate of Britain. The day had started off rather morosely, with a dull veil of clouds spreading over the cafe, the surrounding shops, and the morning commuters, who looked all but happy to be walking or cycling to work. An hour later the sun had come out and it seemed like the city was bursting with smiles. People shed their coats, and crop tops and t-shirts and short shorts became the choice of outfit for most of the passersby on the lovely, sunny May afternoon. Alicia even saw two rather in-shape men who had decided to take their shirts off entirely and sport a tan that looked like it could not have been a result of the British sun. No, that was a tan from a holiday elsewhere that these men were now finally getting the opportunity to show off- rather provocatively. All that was missing was an ice cream van. Following the brief tryst with the sun, a strong gust of wind took over so that the ladies who had been walking around in flowy skirts were now struggling to hold on to them and keep them from flying. The coats came back rather quickly.

Alicia sighed as she stared at her laptop and then at the cup of coffee next to it that had been empty for hours but that had been her excuse to sit in the cafe for this long. She wanted to head home but she dreaded the idea of having to go home to an empty flat. She was meant to be working from home today. She had tried to get her manager to let her come into the office everyday since the new hybrid had become the norm in companies the world over to work from the office and from home. But her manager had insisted that she didn’t need to come in everyday because hers was a research job and what she could do from her desk at the office, she could do from her desk at home. Why she wanted to spend time on the Underground or on a bus to get to her office in Soho was a mystery to him. Commuting anywhere on the London Underground at rush hour was mad. Commuting to Oxford Circus was next-level mental. If she could avoid it, she should.

‘I’ll leg it’, Alicia had argued. ‘Or I can cab it, honestly. Please just let me come in everyday.’

‘I don’t mind it’, her manager, Marcus, had said slowly. ‘It’s Bucksfield you’ll need to convince. He’s trying to prove that hybrid is the way forward. If you waltz in with your wanting to come in everyday, he’s not going to let it happen.’

Alicia had sighed, an audible groan escaping her mouth.

The truth was that ever since her boyfriend of two years, Alex, had left her and moved back to his home country of France, the silence in her flat had come to consume her and she didn’t want to stay in if she could help it. On days that she would have to go to the office she was happy to be out and about, and even the busy commute made her happy. She would often walk home, strolling through the city, the forty-five-minute walk from Soho to Waterloo taking her nearly an hour because she would create diversions in her own routes. Occasionally she would stop by for dinner. On cold nights, the idea of a warm meal and a glass of wine was unbeatable. She had discovered hidden gems in Soho that served authentic, no-fuss Italian food. Small establishments where the servers started recognising her for coming in at least once a fortnight. She didn’t talk much to them, just a friendly smile and a wave before turning on an audiobook on her phone and eating and drinking in silence. She would then continue her walk and upon reaching home, settle in bed quite quickly.

That she felt lonely was an understatement. Alex’s departure a few months ago had taken her by surprise. He had walked in quietly into their bedroom as Alicia was cleaning out a section of her wardrobe and sat down on the bed without a word.

‘You alright?’ she had said, turning to look at him.

A nod from Alex.

‘Why do you look like that?’

‘Um…I’ve got a job offer.’

‘Oh?…Oh! I had no idea you were applying for something. What is it?’

‘It’s Head of Sales for Europe.’

‘Wow. Alex, that’s awesome. Well done!’

‘Thak you! It’s…in France.’

An unpleasant- unpleasant but familiar- drowning sensation had hit Alicia’s stomach. A job offer in France. Alex’s face showing mixed emotions. Alex’s tone of doubt combined with guilt. That he wasn’t jumping for joy. These were some of the signs that made Alicia realise that a conversation about their future was forthcoming. Not the good kind of conversation, no. Not one where one might discuss what their future wedding could look like or if they should think about moving into a bigger house keeping in mind the eventuality of two becoming three at some point. No, this was not going to be that kind of conversation.

‘You’re moving’, Alicia had said, staring into Alex’s eyes for signs of feelings other than guilt and doubt.

Another slow nod from Alex.

‘And you made up your mind about this a while ago.’

Nod nod.

‘You’re just telling me now, you aren’t asking what you should do.’

A pause. A nod.

And just like that, what Alicia had imagined was the relationship that would last through the long haul had failed and so anti-climactically too. Alicia often found herself looking at pictures of Alex on her phone. Her storage had run full multiple times but she refused to get rid of them. She didn’t want to forget what he looked like. She could go to his Instagram but he was one of those guys who didn’t have a profile picture and had only ever posted a photo of a sunset in Spain. If she deleted the photos that would be the end of her remembering his face.

She would often stare at the dark, curly hair, the dimple on his right cheek when he smiled, his glasses that had initially attracted her to him, and his his strong square jaw.

‘I thought you looked so handsome and intelligent’, she had told him once.

He was tall and broad- which she liked because she was tall too and found it extremely hard to find someone her own height. She loved that on date nights she could wear high heels and not make the man feel short. Now, months after Alex had left, she hadn’t been on a date so making anyone feel short had been out of the question.

Now as she sat in the cafe, she looked at her watch. It was nearing 5 o’clock and her tasks for the day were done. She could pack up and head home but home was five minutes away. What was she going to do for the rest of the evening? She sighed and caught sight of her reflection in the window she had been occupying for the past few hours. Her short blond hair was being particularly atrocious today and had stayed frizzy despite multiple attempts to get it to calm down. Her green eyes looked tired and like she hadn’t had any sleep for months. This part was true. Falling asleep had been a challenge, but staying asleep had been the bigger challenge. She could see a second chin appearing underneath her face. Uh-oh. Eating out was starting to show its ugly side on her. Still, she thought, at least her clothes still fit. She could use the hours she usually spent being miserable about Alex on a gym routine. There was a new spin studio that had opened on her street and she could give that a go.

She assembled her belongings- laptop, charger, notebook, pen, her empty coffee cup and tissues with croissant crumbs on them. Today could be the day for change. She could go to that studio today. She could start taking care of herself today. Realisation is absolution, isn’t it? Today is just as good as any other day to feel good. She made up her mind that she would drop her things off at home, change into her gym gear and head to the studio. She had done many a class in her prime so she could easily get back into it. Couldn’t she?

As she entered her deserted flat, though, all motivation went to hell. She set her things down and opened her fridge to find a box of M&S Thai Green Curry soup was the only thing she could eat. The fridge was empty barring some blue cheese, a bottle of white wine and peppers that she was sure had gone rotten. She shut the fridge door shut and picked up her keys, walking out with purpose again. A walk should do some good. A walk is exercise too.

She walked aimlessly for a few minutes before realising she was about to step onto Westminster Bridge. Why not? A long walk could do her some good.

She passed by tourists taking photos of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. She could hear someone’s American voice say, ‘I thought Big Ben would be bigger’. She chuckled. It seemed as if thousands of selfie sticks had found their way to this part of London. It was refreshing to be outside but also slightly annoying to find so many people stopping. She wondered if she could just walk on the road. What if a car were to hit her, or a bus? Well, that would end her life. Who would miss her? What was she living for anyway? What would happen if one clean sweep did end up taking her life? She vigorously shook her head to shake off that thought. Bit grim, she thought.

She turned towards Trafalgar Square and found herself walking towards the pub at the corner. On sunny days, it was impossible to find a seat outside and so it was today too, a day that was warming up nicely. She smiled at the sight of the man who was clearly chatting up his colleague. Was she going to react nicely? Were they going to see this through into a fling or a relationship? Or end it tonight? She remembered having the same thoughts when Alex had chatted her up. Outside this pub. On a sunny day in May.

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Musings of a 20-something old in this big scary world. I use humour as a coping mechanism and it shows.

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Amandeep Ahuja

Amandeep Ahuja

Musings of a 20-something old in this big scary world. I use humour as a coping mechanism and it shows.

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