Climate Of Change

Entry by: CalleToledo

4th December 2015
“They say the water's fresh, you know? In the taps. It's fresh water, recycled through the drains, sewage removed and disinfected. God knows how it works. We don't need to know, do we? But it's fresh, to drink. And we're lucky to have it. Look at that ad on the wall. All those tube ads are for charities, that's good. 'One baby dies every 60 seconds for lack of fresh drinking water'. It's sick, this world.” Hasan looked at the woman beside him, who'd been listening reluctantly to his mad-seeming monologue, assuming it was directed at her.

“I suppose it is, yeah,” she said, fumbling for her phone.

He attempted to make eye contact. “You know there's no signal down here.” She looked away. Thank god my stop is next, she thought. The train stopped.

Crackle. “We'll just be here for a few minutes folks, I'll let you know when I know more.” Crackle.

“What does that mean?” Hasan asked.

Alice felt a distinct sense of unease, rising to anxiety. Why had she been so anxious recently? She wanted to blame her sort-of-ex boyfriend, but she wasn't sure if it was his absence or his presence that had brought on this frequent rush of palpitations and nausea. She just needed him to get better, to be happy, to be who he should be - who he is. But then, he needed her to make changes too. It kept playing on her mind, what her therapist had asked her this morning: “Why do you think you don't seem to believe people are capable of changing?” Probably because everyone always says they don't.

She needed to push her boundaries more. To go with the flow. To 'Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway'; to 'Embrace Uncertainty'. Her mother definitely had both of those books. Maybe she could blame her mother rather than her sort-of-ex. Yes, that felt better. She tried to re-focus on the moment at hand.

“What do you mean, 'what does that mean'? The announcement? I don't know, I don't pay much attention to them. Could mean anything. Usually the train starts moving quite quickly. Do you not use the tube much?”

“No, I don't. I haven't been in London long.”

“Where are you from?” This is good, she thought; talking to this stranger, on this train. She liked his heavy knit jumper. Perhaps he was a really wonderful person - she was tired of being told to assume all uninvited male communication was 'creepy'. Life seemed so stagnant when she didn't try to step outside of the script, or herself.

“Anyway, what are you reading?” Hasan moved his head lower to hover over her book, and looked eagerly at the words on her lap. She reminded herself not to succumb to paranoia.

“Oh, um, it's by this woman called Naomi Klein. It's about global warming. My housemate leant it to me - she's really stressed about climate change. Like, to the extent that she cries when it's above average temperature outside. Literally, cries. I mean, it is eighteen degrees in December, that can't be right. The book's quite bleak I suppose, but the author thinks we have a hope in hell at saving the planet, which is good.”

“I wouldn't be so sure. Sorry to sound apocalyptically depressing but, with all the wars as well - which are only going to get worse - what are we even trying to save? Humanity? The Earth? Sometimes it's better to let things go.”

Alice's mild-to-moderate shortness of breath returned; she hated those words: 'let things go'. Obviously because she'd never been good at it. Incapable, actually, almost.

“That's quite an extreme thing to say. What do we have, if we don't have... anything?”

“Well, for me - God. I think Allah's got a plan. Don't worry, I'm not a nut job. I do care about things, I do... it's just, I've seen a lot and sometimes I get fatalistic - suicidal even, on behalf of the planet. Sorry, I must seem so strange... It's just that what's normal chat to me, seems to make people here think I've lost the plot.”

Hasan noticed fellow passengers listening into their conversation. It's not often you see people talk on the tube, especially strangers, he thought. But he knew that wasn't the reason they were staring - or looking at his bag.

Alice felt her anxiety rise again, and she knew who - or what - was to blame this time. She knew exactly what it was and she hated it, resented it entirely, for muddying her relationship with the world around her, for injecting fear into her empathy. It was shameful that ignorant, sensationalist scaremongers had gotten into her liberal, loving outlook; she'd never admit it out loud. Swallowing her disgraced angst, she looked directly into Hasan's eyes, and decidedly launched on an abnormally open conversation with this stranger, on this train.

She spoke a little too fast. “My friend called me a nihilist the other day. I was trying to work out what the point of anything is – literally, anything. I mean, everything is in flux, so everything and nothing is real or true, if you think about it. All these adages... for every one, there is an equal and opposite. And why do we even try to seek truth from each other, or ourselves? None of us have a clue, do we? We're all entirely clueless. Anyway, apparently nihilism means thinking that nothing has any meaning at all, and that's kind of the opposite to what you're saying, but also the same – like, if nothing means anything, what's the point of it existing? But, since I don't have a God, if I want to keep going, I have to believe in something, you know? I have to believe that it matters that the climate is going to shit, or that our government is about to blast Syria and kill god knows how many people.” Hasan looked away for the first time since they'd begun speaking and Alice felt like an idiot for her bizarre, probably incoherent, rant.

Another announcement. “Sorry we've been here a bit longer than expected, folks. Turns out there's a suspect package on the train in front. Once that's sorted, we'll be on our way.”

Hasan turned back to Alice; Alice looked around the carriage. A young woman with headphones closed her eyes and tilted her head from side to side - perhaps rhythmically, perhaps relievingly. A confused-looking man in blue shoes turned the pages of his newspaper - a broadsheet. He obviously hadn't got the memo that people don't read such ungainly news sources in public anymore, thought Alice. Poor guy. Another woman, in a very colourful nineties coat, read her book a little too intently. No one actually looked that fazed. People rarely do, in public.

Amidst all the unexpected peace, a child began screaming and a probably drunk man grunted, waking from his otherwise perpetual slumber. He started muttering angrily; quiet enough to pass for 'to himself', loud enough for everyone to hear. “Fucking mentalists, mental fuckers, bloody extremists. Muslims, let's just call them Muslims. Who's excited to die?”

The peace became a concrete silence.

“Excuse me, but I don't think such disgusting racism is appropriate,” the lady opposite Alice projected down the carriage. She looked pleased with herself, and added: “Ever!”

The racist man replied, shouting this time, “Oh you love terrorists, do you? Bitch.” He looked directly at Hasan, and promptly returned to his hate-filled dreams.

Alice wished she'd had the courage to say something, and detected a strong sensation in her stomach - akin to being in love - for the lady opposite. Suddenly everything about her became beautiful: her slightly muddy walking boots, her speckled, frayed scarf, her wiry grey bob. She also felt instinctively protective of Hasan, and fought an urge to put her arm around him.

As if aware of her thoughts, the grey haired lady opposite looked straight at her and smiled sincerely. Feeling her insides warm up, Alice smiled back with all the sincerity in her being (sincerely hoping that her intentionally whole-hearted sincerity didn't make her look insincere).

Alice wanted to apologise to Hasan for the public abuse he'd just endured so stoically but decided against it, not wanting to create an additional boundary, not wanting to make him feel any more Other than he probably already felt. Instead, she turned to him and said, “What a total idiot, that man...” feeling awkwardly aware that this observation likely meant little to him.

Hasan said nothing. She wondered how he must feel and recollected crying on the day of the Paris attacks; not for the victims – though she felt for them, they had all the tears – but for her friend's teenage daughter who refused to leave the house. She had wanted to write a Tweet - #prayforparis – but said she didn't know what else to write. She didn't want to say she was a Muslim. Alice also cried for her friend, who was an adult, who also didn't know what to say or what do to, and had a houseful of children feeling ashamed of themselves for being nothing but good.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we've just been given the all clear,” announced the announcer “so we'll be on our way.”

Audible exhalations, and the train got on its way. Nobody spoke until the next stop, when the intoxicated man stumbled off.

“Isn't it hot in here?” Alice remarked, wanting to reignite the warm exchange. “It's always hot down here, I suppose... Not a nice hot. So... do you have any children?” She instantly wished she hadn't asked such an intrusive question, but Hasan seemed readier.

“Yes, I do. They couldn't come with me though; they're with their mother at home.”

“Where's home?”

“Good question. Maybe Damascus; Calais for a while; for now, here. My family are in the furthest home though, sadly. My work at the university wasn't too popular, let's say. I had to leave.”

Alice had to leave too, it was her stop. “This is me... I wish I didn't have to get off. It's been really nice talking to you. More than nice. I don't really know what to say. I hope things change.”

Hasan smiled and touched her arm as she got up. “Thank you. And they always do, eventually."