Write Off

Barnaby stood looking at the grey concrete of the train platform. It was two AM and the rain hammered on the cold metal of the ticket machine. He had been sleeping in his car for the past three weeks, evading the debt collectors, but the repo man had caught up with him four nights back. He had put up a struggle, but the car was gone with all his clothes and he had a black eye for his trouble. "Put that on your account…!" , the tow truck driver had yelled at him as his car was dragged away. He had the clothes he was standing up in. That was it.

His breath frosted out in front of his face as he ignored the cold and looked at the green and black screen affixed to the stop, telling the world that there was an express in two minutes and a local train that would stop at this station in five minutes. He stared at the slowly scrolling message, depressed at its mundaneness. He barely had found the price of a ticket. This was the circle route, and in just over two hours he could get off the train back here, but at least it would be two hours in the warm. He might even doze.

He reached for his pocket where he kept his eternal companion, a paper-bag of boiled peppermints. A few shards fell out of the bag, he looked at them for a long time before eating up every last crumb. His stomach growled, and the pangs of hunger seemed to bite deeper. His hands shook. It wasn't fair he mused, as he tired to make the most of the tiny warmth of the piece of peppermint. He was a man of almost no vice, as blameless as could be. Yet now here he was, alive yet dead, his way of life stripped away till there was nothing left in the world to comfort him.

There wasn't the soft familiarity of a wife's voice, nor the cool heat of one of those white and green peppermints, his children were a distant memory and his friends faces blurred by the passage of time. He let out a short laugh, that sounded strangely loud in the still air. Friends, he didn't have many anymore, didn't really have any anymore. His mates from work had been up the creek when the factories closed- no help there, and when the collectors came he had asked for help from people he'd known for years, so called friends, they all turned him away bar but a few, and those asked him to leave a couple of days after he arrived.

He was still able to see his wife regularly then, but they'd had to split up, he'd taken the debt and she'd gone out to live with her mother and work as a teacher. Every day he'd tried to find work, sure that this would be the day that he would be able to ring his beloved from wherever he was staying and say 'I have a job, I can work off the debt' but every day he was given the run around and left like a rat in a maze. He wasn't lazy he knew he wasn't; Yet like some eternal torment he lived in a country so full of wealth without any of his own, seeing it both eternally distant and close, like the other side of a mirror.

Turning his head towards the sky he gazed up at the few twinkling lights that had trickled through the smog and refused to be doused by the ugly fluorescents lamps of the station platform. Lucky buggers, he thought bitterly, they don't need to worry about being laid off, having debt, eating or having a place to sleep; briefly he blithely wondered if there was a way to become a star and just sit up there, relaxed, with nothing left to do. He shook himself, chiding his imagination for illuminating the black well of his depression with that feeble ray of hope.

"A man is not dead while his name is still spoken." was a saying he remembered from long ago. The goodbye note in his pocket weighed like a stone in his heart and in his throat. It was the embodiment of the meaningless struggle he had fought and his final admission of failure. There was nothing left for him, absolutely, a vacuum of feeling and emotion. It didn't matter now. He'd never be rid of his debt now, he'd never see his wife again, he'd never hear her voice nor look fondly over his children nor see them growing up. The sign was now silently warning that in one minute the express would pass through, and "Please mind the gap." entoned the speaker.

What had brought him here? Who drove him so far, broke his life so completely so that his entire worth swayed at the edge of a platform? Was it the employers who turned him away, unknowing or uncaring about his eventual fate, or was it the factory that closed down to balance the books of a company ledger. No... NO! These were just links in a vast chain, invisible, yet spanning years and the entire world, forged from stupidity, avarice and greed. A selfish banker creating debt instruments that were shams, banks that borrowed far too much, governments that were too weak were all players in bringing him to this point. His thoughts began to muddle as though they were travelling through treacle. Mind the Gap! The last of the warmth from the peppermint dust disappeared.

His legs acted on their own, walking over to the platform edge as the approaching train grew louder and louder. His hand clutched the note from his family. The harsh light from the express illuminated his face, the scream of the whistle howled his name, and with a step, his last breath was snatched away by the roar of the passing train.