Takeaway, Please

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"Is that takeaway or have here?" asked the barista. She had a gloriously sun-kissed face and messy blonde hair. As she smiled at me, she adjusted her full-face respirator with one hand and placed her other hand on the sign on the desk. The café had roller blinds that faced the ocean and were always open, so the poor girl had to wear the mask while she worked. Her name was Riley, and every morning she asked me the same question.

And every morning I blinked away the glaring red words on the sign and replied, "takeaway please".

The morning air smelled like salt and coffee beans, and the call of the ocean was deafening. The whole sky had exploded in a colourful storm last night. Not just the white of an old-fashioned lightning storm, but the greens and purples of a chemical catastrophe. The clouds were still stained with colour this morning.

After several minutes, Riley called out my name and handed me a steaming cup of coffee and said, "Enjoy your walk - don't forget your mask."

My mask was folded neatly over my arm, and I lifted it up to show her as I stepped outside. The heat assaulted my body and I had to pause for a moment to compose myself. My eyes watered. I blinked, focussing on a young family sitting on the synthetic grass. They were enjoying brunch, but I noticed the mother kept nervously checking her watch and touching the four masks that rested beside her. Twenty minutes was the recommended daily maximum. 

That meant I had five minutes to get down to the beach and drink my coffee. The ground beneath me seemed oddly hollow as I hurried over it.

There were only five steps down to the waterfront. When my mother had brought me here as a child, I had counted 89.  I sat down on the concrete. Angry waves lapped at the bottom step, and I moved my feet away, not daring to get too close to the acidic water. I savoured the earthy liquid running down my throat and closed my eyes.

Riley's red words flashed through my mind.

It was a retro sign, one that had been on the counter at the same café 30 years ago in 2018.  It said, 'EVERY YEAR AUSTRALIANS THROW OUT 1 BILLION DISPOSABLE COFFEE CUPS. THINK ABOUT YOUR ACTIONS: PLANET OR PLASTIC?'.

My thoughts were interrupted by an obnoxious beeping noise. With a sigh I silenced my timer and drained the rest of my coffee. I set the cup down beside me as I pulled my mask on, struggling to fit the band over my ponytail. As I squirmed, my foot slipped and knocked my cup.

"Shoot!" I gasped.

My cup bobbed in the water for only a few seconds before it disintegrated. A green bubble burst on the surface, just as filtered air began to flow through my lungs.

It wasn't enough to stop the feeling of drowning.

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