Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Queue

The thick layer of yesteryear’s glossy green oil-based paint appeared like a despondent attempt to make the gloomy hall that I walked into, look better. As with too much make-up on an aged skin, the paint on the walls did not work. It merely accentuated the age and worn-down appearance of the building and echoed the aura of despair that I saw outside in the neighbourhood.

The presence of seemingly disinterested security guards that were hanging around made me realize that the glaring notice outside in the parking lot – ‘High crime spot. Lock your vehicle!’ – should perhaps be taken seriously. The uneasiness inside me became stronger. I did not want to be here, but I had no choice.

Already I could sense the stale air of too many bodies in the unventilated room where I was waiting in a long queue to find out where I must go to. This, together with the hall’s ineffective lighting, amplified the apprehension inside me – this is going to be an unpleasant experience. At the same time I tried to convince myself that the itching that I felt on my lower legs was only my imagination.

Somewhere a baby cried.

The many queues consisted of people sitting on rows of chairs. When it was the person in the front’s turn to go to the counter, the rest would each move one chair forward. Very few really stood up while doing so. Most moved in a hide-behind-the-bush manner, only slightly lifting the lower part of their bodies without raising the rest. With their eyes staring at some imaginary object in the distance, their feet would shuffle sideways until they placed themselves down onto the next chair.

Not a word was said. The blond model shared space in the row with the overweight mother who was discreetly trying to breastfeed her crying baby. Further down an elderly man was completing a crossword puzzle. Every now and then his pencil would drop to the floor. Was he falling asleep? The teenager was chewing gum.

The wear-and-tear on the vinyl floor tiles beneath their feet and the dirty black areas on the wall where too many bodies have leaned against in the past, were proof of a multitude of people that had been here before, all of them hoping to be helped as quickly as possible, only to find that nobody gets precedence here – the shuffling rows determine the pecking order.

The robot-like staff behind the counters processed one client after the other as the rows spewed them out. No emotion, only automated response….and a hint of impatience now and then.

Walking out of the room was like being set free. The fresh air towards the exit raised my spirit. The blue sky that I started to see brought new life into me. And the makeshift handwritten notice on my way out gave me hope: “Department of Home Affairs soon moving to a new venue.”     

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