Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Please Take a Number

“Seventy-two and seventy-four,” called the woman behind the information desk. Two men stood up and shimmied their way through the crowded room to the front desk. “Excuse me, sorry, thanks,” they repeated each time they knocked knees with another person or their coat brushed a stranger’s face. Once the men reached their front, a few words were exchanged with the young woman. Then they disappeared into one of the back rooms.

I opened my hand to see a small crumbled white piece of paper with the number 96 written on it in big, black ink. Great, I thought. This is going to take a while. I turned my wrist over. The little hand on my watch rested at eleven while the big hand had just passed three. My eyes struggled to stay open.

Earlier this morning, my sleep was interrupted by the house alarm sounding. I leaped out of bed at 4am, only to realize the bad weather had set it off. Though I was relieved to know there was no one downstairs in the closet waiting for me, I was upset that my sleep had been interrupted for the night. And no amount of will could get me to doze off again.

The temperature rose a few degrees under the fluorescent lights. The lady across from me fanned herself with a piece of paper. I crossed my right leg over my left, pulled my purse and coat closer to me, and closed my eyes.

“Seventy-five and seventy-six.”

I guess she does two at a time. Maybe it will go faster that way.

I looked at my watch again, a few minutes elapsed. Then I remembered the meter outside. The maximum was two hours. I had already been at the office for an hour and a half. Prior to this, I had attended an hour briefing for my new job. I then was shuttled over here to get a company ID. My eyes longed to close, but my meter needed quarters. So, I took a walk.

By the time I got back, the woman behind the desk was in the late eighties.

Not much longer now.

I found a new seat next to a woman who sucked her teeth. She made this horrible, wet-sounding, high-pitched noise. I felt guilty for being annoyed by it. I couldn’t imagine what she thought of me as I dug through my oversized purse searching for my granola bar and chopping down half of it before seeing the mauve sign above the front desk with large black letters that read: No Smoking or Eating.

“Eighty-nine and Ninety.”

The anchor man on the tv perched in the corner of the room informed the crowd that Tiger Woods had been dropped as a spokesman by Gatorade. My mouth grew dry.

“Ninety-one and ninety-two.”

The crowd was starting to thin. I was beginning to notice other people. An older man sat a row over from me. He wore huge earphones with no cord or antenna. His head and shoulders slumped to the left and his eyes were closed. Now, he has the right idea. Shut everyone out and get some sleep. I was jealous.

The woman at the front desk was rolling now. Just a few more numbers and I’m up.

I pulled out my phone to send a text spilling the contents of my purse onto the floor making a small scene in the process. Not wanting to be noticed myself, I quickly put everything away except my phone which I had in my hand.

“Ninety-five and ninety-six.”


I walked up to the front desk. The woman took one look at me and said, “Cell phones are prohibited in this area. You’ll have to secure it before going to the back. There’s a security desk out front just drop it off with the guard and come back and get another number.”

Everyone stared.

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