The story you are about to read is true, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent…
She whispered into her computer.
She quietly asked the chipped red nail polish on her fingers.
She sighed, almost losing her patience, yet keeping her head firmly down, focussing on the well-prepared equipment and paperwork before her.
The other operators heard her discreet words and maintained their silence, keeping their heads down as well. Hers was the first voice to be heard, and until the outcome of her next “next” was fulfilled, their only job was to remain silent and motionless.
She announced it this time, thus breaking the silence that had descended upon the crowd since her first whispers were rumoured to be heard. She half expected to see a response. Nothing. She still kept her head lowered; she knew she had no need to look up, not yet.
The man at the front, the one who was waiting, proud, and quite chuffed to find himself at the front was actually ready for action. He’d been here a while and was dutifully standing behind the blue line as he had been instructed. He looked around at the others, similarly laden, concertinaed behind him.
He’d been silently observing their actions and interactions. Some were awkwardly zipping zips; some were double checking documents, others in a daze at this early hour where barely awake. Some were struggling to source pens to carry out some last minute exercise in a label-filling-demonstration of ownership, whilst others chatted tiredly amongst themselves. He laughed internally, sadly, and without smiling at a minor disagreement between a couple, clearly weary and clearly annoyed at each other, unable to hear their conversation, their body language told a story that had clearly begun years before this journey. But alone he stood firm, ready for action, toes never crossing the blue line, his documents in hand his zips zippered and no-one but himself to converse with.
This time she spoke with authority, as she had been trained to do, and she was pissed off that it had come to this, she even glanced up, catching for a millisecond, before lowering her carefully decorated eyes, the glance of that apparently deaf, and evidently smug idiot at the front of that bloody long queue.
“I think she means me?”
He spoke out loud, the first words he had spoken outside of his head for over an hour, surprised to hear them, he looked behind him to see if they had been heard. One woman shrugged her shoulders, the man stood beside her immediately looked down to check his laces were correctly tied, trying to ignore the inappropriate situation he found himself in having been inappropriately communicated to by someone in the queue he had found himself in. Another lady, on older lady, pulled her lips tight into a horizontal position, whilst simultaneously lifting her eye-brows, a natural movement that apparently attempted to demonstrate her misunderstanding, but unfortunately made her look like she was preparing to squirt water from a plastic flower on her lapel.
Partly encouraged by his tired and nervous audience, but mainly through tired self-interest, the man bravely speaks, demonstrating his words with a forefinger pointed towards his chest.
“Do you mean me?”
His voice was heard throughout the silent crowd, every head turned towards his intended recipient, each pair of eyes looking, and then waiting for the response from the top of a head, black roots and blonde tightly bound hair.
She doesn’t need to look up now, she knows she has him, it’s only a matter of time, and she can wait.
He moves forwards, aware that by breaking that seal of the blue line he is in dangerous territory, expecting to be stopped at any moment he inches carefully forwards towards his destination, towards her.
The atmosphere electric, the silent crowd waits expectantly, the other operators frozen, as if two generals of opposing armies were meeting across the battlefield during a tense ceasefire. The troops anticipating this interaction. With baited breath, he takes another step.
He stops, having taken six steps without acceptance or rejection, he is suddenly afraid, afraid of having left the safety of the blue line, and afraid to move further forwards to face his nemesis. She sees his weakness and his faltering footsteps from the corner of her eye, and she knows, allowing a slight smile to appear on her lips, that she had won this battle. She is in charge. He is alone, separated from his crowd, and stuck in the no man’s land only meters away from her realm.
She proudly declares, head up and charcoal eyes blazing, now with the emphasis on the fact that this was indeed a question, and always had been a question, this ‘Next?’ was now an invitation, this four letter word was now a fully-formed sentence. This word was a message to encourage others to come forward, but not yet, they must wait until the other operators got the go ahead to use it, but more importantly this ‘Next?’ was an announcement that she had she had won, that she was in charge.
He stood there with his bags, over-weight thoughts creeping into his mind, and suddenly fearful that someone had tampered with them, it was three in the morning and he yearned for his bed. Like a five-year old boy before the headmistress, foolish for his dithering and glowing through guilt that he might be accidentally carrying liquids, he faced her.
“You know when you said ‘next’, it was a bit confusing, because I was at the front of the queue and so actually I couldn’t be ‘next’ as there was no one in front of me, it would have been better if you had actually said “first” I would have understood you then, and then everyone after me would have been ‘next’”.
She looked at him properly for the first time, their eyes connected; her pale grey to his bloodshot brown. She was his master; she had no time for his petty squabbles or his needless semantics.
“Did you pack the bags yourself?”
Her blistering response, one carefully painted eyebrow raised, was all that was needed for her team to commence their duties.
His answer to her question was drowned out by the collective passive calls of “next” and the sound of luggage being desperately shifted along the floor.
Welcome to (60 seconds of ) my world!