The Queue

When you want to collect a package from our local postal depot, you have to wait in a room the size of a toilet cubicle.

The walls are decorated with photographs of naughty dogs who are known to have the taste for postal workers’ hands. I assume this Rogues’ Gallery is a bit like the “do not serve” photographs they keep behind the bar in some pubs. I don’t know why it’s kept on the public side of the desk, but I am not complaining. I like to look at the naughty dogs.

The queue is usually quite small and easy to understand. If there’s someone waiting at the service window, you simply stand to that person’s left. It’s intuitive.

On busier days, the queue continues around the walls so that the last person in line is actually standing to the right of the person being served. This can be a bit stressful as we all ponder what will happen if one more person should enter the tiny space before the next parcel turns up and somebody leaves. Will they squash in? Will someone take control and suggest that they wait outside? Will someone panic and take off all their clothes?

Somehow, it always works out for the best. We get through on self-organisation and blitz spirit. I usually come out of it feeling that people aren’t so bad, that perhaps there’s hope for the world after all, and that even naughty dogs are cute.

This morning though.

Ho, baby. This morning.

When I arrived at the depot with the little red summons and my photo ID, the queue was already spilling out of the door and down the ramp. I’d never seen the place so busy. With hindsight I should have gone home and come back on another day, but I didn’t want to miss a rare opportunity to witness cannibalism.

I joined the queue. In front of me was a woman in galoshes, a slightly-too-friendly man, and a sheepish-looking younger woman. Other people soon joined behind me. Occasionally, as one would hope, a person would come out of the depot with their parcel. They’d boggle at how long the queue had become.

Most locals know what it’s like inside this building — the tininess, the looping queue — so those of us outside were in no hurry to go in. It wasn’t raining and the longer we waited outside, the less crowded it would be when we got inside. If nothing else, it would give our neighbours’ farts the chance to dissipate.

I worried about the slightly-too-friendly man. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but he had the vibe of someone who wanted to start a conversation or, ideally, a group sing-along.

He’d periodically leave the line, pop his head inside the door and come back to us with a bemused expression. Given the amount of time we could be stuck together, I decided it was best to avoid meeting his gaze.

People continued to exit the building, one by one, clutching parcels of every shape and size.

I started to think it was surely time for some of the outsiders to move inside and I was getting the vibe from the people behind me that they wanted to see some action too. It wasn’t my call though. I’d have to speak to Mr Friendly.

“How’s it looking in there?” I called.

“Fine!” he said.

“Is there space for some of us?” I asked.

“Plenty!” he said.

It became apparent that the sheepish-looking woman at the front of the outdoor queue wasn’t in the queue at all but waiting for someone else. This was why Mr Friendly kept opening the door and looking inside. He’d been trying to signal to Sheepish that she should move in. But why didn’t he just say that to her? And why didn’t Sheepface wait somewhere else? And if she really had to wait here, why didn’t she just explain to us that she wasn’t in the queue?

“Oh, for crying out loud,” said Galoshes, and she barged in, followed by Mr Friendly and me.

I thought Galoshes, after her justified chiding of Sheepo, would become an ally — someone who understood the business of queues — but I knew our relationship was doomed when we went inside and she didn’t stand behind the person who was clearly the end of the queue. She decided instead to stand to the right of the service window, immediately turning an orderly queue into a shambolic crowd. Mr Friendly didn’t seem to care and stood behind her. I, conformist nincompoop that I am, stood behind him.

Disastrously, there were now two little queues, the real one coming from the left and ours from the right.

Queuing to the right causes problems not just in that it’s counter-intuitive and confuses the next person to come in, but also because it causes the person at the end of the line to stand in front of the door, obstructing the exit and risking being belted in the spine by the metal door handle. Why had this galoshes-wearing idiot put us — put me! — in this situation?

Galoshes sighed. She couldn’t possibly think she was going to be served next could she? Hadn’t she seen the other people patiently waiting?

I wanted to share a therapeutic eye roll but nobody was willing to receive it, save for the portrait of a naughty chihuahua.

The man at the window accepted his parcel and made to leave. Galoshes, clearly understanding that she wasn’t actually in line, ushered the next person to the window. I’m glad she did this instead of barging up to the window, though I don’t know why she chose to stand in a weird place and then elect herself to the unadvertised position of Queue Director.

As he left, the man who’d been at the window issued the following terrible words — a black magic spell — to the queuing people out on the ramp: “Plenty of space inside.”

Why? Why?! Why?!?!

Nothing could have prepared us for the surge of badly-dressed flesh that would now gush through that door.

“Who’s at the end?” someone said.

It’s amazing what you can do to someone with your bare hands and a shoelace when you really have to.

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