Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Man Behind the Counter

He was slow. There was no denying that.

In the span of time my little battalion waited in line, his colleagues zoomed through the rest of the patrons in short order.

I don't know what held him up, but I didn't mind waiting. That's what lines are for.

"What on earth is taking so long?" grumbled a tiny woman in front of me. She was short enough that I could see right over her head, but she had a tone that said not to make a habit of it.

"It's the post office on Easter week," I said. "Probably a lot of packages to sort through." 

She looked up at me over her glasses, "Hmmm," she said, and kept on looking at me.

"And it rained yesterday," I added, thinking of the new hardcover book I had come after, and being grateful it hadn't been waiting in a puddle when I got home the day before. I hoped maybe she'd think of her own dry, safe package and wait a little happier, maybe crack a grin or at least blink a few times.

She huffed. That's all.

Another person joined the pick-up line and tapped her hard-soled toe on the scuffed tile. I guess that's how it got scuffed in the first place, waiters not wanting to wait.

"What on earth is taking so long?" she asked before I'd even had time to lean my sore back against the wall.

Before I could answer, the short lady leaned around me and said, "That man up there! He's so slow."

"What man?" she asked.

"Exactly," said the tiny woman. She finally smiled. The man came back to the counter and scanned the package he had finally located for the couple with the sleepy baby. He took a long time.

They grumbled and shifted their weight. They took turns huffing and toe tapping and counting people who came in the door after them and left before them. I waited. I didn't mind.

The man behind the counter went back for another package.

A guy came through the door and stood behind the toe-tapper. "What on earth is taking so long?" he asked, as soon as the door swung closed behind him.

The trio talked about lines and waiting and tapped and blinked and huffed. I watched through the blinds at what slivers of sky I could see, and I waited.

Eventually, another employee came and took our cards, four at at time, and rushed to the back to forage for our boxes. She was back in no time, and the short lady and the toe-tapper rushed forward to claim their packages.

The man behind the counter came back with his package, too. I took a good look at him, the rounded slump of his shoulders, the trenches under his eyes, the row of unruly hair that had defied his comb and ran up the back of his head like hackles. He was slow, there was no denying that, but there was no less work in him than any of the rest of us, workers and waiters alike. He wore a look that said he was sorry he was slow, but it was Easter week at the post office after all. And it had rained.

I wish I would have stayed there and waited in his line, just so he would know.

I didn't mind.


Unknown said...

Loved this until the end when I cried, and I still loved it. When I was using the PO so much, I would check my watch when I entered the line. I'd found that, really, I was waiting a very short time and I needed to remind myself of that. I never became a beautiful advocate for the workers like you did here - thank you

Marisa said...

Thank you, Ellen, for reading, commenting, and for your good, good heart.