I take a number, I find a seat. We are all sitting in rows- like school without desks. I spy a sign on the wall. “Do NOT rearrange chairs.” The chairs are lined up to face a brick wall. I’ve never felt so bullied by a piece of paper in all of my life. The sign seems to scrape away at my dignity.
I sip my coffee and read my book and hum to myself- slightly kicking the air with my crossed over leg. Someone smells like dog shampoo.
The man in the front row of chairs hobbled in on a walker with a full leg cast. He clumsily sits down with the help of his wife and immediately starts telling the teenager sitting next to him that he should never, ever, ever drive a motorcycle. He speaks loudly so all can hear. Six weeks in the hospital. Seems a motorcycle tore off his kneecap. The Boy looks frightened but listens intently. When the boy’s number is called, he stands up sharply, looking a little pale, and says, “It has been nice talking to you sir.”
I cannot help but notice the desperate love this injured man and his wife share. She pinches the sleeve of his shirt in between her fingers as if to hold him on the earth. She looks at him as if he’s a man back from the dead. I think it’s beautiful.
The A/C hums loudly above the rows of our heads. The legs next to mine have a nervous shake rumbling through them that distracts my eye. It stops. Then it starts again.
I can easily pick out all of the sixteen year olds who have come to take their first driving test. They all look like they might throw up.
Phones ring. I wonder about the people who work here- day in and day out. How do they come to a box-of-a-building day after day, demanding two forms of valid identification over and over and over again for years upon years? A life of repetition. Primary! Secondary! Primary! Secondary! Day upon day upon day. I am floored by their will power.
There is a paper in my hand that has a number on it. Six hundred and ninety seven. I am five numbers away from being called. How similar to my life this system proves… I clutch my number in my hand and wait. I wait for my turn. I sit in a row, I stare at the wall, and I wait to be called upon. I don’t want to go through life as a number taker. My number was called the moment I was born and the longer I sit here, the shorter my life gets.
I want to be one who takes a number, then throws it on the ground- jumping up on my chair to lead the room in a chorus or a dance or a conversation. Someone who forces life into dead places. Someone who can say, “Hey! Remember how we are all alive and brimming with stories and wisdom and grace, but we’d never allow ourselves to know it because we’re all so terrified of each other?”
We’d all bond and then pour out into the parking lot together like a gaggle of geese- laughing and patting each other on the back to brush off all the ‘personal space’ that has built up (like grime) upon our shoulders.
I snap back from my dream as another number is called, and I realize that I have a long way to go towards being the woman of my daydreams. I know this because instead of sitting tall and writing all of this boldly in my journal, I have been covering up what I’ve been writing with my 697 number tag. My usually tidy handwriting is sloppy and hard-to-read, only for fear of neighbor’s eyes finding this page I write on and deciphering my honest words.
How do I get to that place where I can throw my book open and can say to my neighbor, “Here! Take! Read!”, and then meet them full in the face with an emboldened smile and an alive heart?
I want to fear nothing.
… Nothing but the walls we slap up to prevent ourselves from sloshing over onto an unknown pair of shoes.