There is a line, a long one. Ahead of me are eight customers: a young father returning a boxed-up stroller; a short woman with two packages; another, perhaps, in her last trimester leaning against the island counter paging a novel; a mom jiggling her toddler wearing a sailor shirt; another woman wearing a black beret sealing a box; a construction worker, all brawn, slapping his thigh in rhythm with the bud in his ear; curious daughters rooting around in their mom’s satchel; a black grandfatherly type on his cell; and an office worker carrying a tub of bubble envelopes.

The sole clerk behind the counter smiles as she listens to each customer’s special need. Tension swells the small room like helium inflating balloons. The air is heavy. The door swings open. More step in line, eyes blinking to the overhead fluorescent lights. Outside, December’s dusk shrouds the street. Still the door keeps opening. At the end of the line, neighbors share Christmas plans.

Twenty-five minutes pass. It looked like that young father, stooped over the counter, was having difficulty completing the required forms. More standing on one foot, then, the other. Even harder does the construction worker slap his thigh, tap his steel-toed boot on the tile floor. The reader bookmarks a chapter and stretches. The toddler yawns while fingering his mom’s jacket. The grandfather pockets his cell in his leather coat and arches his shoulders.

There’s something to be said for restraint of tongue. Eventually, help does come.

 

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