The bank. A typical day of a typical week in a bank on the high street of a typical town. All is quiet and normal as prospective customers wait silently in long queues or try to decipher the debit forms at the service desk before joining the end of the snakes. On this typical day, three queues lead up to three glass windows behind which sit three "humans" -- all devoid of expression and extremely good at not making mistakes.
It was into this expressionless bank that I wandered one fine day, into this bank with a mission to arrange a transfer of money for myself and from my account. Yes, a very typical mission and one that maybe half of the people falling asleep in front or behind me might be doing and that the "humans" behind the glass excelled in.
A queue is an amazing thing. An invention that nobody lays claim to or wants to be blamed for. An invention so amazing that when we are born we already have the necessary skills and knowledge as to be able to accept and understand the unwritten rules required to be part of one. It is so important that this is not something left to later years and the classroom, this is something that is in-built into our systems like that of being able to cry when hungry (as a baby I mean)
When faced with a single queue the problem is not so great as we just attach ourselves to the end of it. When faced with three queues the problems multiply and so one has to stand back for a moment to gain some perspective as to the merits and pitfalls of each possibility: Which one is moving faster? Is there somebody carrying hundreds of bags with a mass of pennies in them? Is there somebody who looks as if they need a new account? And ,is the "human" behind the glass a fast one or a slow one? All these things flash through the mind before the first foot is placed on what becomes "your place" in the line.
I typically choose "my place" without noticing or realizing that I have studied all the relevant facts and on this occasion I chose my line of torture at the same time as a girl who had previously been in the wrong queue. She had reached the window in one queue only to realize that it was the wrong one for her type of business. This type of mistake does not allow any reprieve, the only answer and future step is to return to the end of the correct queue (she made a fatal mistake in queue protocol). She and I joined separate queues each having carefully weighed the pros and cons of each and come up with our judgement as to the best one. She one and I another and until we reach the window neither of us will know which was the best to join.
Such is life. My queue slowly worked its way forwards and I in turn studied my fingernails, studied the floor, studied the ceiling and then studied my bank card, which was worn thin from constant studying. Eventually after much studying of everything and anything I noted that I was one person away from reaching the end of the torture line. There was one man finalizing his business with the "human" at the window and one middle-aged lady to go next before I could step forward. Yep, the man was finishing and preparing to walk away to his freedom but...
Ouch and ouch again! The queue next to us had encountered a serious problem, one of the worst kind. The "human" behind the glass had decided that it was time to go home, change shift, or to powder her nose, and had suddenly and without warning placed a sign that said "closed" and walked away. And there standing extremely upset (mad even) at the front of the line was the girl who had been thwarted for the second time in the same day. To do what she did next is to undermine and abuse all that we learnt about queue law, but she did it none-the-less, maybe from desperation and maybe from hatred of the queue institution and all that it stands for, but did it she did.
As the man walked away in my queue and the lady in front of me prepared to gain her end to the torture parade, the girl whipped quickly into place at the vacant window thus thwarting the ladies forward momentum. Yes, she jumped queue in a serious and abrupt manner, which I could not care about, and that the woman in front of me did.
"Hey you, get back to the end of the queue" my lady shouted at the girl and turned round to me in shock and said, "Did you see that!"
The girl ignored her as one would, but I opened my mouth, something that I regretted for evermore. I said, "Ach, the poor girl has been waiting for ages and much longer than we have. So its okay, let her go."
Well, didn't that start the war? The upset lady started lecturing me on queue protocol and about how the young generation of today have no respect for their elders and so on and etcetera. Well, whilst she was rambling away and initiating World War III, I noticed that the girl had rapidly finished her business and that it was the turn of the lady to move up to the window. She, though, was too busy shouting to the bank at large, having given up on me and so I tapped her on the shoulder and pointed towards the empty window whilst saying, "Excuse me madam, it is your turn now."
Well, she really did go queue mad and told me that I was an uncouth and abusive person, naturally using words of a different nature to convey a similar message. She started ranting and raving directly to me, telling me that I was so horrible and disgusting that I should not be allowed to live on this earth, whilst I just stood there with my arms folded and a little smile on my face -- saying nothing.
Of course the girl that had unwittingly provoked this attack had long since disappeared, unaware as to my plight and the other customers in the queue. The whole bank seemed to be busy studying their fingers and the floor and seemingly oblivious as to what was taking place around them -- who could blame them?
Maybe I should have said something to appease the situation, maybe I should have tried to calm her down, but I did not. Instead I just stood there with my arms folded and the little smile fixed on my face that said a lot and nothing at the same time. I suppose my smile and attitude just made the little lady even madder.
Well, eventually she ran out of bad and evil things to say to me and moved forwards to the window, no doubt complaining volubly to the "human" behind the glass about me and the youth of today. Well, I just thanked my lucky stars that the situation had ended without my getting bashed over the head with a handbag or my foot pierced with an umbrella. I was thankful that I could soon move forwards and finish my business quickly, thus escaping the queues, the bank and the abuse for another week or so. Eventually the angry lady finished her business leaving a sweating and upset girl behind the glass. As she turned away she gave me the most viscous of glares, muttering something about me under her breath and then stormed out of the bank. "She has gone and I am free", I felt like shouting out loud. I have been abused and attacked by an angry lady but I have survived.
But was I ever so wrong?
I conducted my business and was about to turn away from the glass when I heard a male voice saying "watch out"! It was not said loudly or anything like that but it was said with immediate urgency. Kindly said by a fellow "queuer," but just too late. As I turned away from the window I turned into this finger. I turned into this finger that was positioned about one inch from my nose and pointing upwards at it in a shaking and threatening manner. A bit too close for comfort and I sort of leaned backwards to get away from this unexpected threat.
From below my nose and the vibrating and prodding finger a wicked voice came forth and said, "and don't ever touch me again, I don't know where your fingers have been."
And with that the finger was withdrawn and walked with
its owner back out of the bank in a smug and self-satisfied way --
that finger and her owner had won the day. I having been suitably
put in my place felt saddened and disheartened, sad that I had
chosen the wrong queue and disheartened that I had made a fatal
error in queue protocol -- I had opened my mouth!
© 2002 Ieuan Dolby, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
Having travelled the world for fifteen years I am still amazed that when I choose a subject to write about, some of the best ones come from my home town of Edinburgh in Scotland. There is nothing that evokes the spirit of writing more than that found at home.