“The Wait” is a short fiction piece by guest contributor Elena Gagovska, a BA2 student in the HAST program at BCB
Christina felt bored waiting in line at the insurance office and tapped her little finger against her chin obsessively. She was there to renew the health insurance for her two-year-old. It wasn’t a complicated procedure, really, but, just as I would be, Christina was scandalized at the fact that she had to physically go to a place to get something that she thought could easily be computerized. Actually, Christina had a lot of thoughts about a lot of things. But she just worked as tech support for a small law firm and lacked a column or blog-type platform on which to express and publish her thoughts. When the urge to tell the world how she perceived it started overwhelming her a few years ago, Christina opened a Twitter account under the alias “ITBoredom”. It was more of a way to express her dissatisfaction with her job and current affairs than an intellectual megaphone.
> NeedsALife36 retweeted your tweet.
Christina felt a dopamine release as her phone vibrated to signal a social media notification. This might sound like a condescending “oh look, she’s so addicted to Twitter” comment, but I don’t judge Christina. Hell, we’re all addicted to the Internet and we all feel better when the cute photo that took us 20 minutes to take, crop and apply filters to gets 30 likes instead of 13 on Facebook. And 14 retweets feel better than 4 since it makes us feel like our opinion is more validated. Hey, if nothing else, her phone made Christina’s waiting more bearable. Still, it didn’t stop her from nervously scratching her thumb with each of the nails on her left hand.
> Bernie4Ever and 121 others favorited your tweet.
Christina refreshed her page a few times, but there were no new favorites, retweets or comments, only people tweeting about the upcoming inauguration as she already had. She put her phone in her purse for awhile, but did not turn off her 3G so as not to miss any online activity. She actually wasn’t such an obsessive social media checker outside of public institutions that did more than just bore her — places like this made her want to escape the administrative reality around her and dive into the virtual world of her phone.
She noticed that the line had only moved a little bit in the ten minutes that she had been there.
Now that she was off her device, Christina started taking in her surroundings. The building looked old and had white walls that hadn’t been repainted in years; little specks of grey could be noticed on the neglected surface. The floors had beige tiles that weren’t terribly clean. For a moment, Christina let go of her impatience and sympathized with the presumably underfunded place that this was and the likely unmotivated people who worked there.
Then she noticed how the people looked. There was a man in slightly ripped jeans and an old leather jacket who had a tired look on his face. There was a woman carrying a well-designed bag in a fading shade of red. Unlike the other people here, Christina had the luxury of caring about her aesthetic: she wore a grey pantsuit with 2-inch heels that didn’t pain her feet too much and helped her calves regain the shape of their pre-baby status (or so she wanted to believe). Christina had always dressed well, but she wasn’t the Instagram or Facebook type. She dressed for herself and the people in her immediacy, but she never showed this side of herself to her 11, 457 Twitter followers. Instead, she merely expressed her supposedly intellectual thoughts to her fans rather than her fashion style. However, she never tweeted under her real name as she didn’t want to offend any of her friends, relatives, co-workers and future bosses with her stances on politics, religion or gender dynamics. It was a bit cowardly for sure, but too many things exhausted her emotionally that she wasn’t about to add this to her plate. Only her husband knew her Twitter identity — he always got a kick out of knowing her secret, especially when one of his friends would forward one of ITBoredom’s tweets to him. Christina also made it her mission to hide her gender online, even though she spoke of gender politics a lot, to protect herself from online harassment. Of course, once in awhile a Men’s Rights “Activist” would tell her to kill herself or threatened to violate her in a number of ways, assuming that it was a woman behind the opinionated feed. In those cases, Christina just blocked the few harassers and remained in the ambiguously gendered high castle of her Twitter account.
“Well, I’m sorry that I’m not back at the office yet, but I got held up here,” Christina overheard an older man in a decent-looking suit say to someone on the phone in a calmer voice than she would expect of herself.
Christina then noticed the faces of the other people around her. They either had a neutral or tired face, but none looked agitated. After 33 minutes of waiting in line (it was exactly that long, she checked), she noticed that pretty much everyone did something on their phones, whether it was communication, scrolling through their News Feed, or mindlessly playing a game that they otherwise wouldn’t bother opening. Somehow, it seemed to keep them calm. Her phone could do many things, but it couldn’t keep her from being agitated here. Christina’s ticks were accentuated: she tapped her left heel, making annoying noise; she ran her tongue against her back teeth; she curled her hair around her right index finger.
“It’s about my insurance, sir. I know I’m late, but I have to extend it. I’ve been having trouble breathing lately.” A young woman with large under-eye bags and visible anxiety said on the phone. “Yes, I’ll pick up extra shifts. It’s not a problem.”
> “Slow public services will be the death of me. They make all my nervous ticks come to life. And they kill the economic productivity of people of all work fields,” Christina wanted to tweet, but was 21 characters over.
She realized that she would have to polish that tweet at home as she heard the clerk — a middle-aged woman in a boring, white shirt with a housewife updo and a bit too much pink make-up — call her.
“Hi, I filled out these forms. They’re for extending my daughter’s health insurance.”
“Oh, but we can’t take those until after January 15th.”
“Why not?” Christina tried to hide her anger.
“Because that’s when the system changes. It’s protocol.”
“But it’s the 12th. Can’t you just do it now?”
“It’s procedure Ma’am, sorry.”
“But…” Christina was about to tell her that she took time off work to come here and that the drive took 23 minutes and that she hated waiting to her very core, but then she remembered her surroundings and she remembered how she felt that this place lacked proper financial support. She realized that the woman explaining the institution’s procedures to her had little to do with them, so Christina stopped her own yelling.
She walked away with a half-smile, feeling good about her self-control as if she had done some gratuitous, pitiful deed. Now, I slightly judge Christina.