It’s ten o’clock on a Monday morning at the post office inside the mall. Most of the people queueing are either planning to go shopping after, or are waiting for someone who’s shopping. I’m only here to send a parcel off to Australia, though I’m not averse to the idea of getting some ice-cream on the way home. I glance at my number again: 2043. On the small LED display two numbers flash: 2014 and 2015. A long way to go, then.
It’s a tiny post office with four counters and one is only for collecting packages. It offers all the services the larger post offices offer, though, from renewal of driving licences to sales of commemorative stamps, which accounts for its busyness. The heavy-set man standing beside me has what looks like a vehicle registration card—probably here to renew his road tax, then. Half of the people queueing are likely there to pay their bills. I sigh to myself and wonder why they’re resistant to doing that online.
The seats are full, so I pop out of the post office and head to the stationery shop beside it. The woman at the counter greets me with a cheerful hello, but I can’t tell whether it’s because she’s noticed me from my frequent visits to the post office or it’s just because she’s a cheerful person in general. I duck into the section hosting the paperback novels and find nothing new—the same old copy of Dan Brown’s Angel and Demons that has been there since the start of last year is still there. I do the usual circuit and look at everything on display: the wrapping paper (mostly new) and glitter pens (probably not new) and head back out with a rueful nod at the woman—I can’t be the only person who comes in and doesn’t buy anything. She nods back, smiling.
The number has moved up to 2021 when I return. I sit on one of the empty benches just outside the post office, pulling out The Game of Kings out of my bag. After a while a Sikh lady with a few shopping bags comes and sits beside me, nodding at me when I say hello. I go back to my reading when it looks like she isn’t interested in conversation. Out of the corner of my eye I can see her watching me read, but I’m used to that so I just pretend I don’t notice. Post office runs are all about sneakily watching people anyway. She leaves the bench as a man leaves the counter. He probably was 2020.
Minutes pass. A young father strides in front of me, pushing his trolley very, very fast, his daughter shrieking in delight as they whiz by, her long hair streaming behind her. I wince a bit, more worried about their safety than disturbed by the noise. They are about to give it another go when a young woman comes by and starts chiding them; the man looking sheepish and the girl petulant at her words. They depart as well, the girl now in her mother’s arms instead of sitting in the trolley.
More minutes pass. An elderly Chinese man gets a number from the machine, looks at it and shakes his head. The little girl with him pushes the button as well and looks at her number and shakes her head, too. He pulls her towards my bench, asking if they could have a seat. I tell them they’re much welcome to.
“Yeye,” says the little girl, “what does your paper say?” He hands it to her instead of answering and she compares the two. “Hmm. Mine is 2066. Yours is 2065.”
“So which one would you choose?” her grandfather asks.
“2066! It’s bigger!” The man starts to laugh but covers it with a cough.
“It means you have to wait longer,” he tells her. “What number is it now?”
She peers at the display. “2031.”
“So how many people before you?”
She considers it for a while before concluding, “Many!”
The grandfather coughs again. “You subtract the numbers. 2066 minus 2031?”
“Don’t know. I can only do three letters.”
“Three digits,” he corrects her, “but it’s done the same way. I’ll show you when we get home.”
She ponders this for a moment and nods. She sidles up to me and peers at my book, even as her grandfather tries to yank her away. “Jiejie, what are you reading?” she asks. I show her the cover, and she manages to sound out the title, her small lips exaggeratedly shaping the words. “What’s it about?”
Her grandfather’s flustered by her behaviour. “Don’t disturb other people,” he says, giving me an apologetic look.
“It’s fine,” I tell him. “It’s about people in Scotland,” I answer her, and she scrunches up her nose. Obviously this doesn’t interest her, since she sits down and starts questioning her grandfather about which person at the counter will serve her.
The girl’s grandmother comes over and starts fussing about lunch. “Come, come, we go eat now. You’ll be late for school later, maa.”
The girl stomps her foot. “But I’m not hungry yet!” (I secretly agree with her. It’s not even eleven—it seems very early for lunch.)
“But if you don’t go eat now, by the time your turn comes it’ll be too late,” her grandfather says. “If your turn comes while you’re eating and you’re not here, what happens?”
She just pouts at him. He turns to me instead and says, “Jiejie, do you know what will happen?”
“I’ll take your turn and you’ll have to queue again,” I say seriously. “Then you’ll miss lunch and dinner.”
She looks properly horrified at that. She lets her grandmother haul her to her feet, and off they go. Her grandfather shakes his head as he watches them. “Sorry about that, miss. She’s too curious for her own good.” I tell him it’s okay and he smiles as he gets up to go after his family.
I look at the numbers on the display again. Three more, then it’s my turn. I close my book and go to stand nearer to the counter. Less than an hour in a small, busy post office—that really isn’t bad at all.
I signed up for the Writing: Finding Everyday Inspiration course over at The Daily Post‘s Blogging University, but, uh, you can probably tell that I’m skipping some lessons. This is the assignment for Day 10. The material’s pretty good; if you’re a new blogger it’s definitely worth checking out.