She was slumped on the Post Office counter like she had placed last orders at a bar, he face pressed close to the thick glass divide. The queue behind her, of which I was a member, was growing.
‘See this letter?’ she stabbed at a dog-eared document, ‘Final notice bill. Says I’ll go to court if it’s not paid in two days.’
The man behind the counter took the letter that she had slid into the dip in the counter. He read it, nodded, and slid it back to her.
‘I’m running about like a blue-arsed fly and nobody cares.’
Her jeans were loose, they hung low on her waist and even with a double turn up they trailed on the ground at her heels, sucking up a half moon of damp at the fray on the turn. She had rinsed her gray curls blue, then pink, as though she couldn’t make up her mind. Louder, this time, she leaned in, her breath steaming up the glass.
‘Tell me what to do. Tell me. I have the money to pay and no one will take it.’
A cigar roll of cash appeared in her other hand like a dagger. She was stabbing it in the air like she was punching holes in a leg of lamb ready to punch in slivers of garlic.
‘Pay it online.’ He told her. ‘The other customers are waiting. You must go.’
‘I’m not bloody going anywhere. Says here you can take cash.’ The dagger had become a baton, she the conductor. ‘Here!’ She pointed triumphantly. ‘It says it right here: Pay at any Post Office.’
One man peeled himself off from the back of the queue; too long a wait. Now I was at the back, parcel in hand. The old lady in front of me, propped up by her shopping trolley, made herself smaller. The guy in the hoodie at the head of the queue tilted his head, looked back at us, raised one eyebrow and started to smirk. I waited
The teller’s face registered nothing. Her shouts bounced off him like he was carved into Mount Rushmore.
‘You can’t pay at this Post Office. You can’t pay at any Post Office. Rules have changed.’ His tone was as flat as the ocean at Portobello on a windless day.
‘So you’re prepared for me to go to court? You’re happy to send me to jail?’
Her foot was having a seizure independent of her body, tapping wildly, growing into a shake that ran up her leg, threatening a full-body eruption.
‘I need to serve the next customer, mam.’
I hadn’t heard anyone say ‘mam’ for years.
The teller looked beyond her to the smirking hoodie as if she had already moved on. She walked away, punctured.
Sometimes I think my life is hard. I take so much for granted.
Some People, by Rita Ann Higgins (abridged)
Some people know what it’s like,
to be out of work
to be out of money
to be out of fashion
to be out of friends
to be in for the Vincent de Paul man
to be in space for the milk man
(sorry, mammy isn’t in today she’s gone to Mars for the weekend)
to be in Puerto Rico this week for the blanket man
to be in Puerto Rico next week for the blanket man
to be dead for the coal man
(sorry, mammy passed away in her sleep, overdose of coal
in the teapot)
to be in hospital unconscious for the rent man
(St Judes ward 4th floor)
to be second-hand
to be second-class
to be no class
to be looked down on
to be walked on
to be pissed on
to be shat on
and other people don’t.