Number 88! The voice, booming and ominous, bounced around the crowded office space. My back against the wall, in more ways than one, and I stared at my little scrap of paper once again. As if by some miracle it had changed in the last five minutes:

6

Nope, still the same.

No one ever chooses to spend a day off at the motor vehicle office and certainly no one with any sense would choose to do this on that last working day of the month. It is a Purgatory, although something tells me Hell's foyer has shorter waiting times.

I had arrived at 9:23, armed with coffee and a newspaper. Both had been extinguished an hour and a half ago. And yet still I wait. Forced to stand out of both a fear of the personal hygiene of certain factory workers and respect for the elderly in the crowd. I listened to the anguished cry of numerous taxpayers who were turned away from the not exactly pearly gates because of insufficient paperwork and/or inadequate funds.

The older folks seated in front of me crumpled their papers in terror as another of their numbers left without their stickers-shoulder slumped in self defeat.

"There goes Fred, damn, second day in a row they tossed him out..."

Then, suddenly, there she was. Smart looking lady from the office supply store down the block. Short dark hair cut above her ears and wire rims around bright blue eyes. A business suit with a skirt too short for most-perfect for her. YOW . She squints a little in the subdued light then waves in my direction. She recognizes me from a few (unnecessary) visits to her shop, and I wave in return. Me, with no seat to offer her. Damn. She passes around the aimless in the front of the rows of chairs and heads over to the number machine. She pulls out her paper and looks up at the machine with the dreaded red numbers. I can almost hear the arrrggh! across the room. She closed her eyes and I can see her crumble the paper in her hand as she headed toward my wall.

Can you believe this? I have 30 minutes for lunch and I will never make this. I am such an idiot to put this off....My name is Lynn by the way. How long have you been waiting...

I just smile, gave her my name and asked her what her number is while putting out an open hand. She uncrumbled her paper- the number 22 is barely visible.

Wanna trade? I asked

I placed my scrap in her hand as the harpy with blue hair screamed out 99! in a voice that peeled still more paint off the wall.

Are you sure?

She asked me this, in a voice both plaintive and sweet. I know she was looking for sympathy. I also know she had found it. Her eyes sparkled in a manner not unlike fine jewelery. The whole time she was trying to talk me out of it I noticed that she didn't let go of my paper. No dummy this one.

"I'm sure," I said. "My day off"-pointing to my ratty Lions t shirt and jeans. "It's fine."

She handed me her number and I smiled to myself, knowing she owed me, at least briefly.

Maybe it's something. We'll find out soon. She wrote her phone number on the back of little number 22 before she left. I hid it from the counter lady when she finally called on me- at 12:36.

All good things come to he who waits

So many people are so closely pressed in. They all leave their mark upon her. Impressions on her shell.

"Hello Beauty. You look good today." Feather light touch softly tickles.

"I told her, I did. That bitch. Called her a slut to her face, the little whore. She did it to herself. You got nothing to be ashamed of..." She winces at the abrasion to another in her name. She feels the cut as well, sees the blood drops pooling.

"It's good to see you smile. Be happy, K?" Brief slides of fingers along palm, reassuring.

"YOU back down. You got a problem? Tough." She doesn't know him anymore. Sunburn slap upon her arm.

"I'll take care of you. Come live with me when he's gone. I'll pay rent, feed you. I'm in need of a good woman." She hears the implied, knows what is entailed. Skin crawls as snake slithers alongside, cold.

"Ain't safe for a woman alone, I'm going to buy you a knife to hide between those pretty titties of yours and you will wear it, understand?" Inward cringe at crudeness, outward calm, forced. Hairs standing on end, unnoticed. Nails curled in palm, biting. Fight or flight.

"Your daughter is the best thing that ever happened to mine. One of the few decent ones. You've raised her well. You should be proud. We're going to miss you both..." Warm press of hand against back, squeeze of arms around shoulders, pleased flush of skin.

"Dju know what? Ju a good one. Ju always have time for me. Always. These others so nose up, know what I mean? But ju, so nice. Don't lose that. Ju a good one..." Hearty hug and smile. Strong clasp of hands, down to earth, real. Swirls imbedded.

"She's blind" he says by way of explanation of his being in the lady's room next to the waiflike woman with the big dark glasses washing her hands. "Good journey" the woman says as they leave. "What was that?" the old woman pipes up. "She said, good journey, dear" ... "Oh, that was nice" the woman smiles into space as he presses his hand into the small of her back, leading her to the service waiting area. The girl touches her own back feeling the obvious warmth of the couple vicariously.

"You've been through enough, ma'am. No charge. Drive safely" Pat on shoulder, sympathetic. She receives this touch with mixed feelings.

"You look wonderful. You've lost weight, haven't you? I'm going to miss your help and honest advice. Take care of yourself. God be with you" Natalie presses her cheek up against the woman's, hands on shoulder blades. She is in awe, speechless, still feels the soft cheek and warmth of relative stranger.

FAMILY NEEDS FUNDS - FOOD - GAS, STRANDED

A big cardboard sign held up high in the hands of a middle aged weary hispanic man. Old beat up station wagon loaded with clothes and two kids is parked in a dirt turn around by the side of the road. A girlchild, about 10, with a dirty face, dark eyes and windblown knotted hair, is smiling, in the face of desperation. She feels the tickle of young fingers as she drops coins into outstretched grubby paw. "Gracias, senorita" the child says as she bends down quickly to pluck an errant wildflower from the hot sand to offer her. "For you"

"Why worry?" he says "The Lord will take care of it" Sparkling eyes, broad smile, complete conviction in the veracity of his statement. "All will balance as it should, relax and enjoy life" Solid press of palm against palm, sure grip as if to transfer firm belief via fingerprints.

She is surrounded by strangers with public fingerprints, still waiting to be surrounded by familiar with private ones.

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