I was standing in line one day wondering how long I had been standing in line. It had occured to me that it had been quite a long time, but I couldn't exactly remember how long. It didn't much matter, I had no where else to be, but I had grown bored, there was nothing much to think about, and I began to wonder how long I had been standing in line. It was certainly more than a month. Maybe it had been a few months. I could figure it out. All it would take were some simple calculations.
It was warm inside the building, yet it had been cold outside when I began my line standing. Because of this, I was wearing a fairly thick overcoat, which made it even warmer inside. There wasn't anywhere to set the coat either, so I just stood there and basked in my own sweat. There were hundreds of people in front of me, and even more behind, so I knew at the very least that I was making progess. There were no windows in the building, and I had lost sight of the door, so I had no idea what time of day it was outside, or even whether it was winter or spring or any season at all.
Those running the line neglected to feed anyone. As a result, many people in line died of starvation or thirst, thus making the line much shorter. I had the forsight to bring packages of food with me, as well as some jugs of water. I held all of this in a large rucksack that was now resting by my knees. The line wasn't moving at the moment, there was probably some sort of hold up near the front, so there was no need to put the pack on my back.
However long I had been standing in line, I didn't have any idea going into it that it would take as long as it was. Because of this, I was running dangerously low on food and water. In fact, this had become a major concern of mine long ago, though I couldn't really think of how long. After only a few weeks in line, I noticed I was close to running out of food. Water was even more of a problem. At first this wasn't so, because while the line was outside, it would rain everyday, and I would simply collect water from the sky and drink it. I had thought, actually, that all of the line was outside, and I had no idea how much waiting there would be once I came to the inside of the building. Thus, I had only packed enough food for the amount of time it would take to get inside the building. Luckily, I had overestimated somewhat, but that wasn't going to be enough. From the way things looked, the portion of the line that was outside was at the most only 1/3 of the entire waiting distance. Now, I was inside, and water was as much of a problem as food.
Some days before I began wondering how long I had been standing in line, a man in front of me fainted. He had a rucksack of his own, and it was still full of food and water. I split what he had with the person who was standing in line in front of the main who fainted. I was a bit curious as to why he fainted, since he had enough food and water to last him at least another two weeks. But sleep was another problem in the line. Many people couldn't help but fall asleep, and when they did, they lost their place in line, and they lost anything they carried with them. I even began to hear rumors, though I was sure they were untrue, that further up the line, those who fell asleep were promptly eaten by those around them.
I was prepared for the sleeping problem before I came to stand in line. I had taught myself how to sleep with one eye open, and to sleep while standing up. I had trained myself to go long periods without sleep. In fact, I was well prepared in this area, and even after weeks, months of standing in line, I wasn't at all tired. Others were. I could see them shake and waver. And then there was the man in front of me who fainted. I was certain it was due to exhaustion, since his food supplies were still adequate. The man now infront of me, whom I had split the fainting man's food and water with, also looked weary, as did an older woman directly behind me. I quietly hoped they soon too would faint, especially the woman behind me. She carried with her a large chest on wheels that she dragged through the line. Every day she would open it up and make herself a small meal. She had at least a years worth of food in the chest. Though the sound of her dragging that chest had grown to annoy me like nothing else. One wheel squeeked, and the chest thudded across the ground and moaned and squelled. She had been behind me the entire time, never faltered, never looked as if she were about to give up and fall out of line. But recently, she had began to blink excessively, nod her head towards the ground then look up with alarmed and suspicious glances. She would fall asleep soon.
A young, attractive woman with black hair and black glasses stood behind the old woman with the chest, and we gave each other knowing glances. There had been some fights in line, I had heard them, people fighting over the remains of those who had fainted or fallen asleep. I had not yet taken part in any of these fight, since it was not benifitial to do so. Those who ran the line did not stop such fights, in fact, they did nothing, they did not moniter the goings-on in the line at all. But fighting almost always meant falling out of line and losing your place. The intelligent people knew this, and the girl with the black glasses knew this, as did I and the man who was now infront of me. It was always far wiser to just split the food, though I did think it may be possible to bluff someone, to trick them into thinking you would not cause a fight, then threaten to cause one when the time came in order to get all the food. This way, the other person, in order to not lose their place in line, might just give in and let you have all of the food or water. But I wasn't willing to risk this.
The line moved a bit, as my mind continued to wonder about how long I had been waiting. I forgot about this question as I began to move forward. It was always a thrill to move forward. In the beginning, standing still had been horrible. Many people lost it right at the start, they couldn't stand the frustration of standing and not moving anywhere for hours, even days. This boredom, this frustration which caused you to want to just run away, back home, just to move your legs, was, at first, the worst part of the line. And if you weren't tempted to just run off, you were tempted to sit down, which inevitablely led to falling asleep. But the standing still I got used to. It ceased being frustrating and became commonplace and normal. It was the time I ate, let my mind wander, even talked with those around me in line a bit, though not much, since getting attached to anyone in line wasn't really a good thing to do. But, while standing still grew commonplace, moving never ceased to be a thrill. Each step forward was immense progress. It made up for the hours and days spent motionless. So, as I moved, all my thoughts went away, and I smiled at the progress I was making. I passed over nine people who had either died or passed out as I moved forward. They had all been stripped of all their belongings. I noticed people had even begun to take their clothes, which I did not understand and could see little purpose for. Were we going to go back outside? Was it going to get very cold? Maybe people were just growing to states of frenzied panic. But there was no reason to panic. We were moving forward. We were making progess.
The old woman's chest clugged along behind me. It clicked on all the small cracks in the floor, and squeeked rythmically, keeping time to our walk and sending a high pitched wail into the air. The man infront of me, who had become a relatively nice person to chat with, turned and looked at me, smiling. He knew as well we were making progress. But I could see weariness in his eyes. He would pass out soon. And the old woman had began breathing heavily and coughing. She wouldn't last long either. After a particularly violent bit of coughing, I looked back at the young woman with the glasses. She smiled at me. She wasn't tired at all, though the sack strapped to her back looked light and empty. I hoped both for her sake and mine the old woman would exit the line, in one way or another, soon. I then realized she may volentarily just pick up and go, taking her chest with her, and leaving us without any of the food we were now almost expecting. This worried me for a moment, but the ground moving under my feet returned to my consciousness. I was moving. And i had been moving for nearly five minutes. Then it stopped again. I knew it probably wouldn't start up again for at least another six or seven hours.
I had waited in line outside for about a month and a half. It was easy to keep track of time there, where the sun came out once in a while and showed us light in the sky. I was also making an effort to keep track of time. I stopped doing this after about two weeks inside. That had been a long time ago. I had been standing in line at least two months. It was probably more than that. The food I had collected from the man who had last fainted in front of me was nearly gone, and there was enough of it to last me a week. As I thought about this, I realized I was at a particularly unfortunate spot in line, since not many people directly infront or behind me had fainted or died of starvation or thirst. It happened often, but only once had it happened in a way that directly effected me. Of course, anytime someone infront of me dropped out of the line, it was good for me.
The man infront of me began speaking to me. He was trying to keep himself awake. I smiled and didn't say much in response. I wanted him to fall asleep. He then gave me a suspicious look when I remained mostly silent. I worried slightly that he would figure out I wanted him to fall asleep, but this wasn't really anything to worry about. There wasn't much he could do about it, even if I told him right to his face that I wanted him to fall asleep. I didn't do this though, but he still turned away from me and began talking to the man infront of him. I looked back at the woman with the glasses. I couldn't even see the enterance to the building anymore. It had been a while since I had seen it.
The old woman coughed and began to open her chest. While she bent over it, struggling with the latch that held it shut, the woman with the glasses smiled at me, and took a small knife out of her pocket. I noticed, really for the first time, how pale and thin she was. She hadn't taken food out of her sack in some time. It was probably empty. I looked at her curiously, and before I could even smile back, she stabbed the old woman in the back of the head. The only shriek there was came from the wheel of the chest that skidded across the ground slightly as the body toppled onto it. Blood bubbled up around the knife, and the woman with the glass pushed the body away and out of line. She went to open up the chest, and I went to help. We unlatched it and saw there was still months worth of a food inside. The woman with the glasses began pulling food out and putting it into her sack. I realized, as I saw this chest, that it probably weighed, by itself, almost as much as the old woman herself. I was amazed she had lasted as long as she did. I joined the young woman in putting food in my sack, and after it was all split up and fit into our respective sacks, we pushed the chest out of line, and had a small meal.
My mind went back to thinking about how long I had been standing in line. I realized this didn't matter much. I was probably close to the front, and once I arrived at the very front, everything would be just fine. It bothered me slightly that I had forgotten why I was standing in line, but that barely mattered. Each time it moved, we all made progress forward, each step we took we were closer to the end. And, once I was at the end of the line, everything would be sorted out, everything would be just perfect. That was, of course, unless I filled out one of the forms incorrectly. But I rarely did that.
bryan e. ©2003