Monday, April 27, 2009

Musings and Queues

It was a usual busy Tuesday outside the TC SBI ATM at 4 pm. There was a long queue outside the ATM so she decided to study the people around her. She was wearing a plain blue kurta with blue denims and a pair of chappals. The street was full of students. Some of them were strolling, some were just standing in a group chatting and laughing loudly, some were rushing to some place they had to be, and some were talking on their cell phones. A few localites could be seen walking by while some were standing outside shops and eating joints yawning or stretching. There was a group of local men near the paan shop, chatting with the paan shop owner. It was all usual activity. The street was full of normal street sounds of running autos, cars, buses, people talking, shouting…

Suddenly she saw a man sitting on a couple of stairs right next to the ATM. He seemed to be a localite. He must have been in his mid 30s. He was wearing a slightly dirty off-white shirt and a pair of grey trousers. His shirt was not tucked in and his socks could be seen which were brown in colour. She noticed his shoes, they were black formal shoes covered in dust. It looked like he had not shaved since the last couple of days. He was simply sitting there looking around with his hands resting on his legs. His face was expressionless. Suddenly he seemed a little surprised and felt his breast pocket for something and fished out a cell phone. His surprise turned into a slight confusion. He put the phone to his ear but did not say anything. After a couple of seconds he dialed something on his phone and put it back to his ear and suddenly broke into laughter.

Now there were about four people in front of her in the queue. She looked around to find a new subject. She turned and saw a boy and a girl standing right outside Dollops. The girl was wearing a white knee-length skirt and a pink top. She had long curly hair. The boy was clad in a pair of blue denims and a grey tee. They seemed to be having a very serious heated discussion. What they were saying could not be heard but their expressions spoke volumes. The girl was questioning him with her eyebrows raised and was moving her hands around in the air as if trying to explain her point. The boy kept running his hand through his hair and kept trying to speak but she didn’t let him. He had an expression of defeat and it seemed like nothing he could say would ever change anything. He suddenly grabbed her shoulders and shook her as if to calm her down. She did stop for a second and then suddenly turned and left, leaving him behind with his hands still in mid-air.

Now there were two people in front of her in the queue. She bit her lip and waited impatiently for her turn to come. She saw a group of giggling young girls pass by and she caught a few words of what they were talking about. She heard words like ‘party tonight’, ‘he is going to be there’. She smiled to herself at this.

Finally she was inside the ATM, she turned to see a long queue waiting behind her and a ghost of a smile appeared on her lips. She slid her card in, typed in her password and thought that her work was almost done but suddenly the machine said that it was unable to process the request at the moment and she looked heavenwards with a frustrated look on her face and clenched fists. She walked out with irritation written all over her face. The girl standing right behind her asked her if the machine was not working and she replied,’ is it ever!?’ and walked past without another glance at the ATM. She looked left and right and crossed the street to where the auto-stand was situated and hired an auto to take her to another ATM.

She got off in front of the KC SBI ATM and again stood in a queue of eight people ahead of her. On her left was the basketball court where five boys were throwing baskets. They were all wearing the sports gear. They all seemed to be teenagers. On her right was the caretaker’s office where a few girls were standing and looking in the direction of the office and grumbling. They seemed quite upset and annoyed. This reminded her of her own days in the quarters when she was a regular visitor of the office with some or the other complaint. Sometimes it was the mesh on the windows and suddenly she pictured her roommate and herself terrified due to the insects that would fly in anytime they wished, sometimes it was the broken down geezer and she thought about the number of mornings when they had gotten up feeling cold only to realize that they wouldn’t be getting any hot water that day while at times it was either the drinking water, being parched for days together at times, came to her mind or the absence of security guards which made her shiver slightly at the thought of those sleepless nights feeling unsafe and insecure. The memories brought a hopeless smile to her lips like some things never change.

She sighed and stood on her tip toes to see who was inside the ATM. She saw three giggling young girls and rolled her eyes. She took her cell phone out of her pocket and saw the time. It was four-thirty already. She started fidgeting with her cell phone, tapping it on the palm of one hand with the other one. Three more people to go and there were already people standing behind her in the queue. She turned to look at them and saw five students, two boys and three girls. One girl was talking over the phone with her hand covering her mouth. She turned back to look in front, covering a yawn, and saw one person coming out of the ATM. He looked unhappy and announced that the machine had reached the daily limit of withdrawal. All the students standing in the queue groaned and turned to leave and she stood there for two seconds longer and decided that it just wasn’t her day! She left, shaking her head.

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