Roger: Waiting and Waste
Roger had already been to the hand sanitizer three times. The first time had been a force of habit, as he passed through the door and saw the dispenser protruding from the wall. The second time had been his response to a particularly violent cough from the person sitting beside him. And the third had merely been for something to do.
Roger didn’t understand why some people positioned themselves so close to other disinterested (and might he add, healthy!) parties. After choosing an appropriately isolated chair, Roger had initially congratulated himself on his aloneness. But these accolades were short-lived. A stocky man who was hacking incessantly decided it would be perfectly fine for him to sit right next to Roger. He did this even though there was a whole row of empty and unblemished chairs stretching out against the wall. Although Roger attempted to indicate this with his eyes, the stocky man remained in a phlegm-filled daze of obliviousness. Roger then turned his gaze with a hopeful intensity to the bin of paper masks on the counter. Alas, to no avail. When Roger had made the journey to the dispenser yet again, he returned by another way, to a different corner of the room.
The doctor’s office was becoming increasingly busy and the second hand on Roger’s watch twitched with increasing desperation. Five, ten, twenty minutes late. Coughing, sneezing, muffled breathing, clicking of heels on linoleum floors and of uncut fingernails on keyboards as the secretaries listened and dutifully noted down symptoms. A baby’s wail from somewhere close by. Then there was the milling of those women and men in white coats. They were always milling but never looking and would not have seen that Roger was brimming with the injustice of it all and mourning wasted time.
The baby cried again. This time Roger hazarded a glance. There was something in the cry that struck him, though he wasn’t sure what it was. It wasn’t a long drawn-out cry, a demand or an expression of general discontent. That is, it might have been either of those things, but Roger did not hear them in it. He heard instead something pitiful and small and unmistakably human.
Lying in her carrier, the baby stretched out her arms, unshed tears sparkling from inside her blue eyes; already-shed tears were sprinkled around them. She wanted only to be held, only to be loved, to be reminded that she was not alone.
Her mother was older, or might have looked so from the deep indentations around her similarly blue eyes. However, Roger had never been extraordinarily perceptive when it came to age. The mother was rummaging around in her bag for something and whatever it was she could not find.
Venturing a smile at the baby, Roger felt suddenly self-conscious and checked to make sure there were no other eyes that were on him. Convinced of his aloneness, he smiled again and was less alone when the baby smiled back. The stiff skin around his eyes tightened.
When the mother spoke, hair falling over her eyes and shielding her vision, the baby turned her face towards her and it became radiant. “I’m here,” she said. “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.”
“Are you looking for something?” Roger asked, against his better judgement.
The woman shoved her hair away from her face, alarmed. “Oh, nothing.”
Roger nodded and looked away, embarrassed. From the corner of his eye he could see the baby was looking at him again, as if expectantly.
“Only for a bottle,” the mother said, to his surprise. “That’s what I was…”
“For the baby?”
“For me, actually. A water bottle. I thought I had brought one. I guess I forgot.”
“It’s alright.” And then to the baby: “It’s fine.”
The waiting room had only grown fuller, with an exponential increase in the amount of waiting. Roger had probably been there longer than anyone, but he no longer knew how long. The hand on the watch seemed to have been muted. Abruptly he stood up, walked down that linoleum path, between the chairs, past the Purell dispenser and into the non-sterile air. Next door was a small store with several people in line and Roger waited until he could place the water bottle on the counter and slide the change across.
When he returned to the office, he handed her the bottle. Not knowing what to say (or so it seemed), she picked up the baby and looked at Roger with confused but profound gratitude in her eyes. To escape his discomfort, Roger got up and approached the counter.
“You missed your appointment,” the secretary said in a clipped tone, upon hearing his name.
“But I’ve been here all this time.”
“You weren’t here when we called you,” she pointed out, with irrefutable logic. “Well, you’ll have to wait another ten minutes or so until they can take you.”
Submitting to this sentence, he sat down and spent his time looking. Yet now he looked rapturously, as a man looks when he has found waste transformed into something of infinitely more value.
At last a man in a white coat came out and said “Roger” without looking at him (perhaps he did not know who Roger was).
“Here,” Roger replied, and he followed him through the maze of white hallways where efficiency was vital and rarely achieved.