Here's a short story I wrote a while back. Maybe someone will enjoy it!
Paying Two Phone Bills (one a little late)
A visit to the post office in Warsaw is something which always fills me with dread. Once one has entered the grey mausoleum, taking time to decide which queue to join and then position oneself either in a) the shortest queue, or b) the queue which appears to contain the least number of difficult looking people. Believe me, this will be the most important decision you will make all day. Now our journey may begin!
In my bag I have two phone bills, one has been folded numerous times and is beginning to pick up dirty grey marks along the creases, the grey marks look like smudged graphite from a pencil but as I have no pencil in my bag I believe it makes most sense to just call it dirt, this bill has lived in two different bags over the last month therefore the graphite theory may still be applicable. The first bag was a rather nice padded mini rucksack/laptop carrier made of some kind of hybrid nylon which can withstand most conditions but which I suspect would melt rather rapidly if one put a match to it or idly dropped a cigarette on it. The other bag is my bag. The only interesting thing about my bag is the little sewn on label which is positioned slap bang in the middle of the front flap, it says "Intermediate Cold Weather Flying Wear, Charles Chevignon Inc. Replica Mil Specs, Issue 57.22.17. Men's type Serial AG 29/B", there is also a small orange diamond shape with the number 57 printed in black inside it. To me this would imply that I am in posession of some kind of flying wear, maybe a goatskin A2 or perhaps one of those Battle of Britain type jackets with a dead sheep for a collar and now favoured by the Morgan driving set, maybe one those American nylon jobs with the orange lining, de rigeur for the gay skinhead around town. Well no, my bag is none of these things, quite simply it is a bag which looks no different to any other record/DJ/bike courier bag although I would not be surprised if my bag was suffering from some form of identity crisis!
Today the Post Office looks surprisingly empty, it is wrong to believe that this is a good sign, in general this fact has no bearing on the amount of time which will be spent in the building. I decide to join a short queue in which there are only two women, one of whom is already at the window. She is in her mid fifties, has one of those 'bulky' shapes, is wearing a white semi-transparent blouse and therefore I can see a white bra, possibly too small for her as the bottom hook is undone and there is a little roll of fat under the material, to the right side of the left bra strap I notice a small very dark mole, the kind of thing that would usually be on the face of this age group of Polish woman, I haven't seen her face yet so this is still a possibility. She is also wearing a black skirt with a pink and red flower pattern, it looks as if at some point it may well have been wrapped round the head and shoulders of a very old Ukrainian ‘babcia’ and recently modified for the slightly more stylish Polski market, move it off someone's head and wrap it round someone's butt instead. White sandals, painted red toenails and hard looking skin around the heel. Under the sandal strap, on the left foot only, a band of rather raw skin, not dissimilar to the colour of the toenail lacquer. Finally the hair, I don't really know what to say about the hair, maybe that's why I've left it until last! it's that sort of very practical, unstyled but short hair, good with big ear-rings but not very good on women with thick hair as the neckline looks very manly and rough. If this description still leaves you bewildered then think about the type of woman who works in the cheap milk bars around town.
She has three packages to send, all the same size, all are padded envelopes. One is going to somewhere in France, one to the States and the last one within Poland. She looks round at the woman behind when she says France and The States but not when she says Poland (from this point on 'woman behind' shall be referred to as mid sixties woman) . Based on the size and shape of the packages I think that she is probably sending videotapes, perhaps wedding videos. Having sat through a Polish wedding recently and then been subjected to the recorded version the following day (a full E240), then if my guess that the packages contain wedding videos is correct then I feel nothing but sympathy for the poor ****s in France and The States when this interesting looking package drops through their letterboxes, or in the case of the package to America, is left in one of those mailboxes that resembles a miniature aircraft hangar and where the mail-man lifts the little red plastic flag, the original ‘you've Got Mail!” If our friend in The States is very lucky the video may arrive on exactly the same day as a package from that crazy guy who has been blowing up people's mailboxes with small incendiary devices. It would be nice if the recipient realised how much of a favour the crazy guy had done them!
The process of posting the three packages starts drifting into the fifteen minute zone and as I scan round the Post Office for something interesting to look at I notice a rather attractive girl sitting on one of the polished stone cubes which line one wall of the building, there are also stone benches which actually look like benches, probably so that old people can figure out that they can sit on these stone blocks. Anyway, the girl has her hair tied back and is leaning forward and writing on a block of paper, her legs are quite far apart, she is wearing jeans and footwear resembling sophisticated cowboy boots with a heel, the paper is covering her crotch area, her top is low cut and her small right breast is clearly visible. I think back to a picture I saw in Penthouse magazine about 20 years ago, it was a picture of a woman playing a cello, she had tightly tied back black hair and was wearing black stockings and black high heels, next to her was a Louis XIV style table on which was a gold lamp and some nonchalantly placed sheets of music. Next to the girl in the Post Office there were more polished stone blocks plus a few proof of posting forms and some air-mail stickers.
Mid fifties woman, who incidentally looked as if her mission was complete, turns back suddenly in a stiff but fast pirouette movement, think elephant in a tutu, narrowly avoiding mid sixties woman who was moving towards the window, think Red Arrows manoeuvre performed by two Hercules transport planes. In a rather strange slightly desperate and slightly ‘could have been a contender’ voice asks for fifty 1zl stamps. Girl at desk ignores this request as she has decided to hand frank an enormous pile of letters, as yet I have not seen the girl at the desk, I only see a hand going up and down, up and down rapidly. It looks as if she is giving the invisible man a quick hand job, maybe mid fifties woman thinks the same as she appears to be spellbound by the whole hand franking operation. Finally the invisible man reaches orgasm. There is a bit of shuffling, the sound of perforations being torn and hey presto, fifty stamps featuring that little wooden house appear through the window. I like the little wooden house hidden amongst those particularily lurid green trees, I like the fact that Chopin may have been born there, Pilsudski may have trimmed his moustache there, Witkacy may have shot himself in the ass there or Walesa may have drunk his first vodka and lost his virginity there. That house could hold the key to half of Polish history. Then again it may not even exist.
The stamps are folded rather rapidly and placed in a bag, mid fifties woman now ceases to be part of this story.
As mid sixties woman steps up to the window I also move forward, this is the first time I see the woman behind the window, previously she has been shielded by various stickers and small leaflets pasted to the glass, things like 'You can send letters from here!', 'Phone Cards Available'. The phone cards advertisement features a rather trendy looking Polish teenager showing his crappy little mobile phone to two Rastamen on a tropical beach. The Rastamen are grinning but I suspect they are thinking "You stupid little prick". The Polish boy is also grinning in that charming Polski "I'm better than you AND I have a VERY modern toy" way. There is, of course, one thing the Rastas know which our young friend doesn't. Poor kid!
The girl behind the window is perfect. She looks as if she may have been in 'Funeral in Berlin', an East German agent, seducer of Harry Palmer. She is wearing a tight red sweater, her hair is very blond, tied back, side parting at the front and lying very flat against her forehead. She has a fine frowning expression on her face and a look which implies that something smells bad around here. The whole look says "it's tiring being as important as I am". In a few years time I think our friend the teenager will be the male equivalent of her.
I lose concentration for a moment and miss what mid sixties woman asks for. I worry that I may have missed something of great importance but realise that I have been distracted by something which I glanced at earlier and avoided as it should not be there. Among the small posters and stickers in the window there is a packet containing a pair of tights. It is taped to the glass and has a small brown piece of paper next to it on which is scrawled 4zl. "Madam, I would like to pay these bills, post these letters, weigh this parcel, deposit some cash, buy a phone card, reserve a booth to make an international phone call, oh! and I almost forgot, a pair of monkey **** brown coloured tights please!".
Four birthday or greetings cards are laid out in a row in front of mid sixties woman, she studies each one very carefully, she has the first finger of her left hand placed against her bottom lip and the first finger of her right hand hovers over the cards. There seems to be so much thought going into this that I start to feel somewhat nervous, suddenly the finger of the right hand taps on one of the cards ("I...I can't be 100% sure officer but I think it was this one!"), problem solved, the other three cards are quickly scooped up and vanish behind the glass. There is a moment of hesitancy and in the split second that I feel this I fall into a real panic, cold sweat, very fast cold sweat, are we about to step into the oh so familiar territory of the old lady who has suddenly changed her mind and is about to launch into an enormous, complicated analysis of why she just ain't ****in’ sure anymore and could she see the other cards again and perhaps there are some other designs in the back room which you may be so kind as to seek out, perhaps a sniffer dog could find some, maybe they could be sent by express tram from another post office, I was looking for a card just like the one in 'The Pianist', when Szpilman was on his hands and knees sorting through other peoples things, on the floor their was a card, I want one like that, you must remember it, it was about one and a half hours into the picture, didn't you see it, now that was a card, perhaps you have something similar, you know, it was in the film. all this goes rushing through my brain in a matter of seconds. I know it's going to happen. I close my eyes, I feel breathless. I open my eyes and she's gone, really gone, nowhere in sight. Oh **** it's my turn!