A Slight Shift

A Slight Shift
by Anannya Dasgupta
Hans Van Schiffer shifted the weight of his body from the right foot to the left. It was the only perceptible texture in the smooth single action of standing in line to wait for the counter to open. In front of him stood fifty men and behind him many more as the queue coiled twice around the room and then extended outside the wide wooden doors and possibly beyond the iron gates that had let them in. The window of the counter was shut. Some pigeons huddled on the high beams below the corrugated ceilings. The occasional flapping of their wings rang metallic in the frigid air.
Arms folded, head bent, mouth covered by the upturned collar of his trench coat, Hans Van Schiffer stood intently taking stock. He had no idea where he was or why he was standing there. He knew with all the certainty in his being that he had to stand there and wait for the counter to open. About an hour ago, or so he thought, he had noticed that his thinking had gone into a loop. He would become aware of the soreness in his legs that he relieved with an imperceptible shifting of weight between his feet; in the process, he would ask himself what he was doing there; he would find no answer except a soothing conviction that he had to be there, till he became aware of the pain again and the enquiry, in what was, evidently, a very brief window in time.
Since the first awareness of the pattern, with every inevitable return, he found himself lingering a little longer in the soreness of his legs till he decided not to relieve it at all. Standing absolutely still on both legs, he let the shrill atrophy rise from his legs to his lower back and then burn its way up his spine. Arms folded, hands squeezed tightly, teeth grit inside his mouth that was hidden by his upturned collar, he stood waiting. A thin line of sweat dribbled down the side of his face. The roots of his hair were on fire. Hans Van Schiffer asked again why he was there; the answer must have been too faint to hear because he raised his head, let his arms drop, stepped out of the queue and started walking towards the door. A fluff of floating pigeon down settled on his shoulder as he stepped outside.

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