A Long Queue

A Long Queue
Kim Farleigh

A long queue inside the grounds fed the centre court, this after a three-hour wait outside the complex just to get in, roaring crowds on other courts provoking: Should I go to another court? Is this waiting to watch on the centre court worth it?

People sat when the queue was stationary, leaping up when the queue moved.

Rapacity burnt under the queue’s ordered facade, collective mistrust until the next stop reasserted previous positions, other-court applause beckoning me like Sirens.

People left the centre court, saying: “Hell. Hot. Awful. Too crowded.” Perfect. I wanted torment so I could watch tennis.

The queue leapt up, sharp action, then mistrust, then docility.

My smug superiority rose when someone said: “I can’t take this. I’m going.”

Cheeks puffed out; blowing, defeated by unrewarding uncertainty.

He, I smirked, expected a pick nick.

At a curve in the tunnel that led into the centre court the queue broadened, people moving to the right where it was easier to get access to the court, pushing-in blatant, a Scottish, female security officer, with powerful arms, and livid, green eyes, yelling: “Get back into the queue,” the centre court’s standing-room area now visible; the enthralled, packed-in crowd above us resembled locusts gorging on action carcasses, silences broken by applauding, spectators breaking out of watching-wall flesh to sit on the stairs, the security only letting a few people do this at a time, one person’s lolling head finishing up between her legs, her arms wrapped around her raised knees, a woman who had been in the sun, probably without drinks, for hours.

She forced her way back into the fascinated-flesh wall, squeezing into the upright mass of absorbed meat; I felt disappointment’s groaning horn coming through my frozen cavern of hanging, mental ice. I had been hoping she’d leave. I wanted my place at the banquet of glamorous irrelevance.

A middle-aged woman sat on the stairs, somebody saying: “What’s she doing there?”

Age, not location, had inspired this, the woman’s dress reaching her calves, an imitation pearl necklace on her chest, her hat, like an anachronistic bathing cap, pasted to her head by a white, elastic strap, her fragile paleness foreign amid bronzed youth; the woman, trying to rise, gripped an iron rail that lined the stairs.

A security officer asked her if she was alright. Her head fell as her reassuring right hand rose, the security officer not inquiring any further – the match had restarted. He returned to his viewing spot; the woman swayed as if drugged, fighting for uprightness, the absorbed, arms-folded security man gripped with fascination behind packed, tennis-watching flesh, the collapsing woman’s legs spreading apart, her head reaching concrete, people seeing up into her crutch, her thigh cellulite like white custard, her black stockings making a violent contrast with her bone-hued obesity, people giggling, the swaying woman struggling to beat an imaginary count.

The security officer’s head jolted; he charged down the stairs, responsibility having freed him from magnetic professional sport’s off-beat battles. Fighting his way through the queue, he asked people to move, everyone reluctant to give up territory, only making minuscule steps, hoping the man would harass someone else, people avoiding eye contact, each queue member a detached unit of mistrusting selfishness, each unit wanting to win space so someone else would lose, off-court competition as vibrant as it was upon clipped grass, the stout Scot screaming: “Get over!” pushing people out of the way, the people believing that they had a lot to lose, glamorous victory revered in competitive societies, defeat terrible, like spiritual death, the dehydrated lady’s head flopping as people chuckled.

Two Americans at the top of the queue couldn’t stop smiling. Their faces contorted into amused disgust. The view up between those aged legs yielded a humour as ebony as the woman’s black stockings. The Americans had black, wavy hair and olive complexions. They were wearing Ralph Lauren shirts and blue shorts. Sunglasses adorned their heads. One had a gold chain around his neck. They probably holidayed with beautiful women on yachts on Rhode Island. Their idea of suffering would have been hangovers from champagne nights.

One said: “Ten bucks if you mount her.”

Their hands covered their spreading mouths, eyes like polished pearls.

Suffering in others is sometimes funny, especially when you know the person and they’re going to be alright.

The security officer had run off to get help, probably a stretcher, better for him to have been involved in meritorious action rather than to have been feeding upon the contests of rich unknowns.

“Nearly,” the other American said, as the lady managed to avert blacking out by hauling herself up, “down for the count. Will the referee allow this to go on?”

Two young women wearing white clothes and pink shoes, one with permed hair, had also placed their hands over their mouths, other people averting their gazes, the fallen lady, as detached from her surroundings as the crowd was from her, fighting unconsciousness, possibly death; the packed, gripped crowd behind her was watching balls flying over a net, mutual facial expressions turning the crowd into indistinct units of the same species, their penchant for eccentric competition more developed than their sensitivity towards suffering, the permed-haired girl laughing the loudest, staring, with gleeful eyes, at the fallen.

An elderly lady, talking to an Australian, said: “Poor woman. Oh poor woman!”

People became quieter – the irate Scot could deny entry – the elderly woman saying: “Oh, dear, that poor lady. My God, she looks terrible!”

Muffled laughter emerged from the permed-haired woman, the Scot yelling: “Get over!”

“I can’t,” the gleeful-eyed girl said, “I’m stuck. Move everyone back.”

The Scot moved everyone back, and slowly, after much churlish harassment, the queue lengthened, creating space; but the girl didn’t budge, afraid she would lose the place that she had stolen to get.

“Look you,” the Scot said, “you wanted the queue to go back – and now you won’t move. Get over!”

The Scot’s Glaswegian accent added venom to her venomous remarks, the girl exhaling as if she was the victim of a malign conspiracy, not understanding why she had to endure this ridiculous suffering, unable to comprehend that her laughter had caused the Scot’s vindictiveness, the two Americans observing the ground with radiant eyes as the lady under duress collapsed again, the crowd’s cheering ironic, for a player had just taken a set just as the lady had fallen, her legs splayed, the applauding people unaware that a woman was in distress behind them, the Gleeful One’s big eyes now full of harassed astonishment for the unbelievable mistreatment she was receiving from the Scot who glared at her like a wild feline, the elderly lady saying: “Is anyone going to do anything about this?”

People chortled as the woman’s lower-abdomen region got exposed. I thought: What if that lady was my mother? Or she was my girlfriend’s mother?

The Australian, bursting by, deliberately bumped the Gleeful One as she giggled, this giving me a flash of pleasure, her hand coming away from her mouth in surprise, her ringlets of curly follicles shaking like her shaken-up dismay, her sniggering replaced by shock – more inexplicable harassment! – the Australian picking the lady up, pulling her dress down over her legs, getting her upright, letting her head rest on his shoulder. I could hear the woman wincing like a punctured lung.

“Thank you,” she garbled. “I’m okay.”

“Relax,” the Australian said. “A stretcher will be here soon.”

She tried to show she could help herself, but her body was limp, the skin bluish under her eyes, as if she had a disease, her undefeated dignity magnified by the grave faces of those who had delighted in her collapse, disquieting silence echoing through the tunnel’s cavern.

The Australian carried the woman into the shade where the victim’s proximity, white face purple, arrowed repugnance through the humid air, people staring in unnatural directions, the Gleeful One taking one glimpse; and then, distressed at having to face ugliness and not glamour – more harassment! – looked away without bothering to muffle her groan.

People now found concrete aesthetically pleasing. Grey flatness fascinates when you are forced to confront moral inadequacies.

“I hope you lot find this funny now!” the Scot screamed.

Faces mimicked the grim concrete, the thing that most faces were now staring at, no one reacting for fear of being denied access: Diplomacy is smooth selfishness.

The stretcher arrived. The Australian, going down on one knee, lowered the woman onto the stretcher’s orange bed whose sunset hue reflected a peaceful end.

“Well done,” the elderly woman said, patting him on the back.

“Well done to you, too,” I said, the rest silent, except the packed, locust-like crowd feeding on its lust for glamour.

And I still couldn’t wait to join them. The future is too distant to be significant. People aren’t prepared for death. If they were we would love each other in mutual acknowledgement of a shared fate instead of living in a stand-off against inevitability that glamorises irrelevancies.

I was only slightly different from the majority because I acknowledged my shallow motivations.

The next day’s headlines celebrated what ended up as a magnificent, five-set encounter. Millions no doubt would have talked about it. I certainly did.

The woman’s death filled one-paragraph on page twenty-four.

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