As part of my duties as assistant editor at Hobby Farms magazine, I am responsible for making weekly to semi-weekly runs to the local post office to pick up mail and send out back issues of the magazines, etc., which means that I have to frequently wait in line. Because I’m perpetually analyzing my surroundings, I’ve come in contact with quite a few characters in my time at the post office. These are their stories.
She’s the quickest worker they have: middle-aged, but always at the top of her game, dark hair pulled back into a loose ponytail with a 90s-style scrunchie. She can prepare a package for delivery in mere seconds, her slightly weathered hands moving so quickly that they seem a blur in the harsh lighting, shaking the computer’s touch screen with a flitting intensity. Her whole body is tense, brimming with an inexhaustible energy that manifests only through her quick, accented speech and rapid movement. Eye contact is beneath her—if she spent time looking at your face, she would add a few seconds to her average interaction time. That’s not to say she’s unfriendly or standoffish; rather, she graces you with the occasional thin smile or peeks at you from beneath her bangs while she puts a sticker on your parcel, and she always uses an appropriate honorific to address you: “Hello, sir. How may I help you today?”
These are the rare moments when you can see her almond-shaped eyes clearly—their dark, vivid brown, flecked with the barest hint of green shimmers, even in the glare of the florescent lights. But look quickly: when your to-be-mailed package hits the counter between you, it’s all business.
As she winds down her portion of your transaction, while she’s waiting for you to pull out your wallet or finish tapping away at the credit card scanner, she doesn’t remain idle: she’s cutting stamps or prepping other letters or reorganizing her piles of mail. Time is, as they say, money. She must think you move at a snail’s pace.
After several interactions, which prove to her that you can handle basic postal tasks and human interaction, her demeanor changes. She seems to visibly relax when you approach, her small, rigid shoulders slumping slightly, always accompanied by the tiniest of sighs—you’re a customer she can trust. She doesn’t have to guard herself against what is surely a frustrating daily onslaught of idiocy and misunderstanding for the next two minutes; instead, she can enter this transaction with a clear and open mind, and perhaps most importantly, relaxed shoulders.
After several more of these interactions, she begins to notice that the packages you’re mailing are always stamped with the same address label. “Hobby Farms, eh? You don’t look like farmer,” she says quickly, adding a small giggle at the end and politely covering her mouth. Her accent is thicker, more noticeable in these unpracticed English phrases, and she glances around worriedly after she finishes speaking. It almost seems like she’s having fun.
Now, she knows you by sight—you’ve become “Mr. Hobby Farm”—and you’ve been given access into an exclusive club: you get a customized greeting when you approach her counter, in addition to occasional outside conversation (just small talk; she has a speedy reputation to uphold, after all) and continued eye contact. Best of all is the fact that you are rewarded with a true smile, teeth and all, at the end of your interaction. It seems like you’ve achieved some rare milestone.
But as you leave, you hear her start the practiced, endless transaction cycle with the customer behind you, the gentleman who was tapping both his hand and his foot expectantly as you wished her a good day, and his initial response is a snappy, strained directive, accompanied by a heaved sigh.
You can see her shoulders tightening in your mind as you close the door behind you, and you’re sure she’s looking straight down at the gentleman’s parcel, nut-brown eyes glittering quietly, unseen behind her hair as one lightning-quick hand scuttles across the computer’s touch screen, not even a ghost of that thin smile crossing her lips.