Thursday, January 22, 2009

champion


it was at this point
that i thought i just might
faint.


stepping into that room
i knew it was bad news
from the start.
it was like a boxing ring,
with way too many anxious boxers,
the spectators staring at us
through windows
that lined the room's perimeter.
i pushed my way through
to window #2,
behind which a clump of boxers 
had gathered in what the russians
like to call a "line."
i uttered the classic
"кто последный?"
("who's last?")
the answer i got,
"i'm last, but then there's another guy,
and another lady right here,
and hold my spot,
i'll be right back. . ."
was what i heard a hundred and forty times
in the next hour and a half
as i stood in that same spot,
inching forward every half hour.
every 5 minutes somebody new would come,
"who's last?"
"i'm here, but behind me is one guy,
then another lady, and then another guy."
"okay, well, i'm behind you.
i'll be right back."
and then the other half of the boxers
that showed up
would weasel their way
in front of me with their,
"i was here behind this lady,
i just stepped away. . ."
my heart rate was rising
by the second.
i was watching my clock religiously
like watching the sand slip through
the hourglass,
with each grain of sand falling
my stomach was dropping
a little bit further.
i knew they were going to close 
the window at 12:30:00,
when it was time for their 
hour-and-a-half lunch,
at which point the line
would be dissolved.
i was ready to climb over heads
to get to the front,
full of good excuses
why i should be allowed
in front of everyone
"mine won't take very long. . ."
"i've got to pick up my child
from preschool. . ."
"i've been standing here this whole time. . ."
and if one more person
showed up out of nowhere
stating who they were behind
three people in front of me. . .

12:15 and my heart rate was so high
i was beginning to understand
why the life expectancy in russia
during the soviet period was so low--
it was a world full of these lines--
and i could feel minutes 
dropping off my life expectancy
with each stressful
tick of the clock.
the sound of her stamp
each time it resounded
behind the window
reinstilled a drop of hope in me--
she was done with one more person,
i still might have a chance
to get up there
before that shutter came down
and the "lunch" sign went up. . .
12:25 and i was so close i could
smell the stamp.
her movements were resembling
slow motion.
i was flat out praying.
please let me make it. . .
please let me make it. . .
please let me make it. . .

12:28
and my shaky hands placed 
my visa documents
under the window.
i almost started to breathe again.
but it wasn't until
i heard that stamp
that my blood rushed back to my head
and she handed me back my passport
as the clock struck 12:30
and i walked out of that boxing ring
champion. . .


7 comments:

Amanda said...

Jen
That was one of your best entries. I love reading about your life, mostly I love reading all that you write. You have such a talent for telling a story. I was sure sad to have missed you at Christmas. Maybe some day, soon I hope.
Amanda

Amidei's said...

With description at its best, you brought me into that room with you. My anxiety level grew with yours...my heart began sinking with the countdown. Nice job Jen. I may not live in a far-away land, but you bring that land closer with your story telling.

Amy Asay said...

Whew, I'm all stressed out now! Glad you got the stamp. Was it for REentry? It wasn't in that scary, dark, creaky, cave-like building was it?

Amy said...

I understand.

Sue said...

Wow. You had me on the edge of my seat.

Glad you made it!

greta said...

Just realized I was holding my breath as I read! Glad you made it and didn't have to lose you cool. Lets see if we can't get a couple of those yrs put back on with a cup of tea and a little R&R...

OnGod'sErrand said...

Been there! And all too many times, didn't make it---only the window closes til the next day and you have to start standing in line at 5 am! Crazy----can't you just take a number?