Sarah had just walked in the door, hooked her keys in the cornflower blue key cupboard and kicked off her sensible office shoes when her twelve year old daughter told her she wanted to kill herself. Sarah stood there, dumbstruck. When she finally found her voice she just asked herself the same useless questions, over and over. What had she done wrong? Was she a terrible parent? A terrible person? And what to do? She could never reveal to the world how badly she’d failed as a human being. But the burden was too great to bear alone. What she could never tell those closest to her heart, she unburdened onto strangers found through support websites. Others were suffering the same hell as her. The Internet could never be a replacement for real human connection, as some feared, but it formed a bridge. The Internet wasn’t a way to avoid life anymore, but an essential life support. This critical resource shouldn’t be claimed by those with money and power to be another weapon in their arsenal. That was why she had joined the queue.
Georgia’s thick dark braid was the umbilical cord to her soul. Her mother insisted she sported a cropped bob throughout her childhood because it was ‘practical’. So as soon as Georgia gained agency over such important life decisions as her own hair cuts, she refused to let a hairdresser near her again. Now it reached in a cobra-like rope to the small of her back. Its shedding clogged the vacuum cleaner and left spidery hairballs on her shower sponge, but that was a small price to pay for the source of all her power. It wasn’t glossy, but thick and honest. She also sprouted wiry hair on her legs and forearms, and black tufts on her toes and fingers, but that hair did not take the role of mentor, but nemesis. And of course, the perpetual war with her upper lip. How could one thing be so adored and another almost identical be so disdained? ‘Disgusting’ vermin versus ‘lovely’ nature. Rats versus foxes. She betrayed her braid’s essence every time she plucked, epilated and shaved. It chastised her for bowing to the erratic and highly specific conditioning of her time. But knowing what something was didn’t free you from its control, as you might think naming your enemy might. Being in the queue made her feel like she grasped the nettle.
Franklin’s body was coming to its end, and was going to take him with it, regardless of how much more living he felt he had in him. It’s the very worst betrayal, that of your own body. Like thousands and millions before him, he understood that now. There is no escape, not even for a second, and you cannot even take satisfaction in inflicting hurt back, like you can with people. Words formed clearly in his head were mangled by his jaw and lips into jelly nonsense. He saw the gap in the traffic as clearly as ever, but his limp wrists and emaciated legs fumbled the wheel and pedals and his passengers gripped their seats. He only kept doing the experimental trials for his wife. He could see she had begun to hate herself for being in such good health while he was wasting away. He couldn’t entirely blame her. He hated her for it too. Last year she’d climbed to Base Camp on Everest to raise money for his illness. She’d meant well, but it had been a more bitter pill to swallow than any of the multitude of chalky pellets that now crowded his bedside table. The days he had left could be counted by a child. It made him want to live more – to fill the remaining days with exuberance and life… but he was so tired. It was all he could do not to while away each day dozing on the sofa in front of the fire. The fire that he could no longer light himself, so his wife had had to take over the task. If a spark flew out and landed on his trouser cuff, would he have the strength to quash it? It had taken all the strength he could muster to come and join this queue. But the bastards were threatening to flog off the NHS and his wife might need that one day. Anyway, what better thing could he do with the few days he had left?
Elsa stood in the queue because it was her job. More than that, it was her duty. She hadn’t become a police officer for the money – she wasn’t an idiot. She intended to do good. To protect the people. From themselves if need be. The corner of her jaw twitched as the tiny microphone in her eye spoke, the sound eerily crystal clear, like Jimmeny Cricket sat on her shoulder. She kept her face neutral as the news came through. They’d known for weeks it would be a popular protest, though ‘protest’ wasn’t the right word. Protests were against something. These people were standing – literally – for something. Lots of things, apparently. The Guardian had printed a list of their demands. She wasn’t really interested. Also, it didn’t look like any protest she’d ever seen. But… she fought the urge to ask the sergeant to repeat himself. Had he just said hundreds of thousands of people? A queue that stretched the length of the country? A shiver ran up her spine. She eyed the short, stocky man in front of her with the slightly bulging eyes. He looked like trouble.
Toby jumped at the chance to be in the queue. He was pretty annoyed he hadn’t come up with the idea himself. He put on a brave face, obviously, but in truth he was sick to bloody death of the woman downstairs leaving meaningful religious leaflets in the hallway. The circles he moved in meant that encountering phobics was rare, but in 2015, for Christsakes, it shouldn’t have happened at all. He was heartily on board with everything the queuing represented, and he knew the evil that burned at the square root. Capitalism had run its course. It was time to retire it, like all the other systems that had been born, held power and seemed impossible to dislodge until they crashed and at once their demise seemed inevitable. The system was irrelevant, outdated, barbaric. It rewarded cruelty and lies. It was uncivilized. That was what why this was so perfect. It was just so British. Let them try – the filthy journolousts – let them try to find the fringe individuals (no doubt plants put there by them anyway) and ignore the thousands because one asshat broke a fucking shop window. As if Starbucks couldn’t afford to replace it.
Oliver possessed the kind of open smile that nobody could resist. It came along with an easy laugh and an instinctive helpfulness. He would be scooping up your shopping bags and tucking your label in before you realised what was happening. He loved cooking for people. He became a chef because he loved to nourish. He got a lift from seeing the pleasure on their faces as what he created gave them pleasure. Hunger makes people grumpy and a full belly makes them drowsy and cosy. And a few glasses of wine never hurt anyone, either. He enjoyed a drink and a cheeky little smoke. But recently he’d started experiencing shortness of breath, and one time he’d had shooting pains and needed to sit down. He was only forty, way too young to be having a.. these kind of problems. He didn’t know why he was in the queue. He just knew he needed to be. Sensed something in the air and sensed that this was the place to be. The place where the future would be seized for the people he loved. He looked around him in the queue and started talking to the young girl behind him.
Emma had been twelve when she told her mother she wanted to kill herself. She knew that in a way everyone there was queuing for her, and they would never understand her gratitude for that. Nobody believed teenagers had the capacity for genuine gratitude. But older people forgot how passionate they were when they believed their dreams and actions could shape the world. Then again, if this queue was anything to go by, maybe they had started believing again.
And when they started believing they could shape the world and acting as if they could, it became true.