"Red Raw Knuckles" by Alan Kennedy
Red raw from knocking, Andrew’s knuckles throb like a cartoon character’s. When they deigned to open the door, a uniformed guard ushered him into this cubicle. Six hours squirming on the edge of the plastic seat. He checks his form to remind himself why he is there, goes over his personal information for the fifteenth time and pleads with the screen number to change.
How much longer?
Through the bullet-proof glass partition, a steady stream of smiling people trickles out the exit door clutching the coveted permission, stamped and triplicated. Two of them give Andrew the thumbs-up sign. The machine above the way in hums into action, whirring faster and faster. Andrew’s heart matches its rhythm. He takes a slug of water from his canteen.
Click! Sixty-seven becomes sixty-eight.
Despite his bladder being on the point of bursting, Andrew doesn’t dare to shift from his chair. Every morning for the last week he has repeated this ritual. Today’s the day. He’s not going anywhere.
The apparatus throbs one more time before cutting out with a wheeze like a heavy smoker’s last breath. Andrew jumps to attention when a clipboard holding civil servant strides out. The pin stripe suited man looks down at his notes and clears his throat.
‘Sorry. No more interviews till tomorrow.’
Andrew crumples the slip of paper with ‘sixty-nine’ into the wastepaper bin. Blinded by his tears, he shoves his way out past the queue already forming for the next day’s consultations.