Your Number Is 78 – The Estimated Waiting Time Is 220 Minutes — longlisted in the Autumn 2022 Reflex flash fiction competition

Seventy-Eight pulls out a stack of documents from her daughter’s soft grip. She gives it to the woman behind the desk and lowers herself onto a chair – the seams, like nerve endings, picked out by years of anxious rocking.

The air sweats into the windowless space. Fluorescent lights cough.

Balancing on her bum, Seventy-Eight’s daughter scoots all the way up to a neighbouring chair’s back, her merry-blue windbreaker ruffling.

The woman behind the desk flicks through their papers without glancing up, ‘We’ll get your status sorted in a minute.’

Seventy-Eight cracks her thumbs. Status. The word tastes like a fishbone pierced in the throat. Heat encircles her waist, rushing up to the ears. She’d like to remove her jacket but she’s worried about the stains.

Her daughter’s legs dangle in the air, purple rubber boots kicking the desk, thu-dud, thu-dud, thu-dud. Seventy-Eight gives her daughter’s thigh a little clasp, hissing, ‘Enikő.’

‘What is this?’ The woman picks up the this, her voice carrying it all the way to the ceiling. It hangs there, awaiting its fate.

The woman shows them a document, suppressing an upward slant in her mouth.

Seventy-Eight leans closer, clenching the edge of the chair, careful not to fall off.

The strict, sharp-blue ink of the meticulously filled-out form is barely visible. The middle of the paper is covered in fresh, crayon skies, towering pines and little red birds singing from green branches. The whole scene is bordered by a thick black line.

‘That’s a window I drew while we were waiting.’ Seventy-Eight is still startled by her daughter’s flawless, native-like accent. She doesn’t know that officially, she doesn’t belong to this country.

‘You like it?’ She climbs off the chair and tiptoes to the desk. ‘If you cut it along the line,’ her bold peanut-shell finger points to a pair of scissors lying by the woman’s elbow, ‘You could open it.’


Originally published as a longlisted flash fiction piece in Reflex Fiction.

Picture: Child’s drawing by Pixabay under CC0 1.0

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