The government offices were located in an old building that radiated history rather than bureaucracy. The door was up a flight of worn stone steps, and a plaque beside it read “The Ministry of the Interior” in tired bronze letters. It wasn’t until people passed through the door that the present caught up with them.
Inside, beside a metal detector, a fashionably bald guard checked purses cursorily while scrutinizing every male who walked by, checking if they were rivals to his role as alpha in this place. Rows of metal seats were filled with couples with strollers; the solitary elderly staring straight ahead, watching replays of memories in their heads; teenagers nervously fondling their phones to mask their discomfort at being alone; and nondescript adults in whatever uniforms they wore to work every day, hoping to get business done during their lunch breaks.
Everybody who entered became less of a human being than they’d been outside. They were all reduced to ghosts of themselves, pale representations whose most important features were their date of birth, address and payment method. The clerks behind the counters slumped in their chairs, back problems manifesting around their torsos like poisonous vines, and repeated facts in dull, empty voices. They reached for forms mechanically, part of an assembly line that originated in a sub-clause, part b-one-point-two of some document written by some drone of something called the government.
If there is a hell, I imagine it would look something like this. I walked into the office armored with a book and a magazine, and prayed that it would be enough to keep me from becoming another zombie in this space of paper-shuffling monotony. An hour and a half later, I emerged, blinking, into the blistering heat of the August sun, prodding carefully at my soul to see if it was still intact.