In my still somewhat somnabulant state at 11 am yesterday, my arm almost automatically stretched itself leftwards to the ticket machine as I walked in, my eyes only popping open as I realised I was not touching metal, but flesh – the flesh of a little elderly man who had taken his flat cap off to scratch his head, to be exact. Crowded around both him and the machine were six other disgruntled customers, all with resigned expressions and all muttering “Pazienza”. I asked what was the matter, to which I got the response, “Ma non fanno niente” [“But they aren’t doing anything”]. “They”, in post office conversations, always refers to the staff. By now I had worked out that what “they” were doing nothing about was the fact that the machine was not working. “Ma lo sanno?” ["Do they know?"], I asked [having caught the Sicilian habit of beginning every question with “ma” = “but” .] “Sì, ma non fanno niente.” My British instinct would be to insist on speaking to the manager but that is a little too straightforward for here and, even if anyone was thinking of doing just that, they would not dream of approaching the gentleman before they had had several rounds of “pazienza”-uttering, rolling their eyes towards heaven and discussing the situation with everybody else. [I’m feeling charitable tonight so I’ve decided it’s a way of being sociable.]
During this time, four other customers entered, each of whom attempted and failed to use the machine. One of them, a tall, rather imposing fellow, pressed all its buttons twice, first starting at the top and then at the bottom, before assuming the resigned expression and beginning the eye-rolling. As with the other new arrivals, then and only then did the original eight customers, including, I’m ashamed to say, myself, cry in unison, “Non funziona!” [“It’s not working”], a conclusion which he had had ample time to reach unaided. “Why”, you may reasonably enquire, “did you all wait till they had tried to get a ticket?” Ah, dear reader, this is Sicily, so the answer is, “To have the pleasure of giving information, of course!”
Finally, without any of us saying a word about it, it was mutually agreed that there had been enough eye-rolling so a member of our group approached a clerk to inform him of the situation, though the latter could hardly have been unaware of it as he had been watching the pantomime all along. “The numbers are still coming up on the screen so it must be working” he announced. “The screen’s working because there are still people waiting who came in before us”, explained our spokeswoman con pazienza but the clerk just shrugged his shoulders. And then – disaster! The beautiful, gleaming, silver screen, that miracle of modern technology, suddenly darkened and … stopped! There was a deathly silence as the numbers ceased to ping. Customers who had arrived prior to the machine drama gaped at each other in shock. Clerks dropped their pencils . Birds stopped singing outside. Verily, I say unto you, it was the end of the world ... and then, behold! A manager cometh among us and he unblocketh the machine. [Sorry, I got a bit carried away there.]
“Who was first?” asked the manager, now physically blocking the machine. “Io!" shouted a young woman, triumphantly seizing the ticket that the manager proudly held aloft for all to see. One by one, we were allowed to approach the apparatus but I’m always a little slow off the mark on these occasions as somewhere inside me there’s still a Brit who deems queueing a daily duty. So I’m afraid I didn’t use my elbows to push the others out of the way and it was the tall, imposing fellow who got his ticket next. However, I must be getting better at looking as if I might assert myself, for, although I wasn’t the first to get a ticket, I certainly wasn’t the last!
After all that, you’ll be delighted to learn, reader, it took a mere hour to pay my bill, so now I can’t remember why I decided to have a rant in the first place!