The Solitaire Bureaucrat / Yoani Sánchez

– Just a minute, ma’am, I’m almost done with this row.
– Can someone shut that kid up? It’s making me lose my concentration and I can’t find the damned ace of clubs I need to finish this round.
– There goes the phone again, but I’m just about to break my own record so I wouldn’t even dream of answering it.
– Niurka! Come over here, girl. Look how many points I have! I think I’m the best solitaire player in this company.

If someone did a statistical study of the most-used applications on the computers in State offices, neither Word nor Excel, much less Access, would appear at the top of the list. The big winner of this survey would be the famous card game known as Solitaire. Our bureaucrats are bored and they relieve their tedium putting aces, hearts and diamonds in order. We don’t know if they spend so much time on this entertainment because they have so little to do, or if, in reality, it is the low salaries that lead to turning their workday into a tremendous waste of time. How many times have we waited in front of a secretary — clicking away while staring raptly at the screen as if we weren’t even there — to come to realize that instead of filling out forms or transcribing letters, she’s stacking cards one atop another on a deep green digital table.

While receptionists and employees perfect their card skills, we — the clients overwhelmed by some paperwork — find our patience tested. They accumulate rows with a red king here and a black queen there while, in the uncomfortable seats of a civil registry or notary office, the hours pass for those who need an answer or a document. Sometimes another office worker comes in and dozens of looks try to tell her: we’ve been waiting since eight o’clock, we still haven’t had lunch, please… help us. But without raising her gaze beyond her desk, the recent arrival suggests her colleague should move that seven of spades because otherwise the game will be lost. But when closing time comes and they tell us, “You’ll have to come back tomorrow,” we feel like the ferocious monarch marked by the letter K, and would like to grab his royal sword from the screen that has stolen the day from us.

10 October 2011