Waiting room rules

It’s December. I’m taking this month off from the Story Thief Challenges  as it’s almost xmas and schools are all busy. Something happened to me the Wednesday before last that surprised and moved me. I thought I’d tell you about it here…

The receptionist says, ‘You can take a seat,’ and goes back down at her computer screen.

The 16 or so chairs against the walls of the small waiting room are almost all taken. I wedge myself into one by the window. My appointment is for noon, but based on past experience, it’s probably going to be at least 45 minutes before I get seen. I’m a chump who lives in hope so it’s 11:55 now.

I’ve got a book with me that I’m reading as research and I’ve got a notepad. It’s not the worst place to wait – I can still be productive. There’s a little noise from a three year old at play and a little muttered chatter, but it’s otherwise warm and quiet.

I put my head down and get to work.

And just then the loud woman bustles into the room on her phone.

‘What makes her think she’s so special?’

I feel a rumbling of disapproval. Could she lower her voice a little? I glance over, already irritated, at this loud woman who doesn’t get the unwritten waiting room rules. She’s in her early thirties and sits down in the far corner to me and crosses her legs.She flicks restlessly through a paper while she talks.

‘As if no one else has ever had a baby!’

In her tracksuit pants, scuffed white runners, blue raincoat, brown hair roughly tied back, her make up free face and a red leather handbag on her shoulder, she talks as if she’s having a cup of tea in the privacy of her own kitchen with her friend.

‘The XXXXing eejit!’

My inner outraged policeman rears its head – someone should say something to her there’s children here it’s not right –

The elderly man to her left glances at her. Purses his lips. Another woman frowns as her three year old plays with the plastic game table in the middle of the room. A bemused mother bounces a baby on her lap. The loud woman doesn’t notice any of it.

‘Does she think she has a magic xxxxxx or something?’

Every head turns. She’s got our attention now. I’m torn between curiosity – what the hell is she talking about? – and my inner policeman with his sirens blaring – how dare you I’m stuck here waiting forever for my appointment and now you’re here talking about xxxxxxs and swearing and I shouldn’t be waiting here anyway and I’m going to be stuck in this room forever and –

‘My phone’s about to die. Go on. Talk later. Lots of love.’

She hangs up.


I stay irritated at her although I’d still like to know what she had been talking about. She keeps scrolling through something on her phone. Why is she playing with her phone if she’s that worried about her battery?

‘Who’s got an appointment with Dr Clarke?’

Again the loud woman’s talking at top volume, but this time her words are abruptly aimed at us here in the room. Another waiting rule broken. Does this woman not get it?

I’m with another doctor so I stay quiet, but she grills the few who answer her.

‘What time?’

She takes in their answers.

‘That’s three of you ahead of me so,’

She laughs at the middle aged man who is after her, ‘You’ll be here till about 6pm. Get yourself a sandwich.’

Her laughter is disarming. A few people smile. Despite myself, I do too.

She goes back to scrolling through her iphone. I go back to my research.

A baby lets out a few indignant squeals when her tired mother has the temerity to sit down. The mother sighs and stands up again

Down goes the loud woman’s phone. ‘Ah, she wants what she wants, doesn’t she?’

She pokes the man sitting next to her, points at the baby, ‘Gorgeous, isn’t she?’

A warm smile appears on the tired mother’s face as she shows her daughter off.

And now the loud woman is off. She tells the mother about her own kids who are in school right now and how she doesn’t have a car so was lucky she didn’t get drowned like a rat in the rain on the way in.

When that mother goes off for her appointment, the loud woman goes back to scrolling through her phone. She’s quiet for a little while.

When the first of the two ahead of her gets called by Dr Clarke, she points at the other one, ‘You’re next baby!’ then she’s goes right back on her phone. She dials a friend to check in on her. She talks in top volume as she consoles her.

‘It’s in God’s hands. Don’t get depressed.’

‘Don’t be afraid to reach out. Talking will help you. Don’t go hiding.’

‘Don’t be sad, okay?’

My eyes flick around the room. It’s not just me. Everyone’s listening in. I don’t know what they think, but I’m thinking this loud woman’s probably a great friend.

‘Okay go on. My phones at one percent. Lots of love.’

Eventually she gets called for her appointment, I expect her to give us all a goodbye wave, to maybe shout, ‘Goodbye you XXXXers!’ but she disappears off like everyone else. The waiting room’s quiet again. Gradually empties out.

It’s all a bit dull without her.

I go back to my research, but it’s hard to stay focused.

At five past one pm, it’s just me and a nervous looking woman in her earlier thirties still waiting. This time I’m the one who breaks the unwritten rules of waiting rooms.

I point over at the empty seat with the newspaper left on it. ‘She was a character, wasn’t she?’

She looks distracted, ‘Who?’

‘Your woman there. With the loud voice.’

She smiles quickly, but changes the subject. ‘What time’s your appointment?’


‘I hate this. It’s always when you’re in a hurry, isn’t it? That you have to wait?’

‘Or it just feels like it.’

She smiles. Keeps looking over at the reception desk.

Perhaps embodying the remaining spirit left in the room from that big hearted, loud woman, or just being nosey, I ask, ‘Work?’


‘Do you need to be back in work?’

The lady turns in her seat to face me. She tells me why she’s there. I put my book aside and listen to her as she breaks all the rules of what you tell to strangers. She tells me something as personal, sad and scary as it gets.

She says it quietly and just to me so I’m not going to share it here.

Nor will I tell you how I responded. How something in her honesty freed me to share something deeply personal with her.

After about ten minutes, she gets called into her appointment.

I wait alone surrounded by empty chairs and think about waiting rooms and their rules and how sometimes they need to be broken.

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