A couple weeks ago, I went to get some documents for my visa notarized. In order to avoid long lines, I resolved to arrive at the office exactly when the doors opened at 9:00 AM. After 15 minutes of waiting for a bus, I decided to do something I never do in Salvador: take a taxi. Arriving at 8:58, I remarked to the taxi driver that the office didn’t look like it had opened yet.

“It’s opening now,” he said. “You’ll be the first one in line.”

…yeah, right. The place was stuffed with people, who had come much earlier and formed a line outside the building. I took a number: 85. The “Now Serving” screen was on number 1, and there were a grand total of two employees working the desk – one attending the “preferential customers” (the elderly, disabled, and pregnant) and the other for the rest of us.

At least the office was air conditioned, and had a TV to help pass the time. I sat and waited. At 9:20 another employee showed up. Good, now things will move faster, I thought. I had a class to teach at noon.

While I waited, I wrote in my journal, prayed, thought about ways to improve my teaching, and watched old Goofy cartoons on the TV. After an hour, they were “Now Serving” customer number 25. I listened to the sighs and grumblings of the people around me. I looked at the signs posted all over the office helpfully informing that according to the Brazilian Penal Code, attacking a civil servant during the execution of his/her job was punishable by fines and imprisonment.

It could be my imagination, but some people in the “preferential” line looked neither elderly, disabled, nor pregnant. After one young, healthy-looking, definitely non-pregnant gentleman finished his procedure at the “preferential” window and skipped out of the office, another man went up to the desk with a challenge:

“How come HE got to skip the line?”

The employee replied something about the man being a lawyer and some kind of specialist.

“A LAWYER?!?” – the challenger sneered, loud enough for everyone in the waiting room to hear. “What the hell?? I’m going to lodge a complaint that lawyers get preferential treatment in this office, while the rest of us peons have to wait forever.”

The waiting room started to buzz with comments, as people compared their numbers and estimated how long they’d be waiting to be attended at the non-preferential window. I heard a timid-looking woman standing in the corner remark, with an air of resignation,

“I came all the way from another city to process this document, but my number is 145. I won’t get out of here until after nightfall.”

I looked at the “Now Serving” screen, which, after two hours, was only on customer 41. I looked at the 85 in my hand. I had to leave to make my 12:00 class. I stood and approached the woman in the corner.

“I have another commitment at noon,” I said. “I have to leave and won’t be able to wait my turn. Would you like my number?” She asked me if I was sure, and when I nodded, she thanked me profusely.

I left the notary office, taught the class, ate a hurried lunch, worked for two hours, ran errands, did laundry, took a shower, taught two more classes at night and arrived home after 10 PM.

The two hours I’d spent waiting in the office ended up being the most relaxing part of my day.