Susan Tumbrel
With an exhausted “Dinnng!” the display above the switch jumped to 37.
No one reacted.
“Thirty-seven!” barked the clerk.
Alice looked sleepily at the piece of paper in her hand, which had a 36 printed on it. She jumped up and rushed to the counter, “Excuse me! You skipped 36!”
The clerk stared at her blankly.
“Even numbers are on the third,” the man snarled.
“Excuse me?”
“Even. Numbers. Are. On. The. Third.”
“The third what?!” Alice asked, uncomprehendingly.
“On the third floor, of course!”
“What...? Why?”
Confused, Alice turned away. She fetched her handbag and her coat, whereupon two waiting people immediately rushed into her chair, then she went despondently to the third floor.
The number 40 was written on the bright display above the counter.
“Excuse me?” she tried to get the employee's attention.
“I was on the wrong floor because I didn't know that even numbers...”
“New number!” the clerk ordered.
But the man looked at her so gloomily that she gave up and pulled a new number. 112.
All seats were occupied. So Alice let herself slide down to the floor, leaning her back against the wall. She was awfully hungry and incredibly tired.
“Don’t sit on the floor!” a harsh voice commanded. Alice looked up to see a grumpy security guard, then sluggishly got up and asked, “is there anywhere else to sit?”
The other people standing looked at her either sympathetically or gloatingly. She sighed softly and almost expected another uniformed officer to show up and bark “Don’t sigh!”
Hours later the display finally jumped to 112 and Alice went up to the counter.
“Good Evening. I received this letter today …”
“Excuse me?”
“I need to see the ticket with your number on it. There could well be some queue-jumping going on!”
Alice blinked frantically. She rummaged in the pockets of her trousers, pulled out the ticket and slid it through the slit in the glass panel. The officer disapprovingly examined the scrap of paper, all crumpled up and damp from her hands.
Alice took a deep breath, then closed her mouth again and waited confusedly.
“Well? There are other people waiting, if it’s nothing important…”, the man said without looking at her. Alice noticed that he had not once addressed her in person.
“No, no, it is important! I received this letter which states that I have passed away…”
Alice slid the letter over to the officer. He did not react to the mysterious document.
“So what?”
“Well, as you can clearly see, I am not dead,” Alice answered unabashedly.
“Is there any evidence?”
“Evidence?! I am standing here before you! What other proof do you need?”
“Can you prove that you are the person declared dead in this document?”
At least now he spoke directly to her, Alice thought, and rummaged in her purse for her passport. The officer took it, inspected Alice like the jury of some dog show, and passed it back.
“It could be fake.”
Alice through her hands up in the air in desperation.
“Should I get my mother to confirm who I am?”
The man shrugged his shoulders, unimpressed.
“That would do no good. Could be an actress that you hired.”
“Are you being serious? Who am I, if not the person in all my documentation?”
“How should I know? I’m just saying, you could be someone else.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense! Who would even bother setting up a scam like this? And what for?!”
Alice felt like she had been trapped in a story by Kafka.
“There must be a way to clarify this misunderstanding”, she attempted forgivingly.
“Well, there’s nothing I can do,” the man said.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll need to take it up with the Citizens Bureau. They sent the letter.”
Aliced sighed deeply.
“But the Citizens Bureau told me they only send the letters. The Registration office is in charge. I am to sort it out here.”
“I wouldn’t know what to do about it. The Citizen’s Bureau is responsible for such cases.” The man repeated, unfazed.
“Listen, I’ve been on the phone with the Citizen’s Bureau. They assured me that the Registration Office has to cancel the death certificate. Besides, I don’t understand how one can send a death certificate to the allegedly dead person. It doesn’t make any sense!”
The man took another bored look at the document and said laconically, “This document is legally binding.”
“I am aware that this death certificate is legally binding. But I am alive and would like it to be annulled! If I am formally dead I cannot claim any social benefits. And what if I need a new apartment?” Alice rails.
The man contemplatively pursed his lips, but Alice could tell that he did not care one bit about her problems. She came up with an idea.
“So if I am – as you say – dead, I won’t pay any taxes either…”
“You have to pay taxes!” the man replied angrily.
“I don’t have to! There it is: I am dead. Dead people don’t pay taxes.”
“Then we will come and see you in person!”
“And I will say that I am someone else.”
“Then we will have your mother confirm your identity!” the officer said, blushing.
“And I will claim that she’s an actress you hired.”
The man doesn’t seem to notice that Alice is using his own argument against him.
“Then we will make you take a blood test, which will confirm that you are her daughter!”
“And that would be conclusive proof, that I am the woman in my passport?”
“Yes, you won’t get out of this!” he said triumphantly.
A faint smile spread across Alice‘s face, which caused the man hesitate.
“Fine” she said contentedly, collecting her papers. She had never known she could be so callous. Alice liked this new side of hers, and calmly continued: “Then we will see each other next fall, when taxes are due. Have a nice day!”
“Hey! Wait! You can’t do that! That is illegal!” the man cried. Without turning around she whispered, “Sorry, I can’t hear you! Must be because I’m dead…”
Then the elevator door closed behind her.
Above the counter the display switched to 113 with an unimpressive “ding”.

Translation by Shan Wardell
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