Against the clock

Written by Meegan Worcester

For the fifth young person queuing in front of me,
an assembly line boxing opinions and ideologies in confined choices,
I see the young ones; a pale faced girl,
left fist tensed, clutching fingers across crisp ballot paper,
hand sticky,
ink transferring to stamp blank skin,
voting decisions etched like palm readings,
turning a vote into a toss away choice.

But the young ones, they’re standing ready.
Two lads hang round the back of the line,
chatting away, hand stuffing pockets, 
voices overtaking one another in between inside jokes.
Backpacks are heavy with research they’ve studied since the campaign started, 
choosing to mark their voices,
for the next 5p plastic bag charge knock-off or single-use straw replacement.

Dust thickens tension like a dense smog, 
clouding heads in line, 
a hill range above sea level, 
as my eyes float towards the clockface,
ticking idly above us, 
pulse beating to what feels out of rhythm 
as I edge closer to the front.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the young ones out in the masses; we’ve mobilised before.

We rack up signatures through online petitions,
retweet ad campaigns from the Daily Mail
we even change our Facebook profiles,
billboarding slogans, reminding everyone which side we’re on.

But the streets empty noise into a background theatre set,
streetlights switch off into sleep, 
as roads drain away into sewage pipes,
drying out for next day’s routine performance.

And yet, we got used to roles given to us, 
stage occupied by uniform actors,
politically leading each consistent recital, 
while we cheer them on until curtain fall.

Stage space shrinks,
everyone side-stepping one another to get into audience view,
congealing our bodies into shapes, 
overtaking another character’s breath in between lines.

Yet we choose not to disrupt the script, 
shuffle the acts,
rewrite scenes or derail cliff-hangers.
Instead we follow as extras,
motionless with the backdrop to repeat 
the same one-liner left to be unheard.

Some of us even dress like trees,
we stand together stage left and stage right,
thinking we’re occupying enough space to be seen,
But we’re furniture built to be forgotten.

I see the young ones, 
fighting along picket lines, 
chests shielded with vibrant placard armour,
chanting together with swords by their sides, 
marching to the thud 
of the dry road ahead of them,
streetlights spotlighting their every move,
so everyone knows which side they’re on. 

We interrupt schedules, 
disturb traffic so commotion is directed our way, 
dislocating the order everyone is used to following.

I am back in the queue, facing the clock, 
aware of a man’s breath on my neck, 
heavy and compact knowing he’s next.
She hands me paper and a pencil,
and I have never felt like my voice could be used for something more.