Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Counting



There are two judges in the room to oversee the counting of votes. One is a young man with a baggy white button-down and a thick black tie. His eyes are puffy, and he wipes his face with both hands in the way people do when they are exhausted. The other judge is a woman in the midst of pregnancy. She issues orders curtly.

A young soldier from the countryside with dark skin and a slight mustache uses a cigarette lighter to burn off four plastic cords that have been holding the ballot box closed. Several mattresses are tucked up on a side- wall. The female judge tells an older man to place a mattress on the ground, and then sends another to bring the box of ballots. He dumps them in a big pile on the mattress. She uses the arm of her black suit jacket to wipe the sweat from her forehead as she delegates. Trash fills up the corners of the room.

The ballots make a small mountain on the mattress, quivering in the breeze from the fan overhead. Everyone, except the pregnant judge, smokes cigarettes. She reaches into the pile and pulls up a small stack of ballots. She flips through them one by one, handing each to a man on her right or left, depending on which candidate the vote is marked for, or to a third man on her far right, if the vote has been marked incorrectly. Many voters have purposefully invalidated their votes by making check marks next to the names of both candidates.

There are splotches of blue ink on the floor from earlier in the day, when people stuck their pinkies in the little bottle and dripped as they plucked them out. A sticker on the wall reads, “Raise your head high. You are Egyptian.” A representative for one of the candidates leans on a bar with one arm and writes notes to himself on a scrap of paper, nearly dropping the pen as he dozes off. He has a bushy, black beard.

The young male judge works quickly, motivating himself by pretending he is in a race with the other judge. He looks over his shoulder, notes how far ahead he is, and smiles to himself. He pinches and slips the ballots to two men along the flower-print table, unless they are invalid, in which case he tosses them hand over hand into a bin. Every time he grabs a new batch, his free hand contorts and his index finger rises in a semi-circular arch.

Most of the work happens in silence, except for the flip and slap of paper. Each time a phone rings, nobody answers and the short, winding melody snakes to its end. A lot of men are milling around and looking on. Outside, a row of young conscripts stands in perfect, rigid formation. 

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