'Madam, your deadline was the 5th of this month...'
A pause so that I can insert the stupendously important reason why I didn't send my forms back in time. The call centre person is waiting, his tone has been efficient and officious since I was put through and he obviously expects a really good answer for my complete lack of organisation. What can I say?
I flash through the options in that super-quick way you develop after so very many years of having to think of on-the-spot excuses. Oh well, none of them will sound good.
I reply with a simple, 'Yes,' agreeing with him. I know the deadline was the 5th.
There is another pause. Call centre people aren't used to this. They can deal with lateness but only if you offer reasons and they are trained to filter the excuses from the reasons too. It's something like quality control but without much quality by the end.
There is a slight sigh, then I'm told, 'The deadline has passed so you will need to re-submit the form and the date will be from when we receive it.'
I sigh too, but I hide it as sighing from the end of the customer implies sorrowful acceptance of my fate or, worse, criticism of the call centre. When you miss as many deadlines as I do, you learn to make the call centre person your ally, if possible.
'I know, I realise that,' I say sadly, falling back on my stalwart approach of sounding sad and as if I have a very good but hidden reason for being foolish, one I am unable to share with them. This sad air of mystery has dragged me out of many troublesome holes.
There is another pause and I hear clicking from his end as he types something onto my file.
'Madam, if you can return the form within four days, we should be able to keep the break to a week at most. Can you return it within that time?'
'Yes, thank you!' I sigh audibly this time, with glad relief. 'I will definitely get it back to you in four days!'
I now sound absurdly grateful, as if I am on the verge of being offered his daughter's kidney. I let my voice waver a little, to show I am moved by the kindness and his voice changes to one of concern as well as helpfulness. He is my ally now.
The rest of the call is spent in the usual organising noises, slotted in to make sure your telephonic visit is as turgid as possible. I ring off, finally, eventually, totally free of the call and make myself find the stupid form and fill in the stupid boxes and replace the stupid envelope I lost, which was the reason I dilly-dallied and never sent it back on time.There, it goes in my bag so he can receive it in four days and mitigate my latest disaster.
Sometimes, though, I think how easy it would be if, in the pause they leave for my reason, I could slot in, 'I am an Aspie, I do these things.' Life is never that simple though, and if I was to use my Aspergers as a reason for missing a deadline, then it would become awkward, one of those moments when you have to explain yourself and you hear the other person's tone of voice change as they decide how to handle this strange and rather alarming piece of information.
I always end up leaving it just so, letting them think I am a flake instead, a woman with problems, a sad-voiced individual who somehow manages to stretch the deadline and enact that little-used policy they have in their power.
Readers, if only people in my real life were as easily handled, then things would be much simpler. How ironic that I can use this people-reading skill so adeptly in moments of call centre crisis but not when my nearest and dearest are bearing down on me with my latest sin.
That's how it goes, I suppose. If my super power must be Deadline Stretching, then I guess I can still make the world a better place, one missed form at a time.