The Spanish Post Office

​The Hollow Man     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

Planning a Novel

​March 5, 2023     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

You can add HTML directly into this element to render on the page.

Just edit this element to add your own HTML.

In Madrid once, I bought my niece a flamenco doll for Christmas before understanding Spanish post office protocol. The rather ornate doll went into a 15X15 cardboard box, and early the next morning off to the post office I went. “Not so fast,” said the troll at the bridge.

I climbed the marble steps and enter a domed roof building large enough to accommodate a major league baseball game. Not a single customer in sight. Thin-barred windows circled the walls, with mail clerks standing behind each one. I picked a window at random.

I placed the box on the counter and waited. The clerk was busy counting stamps in a notebook. When she finished one, she wrote a number on a notepad, put that notebook under the counter and pulled out another to resume counting. Eventually, she glanced up from her task.

(*The rest of the day occurred totally in Spanish, but I will kindly translate for you.)

“We don’t do that here,” she said and went back to counting.


“I said, we don’t do that here,” she raised her voice.

“Is this the post office?” I asked.



“We don’t do that package here.”

“Then, which window?” I looked around.

“Not here,” she waved her hand. “You need to go downstairs and get your stamps first; outside and around.”

I went back out the front door and down the marble step to the right. An open-air flea market appeared as soon as I hit bottom. A handful of people milled around a semi-below-ground office. A police officer guarding the lone door stepped aside, and I entered a small room with about a dozen windows and a dozen lines back to the opposite wall. I stepped into the shortest line. As I reached the front, the clerk pointed to my box before I could say anything.

“You can’t mail that,” he said.

“Why not?”

“It must be wrapped in paper. And string.”

With the box under my arm, I went looking for a shop that sold wrapping paper, tape and string. I made my way back through the lunch crowd and sat on the marble steps to wrap the box and seal it with string. The office was closed when I returned to the basement office; closed until 3 PM.

Though there was a queue behind me fifty strong, I was first in line when the police officer unlocked the door. I approached the same clerk as before. He hefted the package.

“Ah, sir,” he said. “This is too light for me. I only take heavy packages at this window. You must go to window number 8. Next.”

I squeezed onto the end of the line at window 8 and waited.

“Oh, that’s not for me,” the clerk said.

“But, the guy down there said…”

“He sends everything here. Roberto is romantic with me. I only take light packages that are also small. You need window 2,” she said.

At window 2, the overweight gentleman behind the window already had his notebook open on the counter. He separated a sheet of stamps.

“Wait,” I said. “Are those airmail? I need airmail.”

He sighed, closed the notebook and put it away. He searched both sides under the counter until he found the right notebook. The stamp book flopped open. The man flipped a few pages forward, then went back to the original page. He slid a half sheet of stamps my way.

“Proceed to Window 5 for your customs paperwork,” he said without looking up. “Next.”

“God dammed Americans,” said Window 5. “I only have customs documents for letters and small parcels. Next window.”

“Which side?”

“Shit. This way.” He flung his arm to the left.

“Do you want VAT included in your customs declaration?” The next window asked.

“Yeah, sure. Why not?” I said.

“That’s gonna be Window 9, but he is ill for the day, so…”

“Forget it. I can do without tax reimbursement.”

The clerk gave me the paperwork and pushed the box back at me. I pushed everything back toward him and he pushed it back again. We stared at each over.

“You need to take everything up to the main office now,” he said finally.

Back upstairs again, I chose another arbitrary window, expecting to visit no less than another ten windows. I pushed the box, loose stamps, and customs paperwork across to the clerk. She checked the paperwork and tore it apart, keeping both pieces. The stamps were run across a wet sponge and stuck to the top.

“Can you please stamp “fragile” on the box?” I asked.

“Oh, you want fragile? Fine,” she said.

The clerk picked up a shoe sized stamp and stomped the box like Chuck Norris finishing off an opponent. Six times. With the sides caved in, she tossed the box over her shoulder into a bin of other fragile boxes without looking back.

Editor’s note: The doll arrived in time for my niece’s birthday in June.