It’s not til I get through the door that I realize where the fuck I’ve gotten. Somewhere warm, that’s where. Ahhh there’s that central heating, good to get outta the chill. My nose is all runny so I wipe it with my sleeve, look closely to make sure there’s no blood getting on my good winter coat. I see a chair so I sit in it and rub my fists up and down my legs to get the muscles warm. Goddamn, it’s cold out there today, and the wind it just cuts right through even a coat like this.
Alright, okay, where I’ve gotten. Where’ve I gotten? The bank, right. For my cash. It went in today. There’s some old folks in line, some guy’s in a suit. Probably drove here in some nice car, s’probably got some nice heated seats like that fancy Uber that I was in two weekends back, that night I lost my glove. God. This guy, what an asshole. You’re really so important that you’ve gotta dress up at the bank? To show off to us regular people how important and rich you are? Real impressed, yeah that’s what I am. Impressed at the gall. My nose is running again, and so I wipe it off again, and— shit, that is blood. Just a few drops, nothing to worry. My hands scrabble in my coat pockets looking for a stack of napkins I snagged from Tim’s yesterday, but they’re too numb to feel what’s in there at all. Ah, well. I pull my shirt up over my face and get up from the chair and stroll up to the desk where the bankers sit. Before I can —let me just stress this— before I can even start to speak to make a simple request for a kleenex, this one is all:
“Sir, there’s a— there’s a line, it starts right over there,” pointing, almost shaking, eyes like absolute plates. Eyes being all you can really see on this one anyway, eyes and hair. Cause of the mask, you see. These damned masks make it so hard to have a real conversation with anyone. I can read a lot from a face. And right now I can’t read anything in this one. What I can read is that big sign behind him, it’s white and flashy and says “We’re here to help!” but here I am, unhelped. In need of help. Helpless.
He’s not pointing anymore, now his hand is outstretched to me. Like he read my mind and realized the hypocritical juxtaposition of his behaviour and the sign. And lookit that, he’s got a mask for me. Right, I left mine at the… somewhere. I tell him thanks and all for the mask but what I actually need right now is— and my shirt comes loose and springs elastically down and off my face.
And the guy just about faints. I guess there might have been some blood on my upper lip at this point due to my lack of kleenex and all, and the collar of my shirt might have consequently absorbed some of it, which would have made it pretty much unavoidable for some to get on the rest of my face when the shirt fell down and dragged across my mouth and chin and neck, but I’ve said for years that this new generation just loves being dramatic, and that’s what this one was being, just a big bundle of gasps and palpitations and hair. Before I know it he’s dashing off and coming back with a flowery little box, pulling out tissues by the handful and trying to give me them.
“Now please, there are other people in line, if you don’t mind waiting over there.” I do mind a little, but I’m not going to make a fool in public so I do some kinda hand gesture that says this ain’t worth the effort and go to wait. The line’s moving now, but people are staring, a couple is murmuring between themselves and glancing at me. Rightfully all concerned for my wellbeing. Probably more than a little put-off at how that fella was acting towards me, a paying customer and all. God knows I have enough expenses and problems that I don’t also need the stress of not getting my money’s worth for banking services weighing on my conscience.
But I’m going to walk out of here with enough to cover all the expenses. Most of the expenses. The ones that matter, at least. Roof over the head, food in the belly, phone bill, something nice to keep the missus happy. Maybe I’ll stop by the grocery store and buy Deb a flower, that would make her smile. She likes yellow ones. See, I still know how to be a charmer, after all this time I can still surprise her. It’s because I’m a naturally compassionate person. I know what to say to people. My mum was a little empathic and that shit runs in the family. It’s why—
“Can I please help the next person in line?” Ah shit, spaced out there for a sec. Lookit that, it’s my guy from earlier, calling me over. I don’t think he realized who he was beckoning because as soon as he sees me walking across the lobby he goes all pale again and sits down. I wanna get back onto a good foot though, so I give him a grin big enough to show through the mask. He doesn’t smile back.
“I just wanna get the money outta my account,” I say amicably. He looks at me like he’s expecting more. To move things along a bit I say “The government cheques went out today right?”
“They should have. Do you have your card on you?” I do, so I give it to him. He gives it back and tells me to put it into the little machine. I do, and I type in my numbers. Nothing happens. He tells me I was too fast for the machine, which makes sense because I’m a naturally efficient person. I type in my numbers again and this time the little thing beeps.
The guy sits there looking at his screen and typing. I ask him how his day is going, because I’m interested in other people and making them feel interesting. Without looking up he says, “It’s going alright,” and then in the same breath, “Yep, your money went in today.” I feel a little flutter in my belly, I can already see Deb holding her flower and blushing, telling me oh Dan you shouldn’t have.
“Could I get out six hundred?”
The guy makes a big show of sighing, then looks at me and then back at his screen. Then in a real sanitized singsongy voice he says “Your current available balance is two dollars and thirty three cents. Did you want to take that out?”
So I know that he’s fucking with me now. I can just feel it from here, through the mask and the safety screen and the four feet of air between us. I know where we stand. This is classic bank shit, just yanking me around, trying to scare me so that I’m more likely to pay whatever stupid fees they want to squeeze outta me.
“You said the money went in today?”
“So how can I only have two fucking dollars?”
“Alright, let me show you.” He taktaktaks a few more keys and then gets up and walks away. He comes back with a piece of paper all covered in numbers and nonsense. “Here’s your transaction history.” I can’t make heads or tails of it so I just look at him and tell him I want my cash. The government gave it to me and I just want it.
“You were already overdrawn by three hundred last night. This morning after the money went in, this,” he points with a pen to a line on the paper, “Came out. It looks like some kind of payday loan service.” I squint at the paper then I squint at him. I tell him that I never used anything like that. It doesn’t matter whether that’s true or not, he doesn’t know me and can’t judge me. Only my mum can do that and she’s gone.
“Well, you’re going to have to talk to them about that.”
“Talk to who?”
“This company” he jabs his finger down on the little line of ink on paper as if what he’s got printed there actually means anything. As if his computer can really tell him anything at all about what I’ve got going on in my life, what I’ve been dealing with, all the day-in-day-out headaches and issues and wrinkle-inducing stress that comes part-in-parcel with the job called being me. No health benefits, no pension, no Christmas parties with free booze. Just like that, the expenses are all back on my mind, the flower goes wilting away and Deb’s face goes sour, now instead she’s saying Oh Dan how could you?
“Was there anything else I could help you with today?” Again with the fucking fake cheeriness. He thinks I don’t notice what he’s doing, and instead of being scared and pitiful now he’s just being an asshole. Holding this little piece of power over me like I’m supposed to bow down and take this shit. He looks over my shoulder and back at my face, then back over my shoulder. I turn and see an absolute crowd of oldies lined up there. The whole cavalcade of back pain and grimaced faces, they must get bussed in by the dozen, all of them hobbling, wobbling, waddling, grunting, eyes staring off into nothing or just at me. No shame, no compassion in their eyes. They all want me to be gone. The guy behind the counter just wants me to be gone. For a second I do too, but then I think fuck that and pull myself together.
I pick up the little piece of paper, I take my card, I put my chin up, I look the guy straight in the eyes and I can tell he knows this isn’t over. I tell him I’ll be back tomorrow and he smiles at me through the mask. “Okay, we’ll see you then. Have a good day!
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