The Outsider at the Bank

“The Tramp (film)” by Essanay Studios — http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=107365. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Going to the bank used to have a touch of glamour about it, a bit like air travel was pre- terrorism. There was this big building where you’d go to lodge money or take it out. It was usually a quite stately place, reflecting the fact the bank had been there for years and that it was all about money People only went there who had money. This was a place dedicated to you and your money. You were welcomed and the more money you had, the bigger the welcome you got.

Now post-2008 and the crash that has us all penniless, you go to the bank with dread. They don’t want you there any more, you haven’t any money and the bank certainly hasn’t got any. The staff is miserable looking; they are under pressure not to provide a service and are being replaced by machines. Those who could retire did, and those that didn’t are probably expecting the chop any day. In fact if there was an alternative, most bank staff would have gone to other occupations. Once a sought after career, the job in the bank is no longer for life. Those doing it look like they have a life sentence hanging over them instead and the only thing to envy about them is that they are in a paying job.

One day recently I had to go to my local bank. Sure enough there was a queue, not as long as usual, probably something to do with there being three tellers on duty. It was a Monday morning too, usually a busy time. It did surprise me that there was more than one teller on duty though. In my thirty minutes or so I didn’t see the manager. Usually she’s hovering about, implementing orders from above. Maybe with her not being there the staff was flouting the rules, living dangerously.

In front of me was a guy I’ve only ever seen on the streets before, usually pushing or cycling an old bike. The last time I saw him he was holding up traffic at a busy intersection as he’d fallen asleep at the handlebars. As I’d driven around him he’d lifted his head, probably all the noise had woken him but he didn’t look too concerned. He was blinking his eyes, getting his bearings and remembering where he was. Whether it was the after effects of drink or, as my wife suggested, maybe he just needed a rest, I don’t know. In the rear-view mirror I saw him continue, pushing the bike, laden down with bags.

On this morning he was clutching a large torch to his chest, the type with a big handle as used by Gardai and Rescue Services. Whatever happened he wasn’t losing that. On the ground between his legs was bag-for-life from the local Super-Valu, which he shoved along when the queue moved. On the counter though was a SpongeBob canvas bag, about half the size of a beach bag, faded yellow with SpongeBob on one side and Patrick Star on the other. A cool bag to have and I wondered was he aware of who SpongeBob Squarepants was. The zip was open and I could see what looked like letters and medicine canisters inside.

My man was wearing the usual clothes I see on him. A once cream coloured, v-neck jersey with a brown checked shirt underneath. A pair of stained, dark-coloured, hard wearing slacks covered his short legs down to an old pair of trainers. On his head was pink cloth sun hat, pulled down to his ears and almost covering his eyes. On his cheek was a plaster, freshly put on, maybe he’d had something removed I thought. He definitely hadn’t cut himself shaving as he had a good two or three day’s growth of beard.

My first reaction was that I didn’t want to be stuck behind him for half an hour, as he would probably smell a bit. Not the most charitable of thoughts, I admit but it was in the closed confines of the bank, somewhere I didn’t want to be in the first place. Thankfully though he didn’t and I reprimanded myself for thinking so. Up close I could see he was probably only in his mid-fifties, not the old man I’d presumed. Also he didn’t have the pallor of a drinker; though unshaven, he looked healthy.

Slowly we moved along.

Out of his shopping bag he took a clear plastic folder. In it were squashed a load of documents, letters, newspaper and magazine cuttings. He took out a lodgement book and left behind it I could see an envelope addressed to a male at a local address, postmarked Cork. Was this him I wondered? He filled out the lodgement book with the most gentle, flowing script I’d seen in a long time; the pen barely touching the paper. Writing like that could only have been learnt at school and hadn’t been forgotten. The amount being lodged was 5 Euros, but, though the Euro sign was already there, he wrote the old pound sign before the 5. The pound sign he made was very elegant, stylish even and made the 5 Euros look much more of value.

He flicked back through the nearly empty lodgement book. Every payment stub was for 5 Euros with the beautiful pound sign neatly scripted. What this could be for, I just couldn’t speculate.

As we moved the SpongeBob bag was left at the counter, and I was about to remind him when I stopped myself. Maybe it wasn’t his and he’d be insulted by me thinking so. But while I wrestled with my conscience he whipped around and grabbed it, slipping it into the shopping bag. Now I wished I had said something, shown him some kindness.

Within a few minutes he’d done his lodgement and left the bank before me. As he went I watched him gather his things and head out the door. This was some mother’s son, someone who’d been young once and hopefully been loved. Now though he looked as if he was on his own and unfortunately looking like one of society’s rejects.

What had happened that had him now outside of society? Had some trauma affected him, some tragedy that he couldn’t just recover from, that now ran his life? Or had he just decided to let modern life pass him by and taken his own path. Instead of rushing about getting nothing done like the rest of us, he just took his time, did what he wanted and didn’t give two hoots what anyone else thought.

He certainly looked happier than the rest of us did that morning.

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