Five Minute Fiction by Preston Pairo
It starts out well enough. The bank teller asks me: “Good morning. Welcome to Bancs of the Americas, how may I assist you?”
“Hi.” I slide my deposit slip and endorsed check through the flounder-thin opening in the inches-thick (presumably bulletproof) window that separates us. “I just have a deposit.”
Assuming my words did not penetrate the protective divider that guards bank employees from criminal elements, I repeat: “Just a deposit.” I point to my paperclipped check and deposit slip which are now on his side of the barrier.
“Yes,” the teller responds, “I heard you the first time. I’m just not sure what you mean by…” He pauses as if preparing to pronounce a tricky phrase, then, one syllable at a time carefully enunciates: “…de-pos-it.”
Unsure how to better define the transaction, I repeat, “Deposit…” but add the always helpful: “…you know.”
The teller wants to sigh in the worst way. Inside the confines of his neatly-pressed dress shirt, his shoulders are begging to sag. His bushy unified eyebrow wants to raise. His eyes crave to roll. But he maintains his composure—almost. “Sir…” He utters the word as if it is a slur, which is how he intends it: that passive aggressive politeness of those required to deal with the public on a regular basis. “…let me get my manager.” He begins to slide off his stool, a slow pivot of waist and thighs that indicates this is not going to be a quick or happy process.
In vein, I utter to his back, “It’s just a deposit.”
He pretends not to hear me and proceeds slowly down the aisle behind a line of fellow tellers at a pace of pretend efficiency. His hipster pants are a color somewhere between grey and camel, the legs narrow as tights all the way to his ankles where the fabric bunches atop
My helpless waiting begins–that internal debate how long to give the manager to show up. Weighing time already invested getting this far against heading home and starting from scratch tomorrow.
I’ll give it five minutes. No ten. No, five, but not a firm five. A re-evaluate in five.
In the meantime, I look around for someone else who is depositing a check. Maybe I could ask their teller for help.
Immediately to my right, a customer is opening a new credit card account her teller says pays three-percent on gasoline purchases for the first six months, making it sound as if using the card will make the customer rich.
The next teller is consolidating a couple’s small business loan and home equity line of credit and keeps referring to the equity line as a “Heloc” as if it is some type of magical enchantment from a faraway land.
On my other side, a teller is resetting a customer’s PIN in order to allow online transfers between the customer’s various banking wallets. Further eavesdropping informs me these so called “wallets” are actually the customer’s checking, savings, investment, retirement, and money market accounts. The teller insists that once this PIN is reset the customer will be able to do all imaginable forms of banking at home in his pajamas. (I wonder how the teller knows the man wears pajamas.)
A fourth teller is creating a new online profile for a customer so he can conduct all of his financial, social, and retail transactions on the bank’s new app: FYC, which is pronounced Fick and means: For Your Convenience.
I don’t see a single check being deposited by the time the manager appears. Behind that imposing pane of security glass, he is a serious-looking man in his early-40’s, dressed in a dark suit and starched white shirt—no tie. His hair is neat and shows grey at the temples. His thin smile is clearly one of obligation. Not an ounce of joy can be found in his expression. “Good morning,” he offers. “I understand you want to make a deposit.”
As with the younger hipper teller before him, the word “deposit” does not flow naturally from his lips but sounds the way a cook might refer to a spice milled from oven-dried fire ants that he is hesitant to add to his favorite stew.
“Yes, I just want to—” I stop. My inner voice warns me to let this collateral issue pass, but I just can’t. I tell the manager: “You said, good morning. And the other fellow, the one who I guess had you come out here, he also said, good morning…” Although my words don’t actually form a question, I imagine my confusion is obvious from the fact it is actually 4:45 in the afternoon. Not morning at all.
The manager explains patiently, “It is still morning in our home country. We go by that time.”
“Ah,” I say, as if that explains everything. Then I ask: “So where is your home country?”
The manager stiffens the way a patient might react to the probing hands of an aggressive gastroenterologist hurrying through his eighth colonoscopy before lunch. “That is not a proper inquiry, sir.”
“Of course not. Where I am from should not be important to you.”
“Thought never crossed my mind until you mentioned it.”
“Which was because of your insistence about the time—the good morning business.”
“Well it is hours after morning. Surely you can understand.”
He does his best to conceal the heat of his seething, briefly closing his eyes as if sneaking in a quick meditation. He inhales, lets it out slowly. Then, as if firmly establishing himself as the better human being, he opens his eyes and decrees: “Yes—I can try to understand. I can try to put all that ugliness behind us.”
In my best apologetic voice, I say: “I really just want to deposit that check.” I nod toward the item he has in his hand. “I would have used the drive-thru window, but it wasn’t open.”
“Yes. The drive-thru was permanently closed so customers can come inside. For their convenience,” he adds.
That damned voice inside my head again—I should probably get that looked at. I ask: “It wasn’t convenient driving up to a window?” That may have come out less politely—more sarcastically—than I intended. “I mean, I had to park a few hundred yards from the building. And heard at least half a dozen gunshots fired in the next block over walking up here.”
“This is Baltimore, sir. Shootings are our white noise. Like waves at the beach.” He makes it sound delectable, the way a good waiter entices your appetite with the dinner specials. “For your convenience, there is still an ATM.”
“But it’s outside on the street,” I point out. “And you have to have a debit card to use it.”
“Yes. For your convenience.”
“Well, setting aside for a moment the two guys lingering around out there watching people enter their PIN numbers, I don’t have a debit card.”
“Well we can get you a replacement.” He snaps open a drawer to retrieve the appropriate paperwork to start the process.
“No—I didn’t lose it. I never had a debit card. I don’t want one.”
“The debit card—it’s for your convenience.” It’s hard to tell if he’s more stunned or angry. “There is no reason not to have one. None whatsoever.”
“It’s another piece of plastic in my wallet,” I explain. “Another thing to get stolen. Or compromised. Another account to get hacked.”
“Sir, Bancs of the Americas fully protects you from any losses you may incur from the unauthorized use of your debit card.”
“Is that really true?”
“No. But it is for your convenience. And frankly, sir…” His “sirs” are starting to get a nasty edge to them. “…no one…” He can barely bring himself to say the word. “…deposits checks anymore. It’s direct deposit. Or electronics funds transfers. No checks. The mere fact you have a check in your possession is a red flag. It makes me wonder…makes the authorities wonder…”
The authorities now?
“…where did this man get that check? What kind of business is he in?” As the manager’s voice raises, I look around and find most everyone in the bank is now looking at us—looking at me, more particularly. “What kind of man,” the bank man proclaims through the wall of glass, “is afraid to conduct his financial transactions online? Or with a very convenient debit card? Why is this man trying to draw bank tellers into his web as unwitting conspirators?” Peppering each word with stern emphasis, he finishes: “What-is-this-man-trying-to-hide?”
I turn to address the bank as a whole: “All I want to do is deposit a check.”
Before the collective head shakes, sighs, eye rolls, and I think even a gasp or two can subside, a pre-recorded message over the bank intercom announces: “For your convenience, Bancs of the Americas is now closed. We will reopen tomorrow at nine a.m. Thank you for your business. And remember: Bancs of the Americas is open online twenty-four-seven.”
The manager slides my check and deposit back to me through the slit in the security glass.
For my convenience, two armed guards escort me from the building.