This story is by John Evans and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I have to tell Charlie to go. That relationship’s gone sour and I have to tell him to move out. I’m thinking this on the way back from the takeaway. I have to keep my mind on my job, though. It’s my first day on reception since I requested a move there. My credit card’s maxed out and its only the third week of the month and the car is overdue for its M.O.T. It’s getting harder with inflation, a possible interest rate round the corner. What will that do to my mortgage? Need to make a success of this job, or everything goes belly up.
I requested this job because I can’t sit down for long without getting up and moving around. Started at the accounts counter, then they put me here at reception standing to meet the customers.
It is mid-afternoon. The back’s aching. The cheese and pickle sandwich and takeaway latte are reacting on my guts beginning to make me retch. And to top it all, here comes this old bloke, balding, grey wings with a gold-handled stick. Rheumatoid arthritis is what I‘ve got. The doc said, ‘it can only get worse’. A right Jeremiah, him. I do the exercises every day, faithful like a monk. That hurts, because with this back I might as well be one. Thought about it too, for a while. Maybe when I get to about fifty – not now at twenty-seven. Just like the old guy with a stick, I might have given up everything by then, except the writing perhaps.
Smile! Smile! The training kicking in. Ask him what you can do for him. Sound as if you’re interested, at least. They drummed that into us at on the six week course on ‘How To Be a Bank Receptionist’ or whatever it was. I didn’t listen much, but when I’m stressed it sometimes kicks in. Maybe it wasn’t all a waste of time.
‘I’d like to set up…a…standing order.’ His voice drops half way through the sentence. C’mon, c’mon – for what, to go where?
‘You have an account here? Oops, nearly added the ‘Sir’ there. He shows me his debit card. I ask him to insert his card into the reader on his side of the counter, which isn’t much of a counter at all. More a kind of half circle with an arc scooped out on my side.
‘Now could you type in your pin number please? And press enter.’ He hesitates a moment as if he might need his specs, but types his pin in.
Nothing my end. ‘Would you mind doing that again please.’ And get it right this time! He does and his account details show up on my screen. £50,000. Eeh gods! That’s effing riches! Three times my annual salary nearly! Must have robbed a bank! It’s my turn to pause but the old guy doesn’t notice. Hope they don’t either!
‘Yes, to where do you want the standing order to go and how much do you want moved?’
‘ One thousand two hundred pounds… to…here. My account in Grace Street.’ His voice is almost a whisper, like a rusty door hinge. A good line that. I’ll put it in a poem. Must con…cen…trate now, though. He hands me a Flooks Club Debit/Visa card. I give him a questioning look. He thinks I haven‘t heard him. ‘To my account… at the Grace Street branch.’ Stronger voice. It looks like an effort. We could be here all afternoon at this rate.
I study the card. Fancy club card, posh logo with gold edgings – just like his walking stick. I’d left out the ‘sir’ . Deliberate that – I’ve never liked the deference culture. That’s one bit I probably blanked out at training. Ours is a lot less posh looking than Flooks Bank – just a basic red and blue design. We’re cheap, and popular, though, that’s why there’s a queue forming behind the old guy. Have to get the transaction done quick. They might be watching me. There’s cameras everywhere these days and they, the heijons, as my grandfather would call the higher ups, might be taking all this in.
‘How much would you like moved? Sir.’ Damn the training! Always check, make sure – they drummed it in. I clench my teeth, manage to turn it into a smile. I type in the card number on his club card to the fancy bank. This is when I have to be careful. Can’t rush this. Check with him his own details, show them to him on the screen. He agrees. Training. Training. Sometimes I thank God for it – even though I know He or She doesn’t exist. Transaction done. Rel – ax. ‘Anything more I can do for you today?’ Then I go further. It must be the sense of release. ‘Had a busy day?’ This wasn’t in the training manual, or in any of the sessions.
‘Not particularly, so far, but it’s all relative. I have a bad back, you see.’ He feels his back and grimaces.
I show genuine interest for the first time. ‘Me too, that’s why I work out here. Can’t sit for too long.’
‘With me, I can’t stand for too long… or sit.’ He smiles. ‘It’s a disadvantage being a writer.’
‘You’re a writer?’
‘Yes, I work in the afternoon, it’s less stressful than the mornings, I find…’
Who’d have effing thought it. This clapped out looking geezer!
‘ Interesting…’ I say. And suddenly the stress lifts off my shoulders. I meet the next customer with a smile – a real one this time – the first in a queue of four, five – or it could be six? I attend to each of them in turn. Much calmer, even put in the odd ‘sir’ or ‘madam’, though that’s tricky and you can’t use ‘miss’ anymore and even ‘m/s’ is out. Nothing about that on the training course.
A good end to the day. Now to home and Charlie.