3 10 2008

eyes that were past crying or the busy bank employee

I flipped uncomfortably through the pages of my book, slightly aware that reading a novel was not the average way of waiting for your bank attendant to get back from an errand. of course, since this was my first time alone in a bank I wouldn’t know the procedures for sure. still I closed my book guiltily at the first hint of footsteps. I rested the paperback on my lap ’till the footsteps had trailed away, not stopping at my cubicle.

deciding the stress of taking out and concealing the book every other second would get me nowhere with the story I gave up reading and took instead to looking around the small working place. the L-shaped desk took up most of the space there, behind it the blue upholstery chair stood empty now. the back wall was covered in nondescript metal filling-cabinets, the door to one of them slightly ajar. I could see row after row of pink folders, just like the ones laid on the desk. it struck me that such a modern bank would keep physical files of its clients, I thought everything nowadays was stored in a hard-disk. but of course computers are not infallible.

I stared for a moment at one of these folders, some photocopies of what looked like an old driving license had slipped out of place. I didn’t bother to look at the name since the document was upside down, but the word ROMA caught my eye as it was written in capital letters.

the bank employee chose that moment to rush back into the cubicle, the gush of wind he brought with him made the leaflets on the wall to my right flutter. they advertised special accounts for young people or students, stressing the point that they only charged one euro per month. I didn’t linger on them for long, you could find them all over the bank and I had read my share of them while waiting. the attendant said something very quickly in italian. distracted as I was it took me some time to realise he had just been talking to himself. I nodded in acknowledgement nonetheless and concentrated on my up-tight pose: legs closed to the point my knees were tightly pressed together, my arms cradling my coat and bag stiffly on my lap, a visible tension clinging to my shoulders. I don’t know if the bank attendant noticed how apprehensive I looked, how closely I was watching my movements so as not to step out of line. I somehow very much doubt so.

as I waited for him to either come up with a solution to my problem or address me – whichever came first – I fell back to scanning the room. beside the desk, leaning on the leaflet crowded wall was a small side-table that matched the filling-cabinets. the top was loaded with random documents I couldn’t distinguish from my sitting place and probably this morning’s paper folded in two. the lower shelf curved under the weight of a sturdy-looking safety-ward the colour of fir leaves. a tiny but distinctive key stuck out of the keyhole, if it was holding something important inside, why would they leave the key on? I waved away the though as soon as it formed, suddenly more interested in other matters: the pronounced bent in the metal shelf got me wondering if it had happened overtime or the moment they placed the safety-ward on it. somehow both images seemed curiously implausible to me – the metal layer slowly, imperceptibly giving in under the excess of weight day after day for who knew how many years; and the more comic scene of it shaping itself instantly like the bottom of the sturdy box.

my silly thoughts were interrupted again by the sudden leave of the bank employee. I stole some more glances at the abused metal side-table, but the magic of the moment was gone, the piece of furniture no longer held any fascination for me. it was just some severely dented metal side-table that would have never caught my attention if I hadn’t had so much time in my hands.

I gave the room another quick sweep, just out of habit. this time my eyes came to rest on a childish drawing stuck to the wall. I recalled vaguely seeing something similar in another cubicle, the one belonging to the attendant of the previous visit. it had looked like the sort of handmade gift of “mother’s day”. the word “married” lit up in my mind as a logical consequence to seeing the drawing. excited by the thought of finding other clues as to who this nondescript bank employee really was I payed closer attention to the objects on his desk: a stack of clean post-it, uncapped blue pens with the bank logo printed on the side, a bubble-shaped paper-weight holding nothing down and a small figurine of a turtle painted in bright, absurd colours – it looked like some kind of souvenir, but apart from that I couldn’t make out anything of it. and then, leaning against the side of the CPU and facing the guests’ seat rather than the owner of the desk, was a personal photograph. a medium shot of a young man holding a woman in his arms, low hills covered in green and scattered firs on the background. the scenery reminded me oddly of switzerland. the man was very clearly my busy bank employee, only something was slightly wrong with him – I couldn’t quite put my finger on it yet. the woman was on her late twenties, early thirties, blond like him, her straight hair falling just below her shoulders. they both wore casual clothes – a plain white T-shirt and a blue polo shirt – as would be fitting for hiking or a day in the countryside. his arms wrapped around the woman drawing her closely to him and she in turn rested her head lightly on his shoulder. the more I looked at the picture the more disturbed I became. something about it bothered me, though in truth it looked too much like a “happy family” ad to give anyone the creeps.

I couldn’t chew on it any further as my bank attendant was already back again. this time I took a better look at him in search of the differences with the man on the photograph. he had lost some weight with the years, that was immediately evident just by looking him in the face – the younger man’s chicks were fleshier, not in a puffy but in a healthy way. his shoulders and back were broader too, like those of a sportsman. the man typing on the computer in front of me was still attractive enough (the hair line receding a bit), but the light that had sparkled behind his eyes was long gone. and suddenly it hit me, the reason the photograph had unsettled me before: when you looked at it you got the feeling that the woman was surely, irrevocably dead now. I don’t know how I had come to that conclusion, but my whole body cried out with the feeling of loss. it was certainly unfounded and stupid to think so, still it was the feeling I got.

my eyes trailed back to my bank employee and rested on his left hand: a very simple gold band adorned his ring finger, a sign that he was still married – whether to the woman on the photograph or not I couldn’t know. I wasn’t an expert, but I was under the impression widowers took off their wedding rings and stored them away following some kind of social convention. and yet the woman’s eyes had a sad, weary look to them that mismatched his glowing expression. it was as if her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes, couldn’t quite reach them. still her face looked calm and tender, like she were quietly saying goodbye, knowing from long ago that she wouldn’t be around much longer.

none of these feelings could be registered in his face, so it could be assumed he knew nothing about it at the time. I suddenly thought again of the awkward arrangement of the photograph, facing outwards, like casted away. then again the whole desk was such a mess it could very well mean nothing at all. my idle mind was quick to make assumptions, especially when deprived from reading.

after I left the bank, the image of the couple lingered in my mind. her face transmitted and oddly reassuring sense of peace – it said “everything is going to be alright”. and at the same time, even if you wanted to believe her, you know without a doubt that it wasn’t true. you could see the sadness welling up in her eyes like unshed tears – in eyes that were probably past crying. my heart contracted again with the pain of great loss – someone else’s, but real nonetheless. and then I let the images of the city take over my gloomy thoughts as I rode on a bus downtown.




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