When I was a student, my account manager at the bank was a sultry woman in her thirties called Vera Wilson. She didn’t seem to belong in a bank and admitted to me that she’d always wanted to be a dancer. Her relationship with money was an open one.
“We both see other people,” she said, and laughed.
Once, when I went to see her about increasing my overdraft limit, she explained the essence of debt to me.
“It’s not about these numbers,” she said, looking over my statement. “It’s this little line.”
She pointed at the minus sign in front of my balance.
“That’s the only problem.”
I wasn’t sure if she was testing me.
“It’s a fairly big problem,” I said.
“It’s not,” she replied, looking at me over her glasses. “There are bigger problems in the world.”
We’d talk like this every time I went to see her. I liked being in debt because I had a crush on her. How could I not? She was attractive, older, and had power over me. She was the best banker in the world. She understood that money was not what it was all about. When the bank fired her, she sent me a handwritten card which read, “Fuck’em.”
My new account manager was a man. A month after Vera left I was summoned to see him. I was in the red to a degree acceptable for a business, but not for a student with no income and few prospects. There was going to be trouble. What were the chances that this asshole would see things the way Vera did? Fuck’em, I thought. Who the hell was he anyway?
Jefty Jeff had an office on the third floor, and a secretary.
“Take a seat,” she said coldly. “Mr Jeff will be with you when he’s ready.”
“I’m ready now,” I said and glanced at my watch.
“When he’s ready,” she said again and stared at me until I cowered into a chair.
Jefty Jeff had a thick neck and he wore a short yellow tie that rested on his giant stomach. He sat wedged behind a desk which was much taller than the chairs in front of it. I was dwarfed by him and the desk.
“So,” he said, “I see you were with Miss Wilson.”
I felt like a kid in the principal’s office. I could barely see over the desk.
“I wasn’t with her,” I whispered. “I—”
Jefty Jeff cleared his throat and looked out the window for a moment.
“She managed your account,” he tried again.
“She did,” I agreed. “It’s a pity Vera’s left.”
Jefty Jeff stretched his neck from his collar the way fat men do. He looked like a harbour seal.
“I’m sure you think so,” he said drily and put his fingers together in a steeple. “Vera?”
Things were bad already and we hadn’t even started on the money.
“That was her name,” I added.
“I know,” he snapped. “I’m just amused that you know it.”
If Vera was here now, she wouldn’t take this shit.
“It’s not funny,” I said. “It’s what I call good service.”
My voice sounded far away, as though someone else was being cocky on my behalf. Jefty Jeff shook his head in disbelief and smiled to himself as he arranged some papers on his desk and adjusted his collar.
“What’s funny,” he said, waving his hand over my statement, ”is how good this service actually was.”
He made another steeple.
“What do you mean?” I asked, but I knew exactly what he meant.
“Miss Wilson allowed you a leeway that defies understanding,” he declared.
He worked his collar again.
“Let’s look at it together,” he said, and eyed me. “Shall we?”
It was getting hotter in his office and his desk had become a little taller.
“OK,” I croaked.
“It says here,” he continued, stretching out his words as he flipped through the evidence before him, “that you owe this bank almost 44 thousand.”
“Oh,” I blurted, relieved. “I thought it was more than that.”
Jefty Jeff turned pink.
“That’s twice my salary!” he barked. “Goddammit! And you’re not sure?”
“You’re lucky,” I heard myself say. “I don’t even have a salary.”
Jefty Jeff reached for a bottle of pills and a glass of water on his desk. He swallowed a pill with difficulty while he turned a deeper shade of pink and loosened his collar some more.
“How do you plan to repay this?” he sputtered after a few moments.
I could run, I thought. By the time he got out from behind the desk I’d be outside the building.
“Mr Jeff,” I heard my voice say, “I’m not really the planning type.”
Jefty Jeff turned red and took another sip of water. His hand was trembling.
“I’m actually a good customer,” my voice added before he could speak. “I owe you money. You should worry about customers who are in the blue. You owe them money.”
Jefty Jeff banged on the desk with his fist. I had to catch a stapler on my end before it fell to the floor.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” he boomed. “You little twerp!”
I thought of Vera, of how nice things used to be.
“You see that little line,” I heard a voice say, far away, “the little line in front of my balance?”
Jefty Jeff didn’t look at my statement. He’d become very pale.
“That’s the only problem,” the voice said.
Jefty Jeff snapped. He staggered from his chair.
“Jesus Christ!” he bellowed.
“Calm down,” the voice said in the distance. “There are bigger problems than that.”
“What have you done?” he cried, pointing at me.
For a moment I was puzzled. He sure didn’t look too good. Then I realised that I didn’t feel too good either. I looked where he was pointing. There was blood on his desk and all over my hands. In the excitement I had stapled through the webbing of my thumb.
“I—I don’t know,” I stammered and stemmed the bleeding with my mouth.
Jefty Jeff made a grab for his collar and then he keeled over and disappeared from sight.
“He’s fainted,” I told the secretary.
She gave me a tired look. When I didn’t budge she got up and came to the door.
“What happened?” she squealed and hurried inside.
I thought of Vera as I slipped away. “He saw red,” she’d say, and laugh.