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Tipping Point

Eddie watched the trolley being emptied and the groceries slowly snaking their way along the belt. The woman was about his mother’s age, make-up carefully applied, dressed in a long wool coat, colourful scarf and knee-length boots. She packed away her groceries in her shopping bags, arranging the meat and fish in one, vegetables in another and assorted dry goods in a third. She then began rooting through her handbag for her purse. When she couldn’t find it there, she searched her coat pockets, then the shopping bag she carried and back to the handbag. Jesus woman, I haven’t got all day, thought Eddie. He checked again, but there were still no other tills open. When she eventually found the wallet in her handbag, she opened it and took out her Visa card. She hesitated then slid the card back in her wallet. What the hell is she at? She put the wallet in her coat pocket and headed back towards the food aisles whispering, (almost) mouthing the words to Eddie “just picking up a few bananas.”

Eddie ran his fingers through his hair, “Come on,” he muttered through gritted teeth. He looked at his watch. To the cashier he said, “I’ve only got three bits. Can you run them through now while she’s getting the bananas?”

“No can do, man,” the till man said. Bartek on the name badge. “The machine won’t allow me start a new customer once I have the stuff rung up.”

“Come on, it’s just a couple of items. I really need to be somewhere else and I’m late as it is,” as he checked his watch. 9.50. “Can you not get another till open even?”

Bartek shook his head and said, “Not till 10.30.”

Eddie scanned the chewing gum, the Easter eggs, the 80 percent cocoa-based chocolate, the paracetamol, the Strepsils, the Rennies, the Calpol and the A10 Duracell batteries displayed to his right, then counted each lot of merchandise, including the damaged chocolate bar peeping out from under the checkout unit. What the hell’s keeping that bloody woman?

“I’m so sorry for keeping you. You’re very…,” began the woman as she came back over to the till. She quickly looked away from Eddie’s glare, the high colour in his cheeks and the perspiration all along his hairline. The search for her purse began again in her handbag.

“It’s in your bloody coat pocket Missus,” said Eddie as he slapped the sliced ham in front of Bartek, jingling coins repeatedly in his trouser pocket. It was just after ten o’ clock when he got away from Aldi. He’d aimed to be first into the bank when they opened at ten.

Eddie had got to Aldi at 9.40 that Tuesday morning. He had to pick up ham, bread and tea bags for the lunch, get to the bank, then pick up Rosie from playschool at eleven o’clock. It would be tight he thought, but he should make it. Can’t be late for little Rosie.

Leaving Aldi, he walked down to the bank on Main Street, a fifteen-minute walk, but at least it wasn’t raining. He had to cancel a standing order on their account. Grainne had written down the details. He used to do any banking that had to be done on-line but that was before they cut off the Wi-Fi. So, any banking had to be done at the branch. His phone beeped a message.

“Milk too. G.”

“Finished Aldi heading bank,” he texted back.

“Pick up at petrol station G.”

Jesus all this shopping and having to go into the bank – that bank - and now pick up more shopping again. But he knew he really did have to do more to help Grainne with the day to day stuff now that she was hoping to get back to work full-time again.

The bank had been completely reorganised since Eddie was there last. A time he wanted to forget. Memories returning with a vengeance, memories he thought buried for good - the threatening letters, the court case, the repossession and the start of the health problem. …he couldn’t go there. Now there was plush seating with small meeting tables arranged here and there but no one at them. Fancy looking poles and ropes on the floor to manage the queue and a deep-pile carpet in corporate grey and gold colours.

“How come there’s only one cashier on?” Eddie asked the guy in front of him as he joined the queue.

“There’s never more than one cashier on now. The new system. To encourage us to use these bloody machines.”

“Christ. That’s crazy. And no one on foreign exchange either? I need to collect Rosie at eleven.”

“The one cashier has to do everything these days.”

Eddie counted eight machines all around the perimeter walls with big signs in bold capitals CASH WITHDRAWAL and CASH LODGEMENTS and CHEQUE LODGEMENTS. There were eleven people in the queue in front of him, one carrying two big bags of coin. This isn’t good, worse than Aldi. The queue was slow to move. By 10.30 only two customers had been served. Eddie tapped his right toe repeatedly on the grey carpet and jingled the coins in his pocket. He could feel the perspiration dripping under his arms. His phone beeped, another message.

“Went well. 2nd interview Monday. Back by 1.00. G.”

Jesus, not another day of this on Monday. And what if she gets the job? She hadn’t worked full time since Rosie was born. Who’ll bring little Rosie to the playschool and pick her up? He looked at his watch. 10.35. Not looking good. Big trouble if Grainne gets that job. The money is badly needed, though. In fairness, she’d been very good to him. When you think about it, she did a lot. His meals, his tablets, his washing, looking after Rosie. The hoovering too. And the shopping and minding the few bob they got. Many’s another one would have gone home to their mother in the circumstances. Losing his job, unable to meet the repayments, the threatening letters from SDI Bank…..the bastards. He ran his fingers through his hair. He could taste the salt from the sweat on his lips. Don’t go there. Big breath in through the mouth and out the nose. Repeat.

A bespectacled female floor manager in a black trouser suit emerged from one of the offices and began to ask those at the back of the queue what services they were looking for. She directed some to the Express Lodgement machines, others to one of the ATMs. When she came to him, Eddie explained that he just needed to cancel a standing order.

“Oh, you can do that on line or by telephone, it’s easy.”

“We don’t have Wi-Fi any more at home and I was told you have to do it in person in the branch.”

“Yes, that’s right but you’ll be much quicker using the phone. Just pick up that phone over there at the booth.”

“Could you not do it for me?” he smiled. “I’ve to pick up Rosie at the crèche before eleven. I’m not good at this kind of stuff.”

“No, I’m sorry I can’t, it’s against bank policy. It really is very easy, just pick up the phone and give all the details.”

Eddie took two deep breaths as the doctor had told him to do in such circumstances and went over to the phone booth. It was just a hood screwed to the wall with a telephone handset sitting on a shelf. He placed the shopping bag on the floor and picked up the receiver.

He went through the routine, pressing the number one several times as instructed by the recorded voice, then,

“Hello SDI Bank, Ballymac, Olive speaking. How can I help make your day better?”

“What? Oh right. My name is Eddie Madigan and I want to cancel a standing order. The account’s in the joint names of Grainne and Edward Madigan.”

“No problem, sir. Can I have your Bank Account Number and please?” Eddie read out the details from the slip of paper Grainne had given him.

“For security reasons, I need to ask you a few questions, Mr Madigan. Okay?”

“No problem.”

“What is your mother’s maiden name?”


“Okay, now can you tell me the balance in your current account?”

Eddie had no idea as Grainne had taken charge of all banking for the last eight months. “About forty euros,” he guessed.

“Forty euro did you say, sir?”

“Around that,” said Eddie. Such bullshit.

“That’s not what I have here. Can you give me details of a specific transaction on your account in the last five days, Mr. Madigan?”

“Look, I don’t do the banking much anymore. My wife, Grainne normally does it. The only recent transaction I can think of was at the ATM at the Maxol last Saturday week. I took out fifteen euros.”

“I’m afraid I need a specific transaction in the last five days, sir.” Eddie turned around and surveyed the rest of the bank while he counted to ten.

Stay calm. This is not aimed at you personally. “Can you put me on to Claire, she knows me?” he said into the phone.

“There’s no Claire working here, sir”

“There is a Claire. Claire O’Connor; she’s usually on the cash desk, well she used to be.”

“This is a call centre, sir, there’s no one with that name here.”

“What the bloody hell are you on about? When I picked up the phone I distinctly heard you saying SDI Bank Ballymac. You mean I’m not on to the bloody Ballymac branch after all?”

“Sir, our telephone system indicates that the call is an in-branch call and tells us which branch. It helps with communications. And sir, I would ask you to keep your voice down and please do not swear at me or I will be obliged to hang up.”

Eddie could now see the thirteen people in the queue staring over in his direction and the bespectacled floor manageress too. Count. To. Ten. This. Time. He twirled the black handset cable again and again around his middle finger as he silently counted while perspiration trickled down his nose.

“No. You just wait one minute, Olive… I said wait you bloody bitch. This is my money we’re talking about, my money that pays you and all these other useless wasters in here. Yis don’t know the first thing about serving customers.” He gazed around the bank, his back to the phone booth He wiped the perspiration from his nose with the back of his hand.

“Sir, I’m sorry, we cannot be of any further assistance on this occasion. I suggest you contact your bank branch directly. Thank you and good-bye.”

All eyes were on him. Specky floor manager was striding with purpose towards him from the front counter and he caught a glimpse of the Securi-Task guard moving his way from the front door lightly caressing the baton that hung from his belt.

Eddie turned back into the canopy “Hello, hello, hello.” He swung around only to face Specky. “That bloody bitch hung up on me. Can you believe that?” He slammed down the handset. He gripped the sides of the telephone hood and began to count silently. His nostrils flared and cheeks turned purple before he’d even got to five, as he slid to the ground.

“Rosie, Rosie, I have to collect Rosie,” he kept calling as he lay on the bank floor holding his head and rubbing his temples.

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1 Comment

Crystallises well with well maintained , nuanced tension a worls where 'the system' largely 'plays' humanity and not the inverse.

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