Deposit book under my arm, iPhone in hand, key ring around my index finger, I waited for the next available teller at a bank in the city. My banking is usually completed at our local branch, but when I’m in Vancouver for work I’ll sometimes stop into a different branch. (“Sometimes” translation = 4 visits in 3 years.) I tried to wait patiently as my mind went six different directions (I need to find a bathroom, my throat is parched, perhaps I’ll hit up the Starbucks down the road, rush hour is coming, not looking forward to driving home, will I have enough time to shower before going out?) and that’s when I saw her, the lady who handled a deposit over two years ago. To my delight, she was available next. She called me over with her thick drawn-out British accent, “Hellooooo! How can I assist you, dearie?”
With five stud earrings up the side of each ear, one dangling off either earlobe, two strands of pearls around her neck, no less than five broaches pinned onto her patterned wool cardigan, less than flawless black eyeliner (but no doubt, painstakingly drawn every morning before her cup of earl grey tea in a china cup) lining each of her two blue eyes. She was not the kind of lady you forgot after only two years. She asked if I wanted balances printed on the back of my deposit book last time. I delivered my standard response, “No, that’s okay. I keep track online.” Unsatisfactory response, apparently, because she launched into: “Oh dearie, you should always get balances printed. If perhaps something went wrong with the cheque deposit–not saying it will of course, but you never know–you’d have your balances here to fall back on! Always a good idea.” At once I was nine years old again, knowing there was no way to win the conversation and now trying to respectfully heed my grandmother’s advice. “Sure, print the balances.” “Wonderful! *beep beep beep (this is my noise of balances printing)* Have a great day!”
I handed her my deposit book with one cheque inside. She hit a few keys on her keyboard, flipped the cheque over and back to find my account number and ran the deposit book through the reader. She never asked if I wanted balances and I wasn’t about to request otherwise. I safely assumed her banking beliefs would not have changed in a couple short years. She signed the bottom of my deposit book and looked up, “You have a credit card with us, yes?”
“Oh yes, I do, I actually have two,” I replied. “Wonderful! That is the way to go! You know, the thing to do is to have two. You have one with a higher credit limit that you use at home. And one with a small, small limit that you take when you travel!” I hated to burst her bubble, “That’s a great idea. I use one for business and one for personal expenses though, same credit limit… when I travel I take them both.”
She closed the deposit book and folded her ring-covered, manicured hands on top of my hand-written “Jamie Delaine Photography” centred title. “I went to China last year. Ohhh, It was fabulous. I went by myself, you know! All the way there.” “Cool,” I said. “I’ve never been.” “Oh dear, you simply MUST GO. The food, there, ohhh, the food is FABULOUS. And SO CHEAP TOO. We were staying in this hotel in Beijing, a-maz-ing hotel, and right outside, there was a man sitting on the steps. He had what looked like a big, big oil drum” (she outstretched her arms) “but of course it wasn’t an oil drum, he was making crepes! Guess how much those crepes were?” I smiled. “30 CENTS! Massive!” (outstretched arms again) “Ohh you could have anything you want, cheese, tomato (she pronounced the word like toMATTo), marshmallows, peanut butter, anything! One night we went out for dinner as a group. We’re eating, eating, eating. I’m thinking ‘Oh, this is going to be expensive. But oh well, I’m on vacation!’ and so we kept eating, eating, eating. Well, the boys kept eating, eating. Not me as much. The bill came and it was, guess. 7 dollars. SEVEN DOLLARS. We also saw a panda reserve. Just incredible.” I smiled and nodded throughout her story until she handed me my deposit book and said abruptly with a wave of her hand. “You must go!”
Her sudden, blunt conclusion made me smile (what an odd good bye, perhaps it’s a British thing) until I reached my car down the block. Ohhhhh. She meant I must go to China someday… not I must leave the bank. It was the smallest, littlest conversation (more like a monologue, really) but it was one of the highlights of my work day. Everyone has a story. I love encountering people who give me no option but to listen. They always turn into some of my favourite life moments.
On the flip side, it hurts me to watch people brush off someone at a coffee shop or grocery store when they start randomly chatting. Let them talk.
They probably need it more than we need our time.
P.S. I’m gonna let you into my random-writing-brain. Before I pulled out of my parking spot after the bank, I opened up my phone and wrote the following note: “slowing down for people, English lady at bank in vancouver, 2 credit cards. yes. good. when you travel… “you must go” // the panda reserve, cheap food, did not eat that much, just the boys, came to 7 total, i flew by myself, i was on a tour group, outside beijing hotel, fabulous hotel, man with an oil drum but of course it wasn’t, making crepes! 30 CENTS! massive! you could have cheese tomato marshmallows peanut butter anything!” — And this note was enough to allow me to write 5 days after the fact. Take notes, writers. You never know what characters you’ll meet, or re-meet, on an average Wednesday.