I knew that the day wouldn’t go well for me. The blue Italian Fiat crawled along the driveway, and the open door was closed with a heavy thud. Our Regional Manager, Mr. ABC, was wiping his feet on the coir rug and looking at me under his eyebrows.
‘Good morning, Sir,’ I greeted.
‘Hm,’ a machine-like reply buzzed through the small ASC branch room. ‘What is wrong?’
‘Safe doesn’t open,’ I muttered.
‘No,’ he said, pulling the chair out and sitting down with his legs crossed. ‘Did you balance the cash?’
I looked at Sunil, the second officer, who was my last resort. Nothing I knew about balancing reconciliation. To add more to the injustice, I had to answer in English. What a pity I never passed my English. Before deciding for another go at the English paper, I joined a true nationalist front. We were Sri Lankans and did not want to worship a foreign language. It took another seven years for me to learn that you can’t either do banking or work in a bank in Swabasha.
‘Yes Sir,’ Sunil rescued me, but not for long. ‘Two weeks outstanding,’ Sunil added.
‘How long have you been in the bank?’ R.M asked me.
‘Six months.’ I stammered.
‘Six months! Forty-two weeks! One hundred and eighty days! Eh?’
‘Long enough to get a hang of reconciliation.’
I looked around.
‘Two weeks outstanding!’
‘I will send you a letter asking for an explanation. You See?’
‘Yes Sir,’ I wriggled.
‘Now Mr Fernando,’ he turned to the other officer who accompanied him from the regional office. ‘He has reported that the safe didn’t open. See what has happened. Customers are complaining. They can’t withdraw money. See I came all the way from Kurunegala only to open your safe.’
I remained silent, wiping the sweat on my forehead.
Mr Fernando checked the safe, rotated the combination and turned the handle anti clockwise.
With a click the safe opened. The monster!
‘What was the problem Mr Fernando?’ The R.M asked. Mr Fernando got closer to the superior and said something with a gaze at me. The superior had a mechanical nod.
‘These new Alfa models sometimes don’t work properly,’ Mr Fernando said smiling. There was a faint smile on R. M’s face too.
‘Balance the reconciliation and confirm me. You will get a letter to explain,’ my R.M. said getting up.
I looked at my junior, Sunil’s face. He seemed to be horrified.
Before leaving, Fernando patted on my back. ‘No problem. You have turned the safe door handle the other way,’ he whispered.
I stared at him. ‘My God. Don’t let him know. I will get another letter.’
Fernando had his last word.
‘He knew it before leaving the office. Forget it all mate. You won’t get a letter. He has a son your age.’
I peered out the window and saw the blue Fiat’s faded roof trailing off.
By B.Karasinghe Arachchi – Auckland