Covid Stories: The Bank Teller
Updated: May 15, 2020
The masked man enters the 29th and Mission St. branch of Bay Savings and Loan at 2pm. There is no line because he is the only customer in the bank. His mask is blue, he is wearing a black knit cap pulled down to his eyebrows and yellow latex rubber gloves like he is getting ready to wash the dishes. A bank teller, wearing a lime-green jewel-neck blouse and a tiny golden crucifix hanging from a chain around her neck, looks up at the masked man from behind a 10-foot high sheet of plexiglass. “May I help you?” she says. “Do you have a piece of paper, please, and a pencil?” “Of course,” she says, tears off a small piece of paper from a scratch pad and hands them through the slot under the plexiglass, along with a yellow stub of a pencil. “Thank you,“ says the man in the mask. He takes the pencil and draws a cartoon-like representation of a pistol on the piece of paper. He is clearly having difficulty drawing because of the gloves. He then hands back the piece of paper through the slot, along with the pencil, to the teller. She smiles and picks them both up. When she sees the drawing, she scrunches up her eyes to look closer. “Ummm...I’m not sure, what, um, what exactly, is this?” she says, looking up at the man in the mask. "Is it a shoe?"
"WHAT? Oh, you're holding it sideways. Turn it 90 degrees."
"Oh, of course. Well, then. Ummmm..."
When she doesn't respond, he says: “Well, I could do it a lot better, if I had, you know, more time, the gloves, it’s hard...oh, for Goodness sake! It’s a PISTOL!”
The teller stares again at the drawing. She is the only teller on duty at 2pm. For two weeks now, there has been no business at all at the branch and the teller has had a lot of time on her hands. All her fellow employees are afraid the parent company in Delaware will scale back local operations and they will lose their jobs, so it’s liberating to have something useful to do and someone to talk with. “Well,” she says, smiling to the masked man, “I can see it, kind of. This part, the long part...” she shows it to the man through the plexiglas. “You mean, the barrel...” “Well, yes, it looks more like, you know, a donut or something, but the rest, yes, I see it, it could be...why, of course. It’s a gun.” “That’s right,” the masked man says. “OK,” the teller says, and when the man doesn’t respond, she adds, “Thank you. Now, how can I help you today?” “Excuse me, miss,” he says. “That’s a gun, do you know what a gun is?” “Ha ha, of course I do, but...” “But what?” “Well, this isn’t a gun, this is a picture of a gun.” “Please, would you mind handing it back to me?” “Of course, sir,” she says and slides the drawing back under the plexiglass. “Will you be needing the pencil?” “No, not now, thank you,” he says, then takes the drawing, and turns it towards the woman and holds it up against the plexiglass, so now she is staring directly at the drawing of the gun. She shakes her head side to side. This frustrates the masked man with the knit cap and the latex gloves, so he shouts: “THIS IS A STICKUP!” The teller scratches her chin. “You shouldn’t touch your face,” the man says. “Oh, right. Ha ha. Sometimes I forget.” The teller looks around. Her supervisor has gone to lunch. The security guard is outside with his head down talking on his phone. The teller never understands who the security guard is talking to all the time because she is pretty sure he is deaf. There is no one in the bank but her and the masked man with the knit cap and latex gloves and he is trying to rob her bank with a picture of a gun that he has just drawn on a piece of paper she has given to him. These are strange times. People have lost their anchors. A strange compassion washes over her. The man looks nervous and the closer she looks, the more she notices his soiled jeans and his plaid shirt that has been worn for several days with the collar frayed and one of the shirt buttons missing.
“Sir,” she begins, in as kind a voice as she can muster. “How can I help you today?” He pulls down the drawing so he can see her better. “I want...I want...” “Yes, Sir?” She waits and when he says nothing, she says, “There is no hurry.” And then, “Take your time.” “I want...this bottle of hand sanitizer,” he says, pointing to the plastic bottle of Purell at the teller window, the same brand that has been placed at all the teller windows, as a means to control transmission of a dangerous virus. “Well, Sir,” she says, “Why don’t you just take it?” “Oh, I couldn’t do that,” he says. “No, really, you can,” she says. “Please take it. Please.” “Oh no no no, I can’t do that, I’ve never, I would never...” he says. “Please!” “No.” She starts to say “The bank won’t mind,” but then isn’t so sure they won’t. The executives in Wuddid, Delaware, can be very prickly about bank robberies, although this one seems, to the teller, to be several cells short of a larceny. Suddenly the masked man blurts out: “I live out there, in back of the bank. You know?” There is an alley behind the parking lot, with bank property on one side and a development of chic, new condos on the other. She imagines many impoverished people congregate in that alley after dark. To the teller, the alley seems to be something either the condo units or the bank would want to do something about, in terms of cleaning it up or helping the grizzled, homeless citizens who gather there, but so far she has never heard word one about it. She nods to the masked man. “It’s just that I could, really, you know, use...” He falls silent. “Sir, I understand. Take the Purell.” “No, no, I can’t. But I will pay for it. How much is it?” “Uh, Sir, but see, I don’t, no one has told me, I can’t...” The masked man looks like he is going to cry. His head falls against the plexiglass with a thump. She now notices that the fabric on top of his black knit cap has been torn loose so there is a hole in it the size of a half-dollar. It couldn’t possibly keep his head dry in a rainstorm. She knocks hard on her side of the plexiglass. The man jerks back up and stares at her. “FIVE DOLLARS!” she says. “Five dollars?” he says, smiling, suddenly energized, at first, then, after he thinks about it, enraged. “FIVE DOLLARS FOR ONE CRUMMY BOTTLE OF...” “Sir, sshhhh,” she says, glancing at the deaf security guard standing outside. He continues in a softer voice. “Five dollars for one crummy bottle of Purell, I mean I assure you I could just walk across the street to the 99 Cents Store and pick up one of these for, for...you know...” “Ninety-nine cents?” she suggests. He stares at her. “I will give you ninety-nine cents for this bottle of sanitizer,” he says. “SOLD!” The teller says. “Good,” says the man. “Fine,” says the bank teller. There is a short silence, punctuated by the clanking of one of the few remaining 14-Mission buses still running outside the bank. They both turn and look out the front window of the bank in the direction of the bus. They can see the bus has no passengers. They turn back towards each other. The man frowns and looks down. “Oh, dear. You don’t have ninety-nine cents, do you?” says the bank teller, kindly. “Well...” “Sir, I have an idea. Do you still have that drawing?” “You mean, the pistol? Uh, wait...” he rummages through his pockets, paper clips, crumpled-up tissues, a random lock with no key...”Yes. Here it is...you’re right, it’s not very good...” “Show me the drawing! I mean, the pistol!” “You mean this?” He holds the drawing up to the plexiglass. “Eeeeeeek!” she...says. She knows it would be more effective if she screamed, but the security guard is right outside the front door and, though she is sure he is deaf, she doesn’t want to take any chances. “Eeek!” she loudly whispers. Since she is loudly whispering, the masked man loudly whispers too. ”Are you afraid now?” he whispers, smiling. “I am! I am! You are a very good bank robber!” she whispers. “I am? Really?” He smiles wider. “Please don’t hurt me,” she whispers again. She decided to throw that in, because she has seen lots of tv shows and... “Oh, no, I won’t, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I would never...” “Great! Now, take the bottle of Purell and get out.” “Well, are you sure you’re all right? I didn’t want to...” The teller hears a door open in the employee area behind her. She realizes Mr. Diddley, her boss, has finally come back from lunch and will enter the caged teller area at any moment. “GET OUT OF HERE!” she shouts, waving her arms. “NOW!! The masked man turns and hands the drawing of the gun back into the slot under the plexiglass. “You keep this,” he says, and grabs the hand sanitizer. “Tell your grandkids.” He stuffs the Purell into his pocket and runs out the side door into the empty parking lot. The teller smiles as she watches him go, just as Mr. Diddley enters and calls to her. “Everything OK, Lillian?” “Yes sir,” she says. “Lillian," he says, eyes averted. "I’m sorry, but...we need to talk. There will be a meeting tomorrow at noon. Please tell the others.” He turns and walks out, looking crumpled like a canceled check, the metal door closing behind him. Lillian stares at the door, now closed, where Mr. Diddley was just standing.
"Damn," she says. "We're both out of here, aren't we." That night, after work, Lillian gathers up every bottle of Purell in the branch, twenty in all, puts them in a paper bag and walks to the entrance of the alley behind the parking lot. The chic condos tower above the broken concrete and strewn fast-food wrappers in the alley. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out the drawing of the pistol, places the bag with all the sanitizers on top of it, walks back to her car and gets in. Before work tomorrow she will cross the street to the 99 Cents store and buy as many new knit caps as they have and place them in the same spot in the alley. Then she’ll see what happens.