I ducked into the security cubicle of the bank’s entrance head first. The sun outside that day, and for the past week, was not for learners at all; I could almost hear my brain frying. Holding my phone up, I heard one door hiss shut behind me, saw the other one open up in front of me, and felt the cool air embrace me.
Not familiar with this particular branch, but with knowledge of a Nigerian bank’s generic layout, I looked for the Western Union sign; it pointed upstairs.
“Good,” I thought to myself, away from the crowded banking hall on this floor with its queue snaking towards the door of people waiting to be paid, the shorter queue coming from the bulk room of people waiting to make deposits, and the people milling about at the customer care desk and in the corners; bedlam.
I climbed the stairs, and as the steps went up, so too did the temperature. By the time I got to the floor above, it was slightly warm. I thought it was the higher one went, the cooler it became?
There was a queue up here as well, but a shorter queue, and just the one. I stood in line and waited my turn. Bored, my phone battery dead, I looked around the hall for a distraction, taking in my surroundings. It was then that I saw it, I saw her.
She was wearing a pair of blue jeans that looked like it was painted on her ample form. Over this she had a red tank top which stopped a few inches above her jeans. She turned sideways, with her right arm resting on the counter top, giving me a good view of her gut which flowed over the waistband of her jeans, and the beginnings of a butt crack. She was dimpled in some places and stretched in others, the dots and marks showing in the space between red tank top and blue jeans. She looked like the painter ran out of paint before his job was done, and gave up. She had arms like jell-o, her christian mother arms flapping with each movement, and these were dimpled and stretched too. Her skin was the colour of an overripe pawpaw; bright yellow skin and green veins running along it. Her lace front hair extension with its bonding glue along her hairline looked like something out Space: 1999, a series from my childhood. The triple piercing of her left ear that I could see did not help the overall picture.
I sighed, wondering, as Mama would ask, if there was anybody at home when she left her house. And that was the least of it.
From where I stood, I spotted an almost perfect arrow aimed at her behind, with the words ‘Enter Here’ written in orange on a white square sign. Now that was a set-up. I managed to hold my laughter in, but I kept glancing in her direction from time to time. Finally, she was done with her transaction and headed for the door. As she walked past me she reached behind her and pulled up her low-ride jeans, a futile endeavour really because it just rode back down with each jiggle of her dimpled back side as she descended the steps, the clack, clack,clack of her slippers fading as she moved further down the steps.
The lady in front of me moved and I shuffled forward as well; we were like a slave gang shackled together. This movement landed me directly under a square of light. I looked up and counted four fluorescent tubes encased in a reflective square in the ceiling, the lights bouncing off the white walls. Walls stained brown from contact with countless customers: prints, streaks, and a muddy brown splash stain close to the floor.
The heat was getting to me. The still air and the light from the fluorescent only made it worse. I felt the pricks and tingle on my forehead and in my armpits as I broke out in sweat.
I looked around for the air-conditioners; there was one big unit behind the Customer Service desk to my right, but it may have been a fan for all the air it blew. The hall was rectangular with the steps I had come up to my right, just beside the Customer Service desk. Opposite that, and to my left, was another set of steps leading up another floor. In front of me were the tellers, and opposite those, a row of five plastic chairs placed against the wall for customers to sit in; each one was occupied. Right next to them was a door which, I suspected, led under and around the stairs to the back office.
We shuffled forward a few more inches like cattle at a marketplace, rails of yellow woven rope anchored to waist-high pillars to our left and to our right. I did not mind those really, at least they helped to keep us in line and maintain a semblance of order. What got to me though, was a smell.
There was the smell of pure putrefaction as a young lad walked past me. They say if your father is garlic and your mother is onion how can you not smell? I was sure some of that smell had become stuck onto my clothes, for surely that smell would linger in the hall for more than a little bit.
I held my breath too late, and I could almost taste him on my tongue. I said a silent prayer of gratitude that I had not been caught with my mouth open.
I leaned a little closer to the woman in front of me and her perfume helped a little. Her smell was crisp, like a lettuce or cabbage leaf, not one of those cloying flowery fragrances some women drown themselves in, and the mint green colour of her gown was strangely cooling.
We shuffled forward again and it was her turn to be attended to.
Now I could clearly see the lacquered wood of the tellers’ desk with the POS machines for ‘fast track’ banking, the tellers’ heads was the only visible part of their body from where I stood. There were seven of them: lady, guy, guy, lady, guy, guy, lady, I counted from left to right. Seven tellers with all the technology available to them, and still the service was snail paced. I sighed again.
I hate banks. Not really, I hate queues and waiting.
I finished my business and stepped out of the bank into the sweltering heat. The midday sun seemed to have waited for me and was beating down mercilessly on everything and everywhere I turned, the glare of the sun reflected off surfaces and hit my eyes. Even the asphalt danced and shimmered in the heat and suddenly, the banking hall did not seem so bad after all.
PS: I have heard phrases like “The warmest Summer”, “The longest Winter”, “The harshest harmattan”. This past season, I do not know what season it was again because it kept changing, has been the hottest whatever season it was! Imagine trying to cuddle without electricity in all that heat.
Not-so-surprisingly, it rained thrice in the past week, and very heavily on Sunday, cooling the nights a little. While I am not ready for the rains yet, I am glad for the respite they offer. If only the coolness has come to stay…
Bring on the weather for two!