John had always liked rules. They were an island of certainty in an uncertain ocean, a well paved path through a desert of quicksand, the part in Judge Judy when the people who weren’t Judge Judy stopped talking. He had never stolen, never cheated, never lied. Once, when he was twelve, he’d had a sip of his mother’s wine while she wasn’t looking. It still haunted him. When he was twenty, at his first office job, he accidentally opened a letter that wasn’t addressed to him. It had been junk mail, but it hadn’t been his junk mail. He was so mortified he’d reported himself immediately. When they didn’t fire him, he quit. And reported the manager who hadn’t fired him. Those were the only times in his life he had broken the rules. So, avoiding hyperbole because hyperbole is lying without the honesty to admit you’re lying, it was unusual to find himself pointing a gun at a bank teller.
It wasn’t a real gun. That made him feel worse. Not only was he threatening someone, he was being dishonest in the process. Worse still, it was hidden awkwardly beneath his newspaper, so nobody else could see it. If you don’t want people to see what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be doing it. Nobody had ever taught him that, so he’d taught it to himself. Which now made him a hypocrite on top of everything else.
He ran through the script he’d written one last time, and then spoke in the tone of someone reading something aloud without first reading it silently. ‘I’d like to make a deposit, please.’
The teller, standing deathly still, a shade even the staunchest white supremacist would be jealous of, seemed to come suddenly back to life. ‘You what?’
She wasn’t supposed to say that. In his script, she was helpful. He decided to start again. Maybe she’d do better the second time. ‘I’d like to make a deposit, please.’
With what he could only assume was intentional disregard for his careful planning, she said ‘At gunpoint?’
Improvising, John strongly believed, was to acting what arson is to baking. But she’d given him no choice, he was going to have to improvise. Visibly sweating with the mental strain, pushing his creativity to breaking point, it took him barely a minute to come up with a reply on the spot. ‘Yes,’ said John.
‘Why?’ said the teller.
Would this never end? ‘Because you wouldn’t let me make a deposit without the gun.’
‘Why not?’ Would nothing sate this teller’s curiosity?
He felt like Judas, each word a nail in the flesh of Christ. ‘Because the rules wouldn’t allow it.’
Her face realigned itself in recognition. ‘I remember you.’
Panic, hot and cold at the same time, no respect for the laws of thermodynamics. ‘No you don’t.’
‘You found some money hanging out of an ATM and you wanted to give it back, but you don’t know whose it is.’
‘That was someone completely different.’
‘You can just keep the money.’
‘I don’t want to keep the money. It isn’t mine.’
‘Well it isn’t ours either.’
‘I just want to give it back.’
‘You can’t give it back if you don’t know who it belongs to.’
In a final act of desperation, he thew the newspaper to the floor (littering) and raised his fraudulent weapon until it was centimetres from her face. ‘I would like to make a deposit please!’
He had never screamed so loudly in his life. Everyone in the bank was looking.
‘Fine,’ said the teller with a sigh, taking the twenty dollars.
As John ran out the door, she put it in her pocket.