My bank, Cajamar, collapsed today.
Fortunately, its collapse was physical rather than fiscal, as the extensive building work above the Colmenar branch suddenly broke through, leaving customers to dive for waste-paper bins to put on desks to catch the dribbles of water from above.
I remember years ago reading a piece of research that found that when we enter a setting full of strangers, such as getting on a bus or sitting in a hospital waiting area, we gravitate towards the person most like us, and sit near them. Some ancient, long-submerged tribal instinct, probably. Anyway, the queue (if you can call it that) in the bank was enormous. People were milling about everywhere, and only one caja was open. “¿Ultimo?” I asked, looking around to see who believed they were the last to have joined the throng. “Ultimo” replied an old man in a straw hat leaning against the window. The wait seemed endless. At last a young woman took her turn, vacating her chair and those of her two children. Two other women dived for a seat, and I nipped round the pillar to grab the third. We shared a conspiratorial (and tribal) grin, pleased with our little achievement. The door opened. “¿Ultimo?” asked the new arrival. “Ultima” I replied.
The wait continued. Both women left their chairs to get served. Both vacancies were filled by elderly men in working trousers, braces, and straw hats. My tribal comfort zone diminished. One of the men looked at his watch and muttered how ridiculous it was that there was only one caja open. I agreed and we shared a shrug. The endless banging and sawing from the building works above became louder. We shared another shrug, eyes rolling upwards towards the noise. Then Ellie came in – a ripple of anticipation ran through the waiting crowd, hoping she would open a second desk. But no. She took over from Jose who departed rather rapidly and with a distinct air of relief. One by one people slowly got served, while even more came in behind.
Then it happened. A small ceiling tile cracked and a sudden cloud of white dust was followed by a spurt of water, which quickly slowed to a drip. A young man in overalls bearing the Mecol logo, the local electrical company, leapt for a waste-paper bin, moved the computer keyboard out of the way, rescued a pile of customer files and put the bin on the desk to catch the drips. After the flurry of excitement, we settled back to our random queuing. Then at the other side of the office, a whole polystyrene tile fell, again followed by a spurt of water. Three customers busied themselves moving papers, telephones and computers, placing another waste bin on this desk. The old man on my left caught my eye – another shrug, another roll of the eyes. A sudden unbidden thought made me laugh out loud. He looked at me questioningly. “Está simbólico de la crisis” I said. “El banco se cae alrededor de nosotros”. “It’s symbolic of the crisis – the bank is collapsing around us.” His face cracked and he bent right over in laughter. The man on the other side joined in. Another asked what the joke was and he repeated it. It got passed around the crowd until everyone was chuckling. Two men clapped me on the back as I finally got up to take my turn at the caja. The tribal boundary seemed a little more elastic. Ellie gave me her enormous red-lipped smile. “There’s only one person here who didn’t like your joke” she told me in Spanish. “The boss?” I asked. “No – the Englishman over there – he didn’t understand it.”
© Tamara Essex 2012