It was, temporarily, a hole-in-the-wall operation. El banco; the bank. Renovations. The old entrance now had two ugly, galvanised-metal doors; they stood agape to let the workmen wheel their barrows out and through the queue of customers. Customers waiting patiently to enter via a ragged arch knocked through the wall further up. The builders were a week behind. It was January the 2nd , after all
The queue snaked past the shoe-shop, failed video-store and the fishmonger’s: black clad matrons; smoking campesinos in threadbare jackets; every woman under 30 with a pushchair to the side. All of them catching up on the news after the holidays.
‘Are you the last?’ I asked the automatic question. You can’t be sure you see. Lawyer and client, young mother and grandma -anyone really- could be off for a coffee or a pee. I once stood in a post office queue and it moved up 3 places while the old lady I’d asked listed all of the people who would return to claim their turn before I reached the desk.
‘Si, senor.’ He confirmed ‘I am the last.’
I sort of knew him. I saw him walking by the side of the ring-road, from time to time. Every day about 11 he would walk 3 miles to pick up his bread: trousers flapping in the wind, one hand keeping the straw hat on his head. I often waved as I drove past. He’d lift his hat or wave the plastic bag of baguettes in salute .
He didn’t recognise me though. I supposed he waved at the car. He was smoking, naturally. All the men, matrons and mothers would chainsmoke until they passed through the hole into the bank itself. His cigarette had been self-built; paper too coarse for a Rizla. It looked suspiciously like, although it couldn’t have been, Izal. I’ve never seen that in Mercadona supermarket.
The queue inched forward. I enjoyed the soap opera of the Alhaurino lives playing out before me. The overpowering welcomes for cousins last seen a few short days ago; the sudden, explosive arguments as one or other party realises the bank book has been left on dark, dark furniture on the other side of town. The agente of the Policia Local stopping for a few words with his grandmother whilst patrolling the streets, the gun at his side as natural to him as a belt.
Finally the old man in front reached the cashier. His shaky hand pulled out a ten-euro note.
‘Cambio.’ He said. Change.
The exchange in heated Spanish was too rapid for me to follow. But the old man shrugged and turned away. The young female cashier rolled her eyes at me. I touched his arm and said:
I did my business and gave the man the coins in my pockets in exchange for his grubby and slightly torn note. After he left the bank I watched him enter the state monopoly lottery shop. I like to think the Once came up for him that week.