(To remind yourself of part I of the story, go here)
I wake up early on Monday morning. Despite Sarah’s calming influence yesterday, I’m feeling twitchy. What if the card isn’t in the machine after all? Or what if I can’t make the bank understand what happened? How about if the policemen weren’t, in fact, policemen despite their uniforms and marked car, and were actually con-men? They gave me a useless number to call, after all. Maybe the palm seller was in on it, too, stationed as he was outside the main door to eye potential marks and call his partners in crime at a moment’s notice. I do my best to shake the Hustle-style scenarios out of my head, concentrating instead on what time the bank might be open for me to be able to get in. I decide to aim for 9, and dress with care, to make myself look as upstanding a citizen as possible.
I get to the bank just after 9am, to find that they’ve been open since 8.30. I go into the inner sanctum – I’ve never been past the lobby before. It’s a large, marble-floored room with three women working, and four or five, mainly elderly, men waiting to be served. Just inside the door there’s a stocky man in his thirties chatting to a long-faced woman in her forties, with Farrah Fawcett hair and too much blusher. She’s stationed behind a table and clearly works in the bank, but seems to have a different status to the two other women behind counters, one of whom (dark-haired, severe-looking) is serving a customer and the other of whom (curly, blonde) is staring pointedly at a computer screen with a handwritten ‘counter closed’ sign in front of her. Welcome to Italian customer service. As I look around the room I see that there’s a number ticker on the wall, indicating who should be served next, but I can’t see the machine from which I should take a ticket. I do a surreptitious circuit of the room, and realise that it was right next to the door. It’s the old-fashioned type, like the ones that you see at the deli counter in the supermarket, which seems at odds with the smooth silence of the rest of the bank. I take a number and sit down.
The stocky man finishes his conversation with Farrah Fawcett and moves to a comfortable seat under the window. I look around the room, trying to remain calm, but instead going through the myriad linguistic situations with which I might have to deal this morning. I become aware that my foot is twitching back and forth and the heel of my shoe is threatening to clatter on the marble floor. I stop twitching and instead chew my fingernail, looking at the stains on the floor around the windows. They look like guano, but I think they’re just unfortunate water marks.
A thin woman in a charcoal-grey wool dress, matching tights and sensible black pumps with a gold trim emerges from an office that I hadn’t noticed before. Her thick glasses magnify her already large eyes and make her look like a terrified rabbit. She smiles around the room, greeting customers formally but with obvious recognition. “Good morning, Doctor. Signore; buongiorno.” I look up at the sign above her glass-walled office and see that she’s the manager. I wonder if I should try to talk to her, rather than waiting for my number to be called, but decide against it. I return to chewing my nail and staring at the water stains.
The numbers jump a couple. Some of the people who arrived before me must have already got bored and left. “36?” calls the dark-haired woman working behind the counter. Everyone shakes their heads. “Never mind. We’ll jump ahead. Who’s got the next number?” It turns out it’s number 41, the one before mine. I start to plan my opening explanation of why I’m here.
“42?” I stand up and walk over, my heels very loud on the hard floor. I greet the woman, who has a heavy fringe and wears large, wire-rimmed glasses. She smiles at me, lessening her initial look of severity. “Good morning, Signora. How can I help?” I start to explain. “I came to the cash machine yesterday but it didn’t give me my card – not the money either – but the police said I could get my card this morning – they gave me a number to call but it just kept ringing and nobody answered and…”
She interrupts me, her face as hard as stone. “If the card’s been taken there must be a reason. Do you bank with us?” I tell her that it’s an English card. Her lip curls. “Well then we can’t do anything.” She doesn’t add, ‘and I wouldn’t help you even if I could’, but she might as well have done. I feel like I’ve been punched, but her dismissive rudeness gives me the balls to treat her likewise. “So what am I supposed to do now?”
She glares at me then stands up to come round the desk. She stomps across the room, snapping a question as she stalks past me towards the manager’s office: “You’re English?” I tell her I am. She doesn’t bother to say anything more to me, instead heading into the manager’s office and spitting out a tirade of harsh, rapid Italian at her. The manager’s voice, in contrast, is controlled and gentle. “Yes, of course I can speak to her.” The dark-haired woman barges out of the office again, flicking a disgusted up-and-down look at me as she goes past. “Wait here.”
She returns to her desk and calls the next customer, but she hasn’t finished with me yet. As I wait for the manager to finish a phone call and to greet an elderly family friend who’s popped in to say hello to her, dark-haired woman, who’s been furiously typing into her computer, shouts triumphantly across the room at me. “Signora! We *definitely* can’t give you the card back.” She sneers at me, challenging me to say anything more. I shrug and smile sweetly at her, while continuing to wait for the manager. “OK.”
In contrast to the aggressive rudeness displayed by the dark-haired woman, the manager’s demeanour is polite and gentle. She smiles at me as she calls me into her office, saying hello in English. “Please sit down.” I do so, and she explains, calmly and politely, that cards that have been swallowed by the machine are dropped into a locked safe, which they can only open at certain times of day when the bank is closed to customers. “So you see, we can’t do anything at this moment, but if you come back this afternoon then hopefully we can sort this all out. Can you come back around 4?” I grimace. “Sadly not. I’m working from 2 – 9.30. Is there any way …?” She nods in understanding, her eyes sympathetic behind the thick lenses of her glasses. “Well, we’re closed from 12:30 to 2:45, so if you come back around 1:30 then maybe we will have been able to retrieve it.” I nod, smiling in relief, and she holds up her hand. “I’m not promising – but if not today, then certainly tomorrow morning.” She stands up, smiling vaguely, and I shake her hand. “Thank you, Signora. Good day.” I click my way back across the marble floor of the bank feeling that, if nothing else, at least I’ve got one over on the unpleasant dark-haired woman. It feels good.
(To be continued …)