I go to the ATM. There are two in the Outpost. I only discovered this recently. One is at the petrol station. Shoved into a corner, like a hasty afterthought. It’s opposite Kaidi’s duka where we buy milk and tinned sardines and jars of jam and packets of crackers. My lists for Kaidis read like something from a Famous Five picnic. I eat how Enid Blyton must have eaten in the post war years when there was a dearth of fresh food in fifties England, as there is in noughties Outpost.
The ATM screen says ‘Temporarily Out of Service’ in luminescent letters that glow malevolently. ‘Even if you got the cash, babe, I ain’t parting with any of it’, it seems to mock spitefully.
I ring husband which is what I do when I trip up in Outpost. I ring him quite a lot. To complain usually (no power at home; no water; no internet connection; no phone; car won’t start, ATM won’t dispense money). He asked me why I always rang him, it pissed him off that I was always moaning, he said. Because you’re the only person I have here to moan to, I say.
‘Don’t’, he warns, ‘cut down your shade’. I want to tell him I’ll wear a sodding hat instead. But I don’t, I demur and try not to moan as much.
“Honey, I’m really sorry to bug you at work, but there’s no money in the ATM, what shall I do?”, I wheedle
Use the one at the bank then, he hisses.
Which – of course – was when I realized Outpost sported two automatic teller machines.
Hat and I navigate our way to the bank. On foot mostly since my car is 20 years old and like the fickle old lady I am becoming, she is prone to breakdowns. I do not want to have to call my Shade and tell him that I am now not only broke but stranded as well.
The bank is heaving with people. I ask the security guard at the door where I can locate the ATM.
It’s out of order, he tells me cheerfully, in a tone you might use to deliver somebody of the news they have won the lottery.
I ring husband. Again.
“Sorry honey, me again”. (I don’t like wearing hats see, I’d rather the shade), “but the ATM at the bank is broken”.
Then go and see the manager, he instructs shortly, and don’t ring me again; I’m in a meeting.
(Nice to be important but more important to be nice, is what I want to say now but he has already put the phone down).
Where’s the manager’s office? I ask the beaming askari.
He directs me to the far end of the hall and Hat and I push our way as politely as we can through the queuing crowds that bubble and swell at tellers’ counters.
Can I see the manager?
I must wait, I am told, he is on the phone. He is also quite important.
Hat has brought a volume of Spike Milligan’s poems with her. I’m quite glad. Listening to her recite them helps to pass the time. Various bank employees pop their heads around the door to see if what they’ve been told (that there’s a white woman and child, in shorts and flipflops, waiting to see the manager and that the woman is – unusually for a mzungu – obviously illiterate which is presumably why her daughter is reading aloud to her) is true. When they ascertain it is, they giggle and disappear.
Finally I am summoned into the bank manager’s office.
Hello …. I say, trying to read the heavily varnished and ornately carved name plate on his desk … Mr Mulilo.
Call me David, he says, would you like a coke?
I decline and Hat looks at me furiously.
No thanks, but I’d quite like some cash; the ATMs aren’t working.
What! Neither of them?
Sorry. No. Neither of them.
David/Mr Mulilo picks up his phone and dials, Are the ATMs working? he enquires of whomever picks up.
I already told him they weren’t. To his disappointment the recipient of his call confirms this.
With that, he grabs a huge bunch of keys, makes his apologies and vanishes.
Hat and I look at each other.
Why didn’t you ask for a coke man, Mum, we could be here for ages?
Sorry darling, I say sheepishly.
Hat looks longingly at the avocado coloured fridge in the corner of the office, ‘can’t I just help myself?’ she asks.
No. Absolutely not. This is a bank.
Hat makes a face and returns to Milligan.
I begin to cast about the office for something to entertain me.
It doesn’t take long before I strike lucky: pinned to the vast acreage of mostly empty notice board is a piece on paper on which is typed in big black bold letters:
7 Pledges of the Bank
Which include I am – loudly – amused to read:
Change is Nevitable and Ensure ATMs are always working.
Why are you laughing? demands Hat.
She’s a little young to appreciate either the irony or the typo.
Have you got a pen I ask, anxious to pin the experience to paper before it escapes my colander like brain.
She hasn’t. So I help myself to the one on Mr Mulilo/David’s desk.
Mum! squawks Hat in horror, that is the manager’s pen, you can’t just help yourself, this is a bank you know.
Forty minutes pass whilst Hat alternates between reading and regarding her childishly guffawing mother crossly.
Finally Mr M/D scuttles back into the office, pouring sweat and brandishing his keys.
You can go now, he says panting, it is full now.
Blank look from me.
The ATM machine, he says impatiently, it is full.
Judging by the state of him, I can only imagine that he fled across town on foot to fill the machine himself.
Janelle over at Ngorobob House writes eloquently and movingly about the Africa she knows. I share the same place. I share the same big, beautiful, bold Africa. Sometimes she makes me cry. Sometimes she makes me stamp my feet in rage. Frequently she shocks me or makes me despair of her. But often she makes me laugh: she did today. Just as you must never allow yourself to become inured to Africa’s enormous tragedies, her willful spirit, her reckless soul, you must always, always seek the opportunities for laughter that she throws at you. Even when they are dressed in – admittedly – obscure guises.