“Bugger the steps,” growled the old man as he paused halfway to the entrance of the stately building. “Never had to go through all this to do my banking back home.”
Leaning on his sturdy mahogany walking stick, George Andrews did not linger on the fleeting discomfort and his sombre thoughts returned to the morning’s events at his daughter’s house.
“Robbie! get your arse outa that bed,” Rebecca shrieked. The old man had winced as he poked amongst the tomato bushes that struggled for survival along the back fence. The hostile retort of her husband Don echoed across the yard.
“He wouldn’t be so bloody tired if you hadna’ let him watch T.V. all night.”
“Why don’t you shut up. You know it was the last episode of the series,” Rebecca retaliated. Don’s silence reflected the family’s dull acceptance of the undercurrent of conflict that always seemed to be present.
Since the old man’s mild stroke, his daughter and her husband had insisted that he should live with them for a while so that they could help with his recuperation. The prospect of living alone in his own large but empty home had prompted him to accept the offer.
His wife Marjorie’s death two years ago had produced periods of extreme loneliness for him, so the opportunity to occupy the sleep out and live for a while with his immediate family had been accepted. But instead of being the comforting experience he had anticipated, his stay was beginning to raise questions in his mind as to what life within the modern family really had to offer.
On reaching the top of the steps at the bank, he paused to catch his breath.
“They won’t even let us open our own doors these days,” George reflected as he negotiated the large electronic door. Reluctantly joining one of the lines of customers waiting to do their banking business, he propped himself on the stick and mulled over his predicament.
He couldn’t reconcile the daughter he was seeing now with the one he had proudly walked down the aisle those few years ago. Rebecca had been the apple of his eye; fit and healthy, well spoken, considerate of others and optimistic about the future and what it promised. Although he was loathe to brag, he had been extremely proud of her and silently considered that he and Marjorie had done a good job in raising their only child.
George’s gaze brushed across the docile forms that shuffled tentatively forward through the intimidating corridors of tasselled ropes and curt instructions printed on cardboard signs. Only the youth in the adjacent line momentarily held his interest. A nervous demeanour and dishevelled appearance prompted George to utter, “little bastard looks as though he’s going to rob the place.”
His thoughts soon however, returned to the family he had left in its usual state of turmoil that morning. He could not comprehend the life-style he was witnessing.
The family unit was continually fighting over its financial problems and yet both parents worked long hours at a variety of jobs.
“If only they would stop insisting on accumulating every new and expensive item known to Man,” George thought as he pictured the new Volvo, the massive flat screen, the plush leather lounge and the seldom used swimming pool.
The family’s incessant concern about its social life and standing was also a source of wonder and irritation to George. It seemed to him that the results in no way warranted the anxiety, arguments and expense that Don and Rebecca were prepared to endure.
They and their son Robert, appeared to be caught up in an ongoing competition between friends and neighbours to see which household could consistently maintain the most ostentatious display. This contest, it seemed to George, demanded the accumulation of grander possessions, the taking of absurdly expensive holidays and the interminable pursuit of social involvement and acceptance.
By now, George had achieved the halfway point of his mission to withdraw a few dollars from his account. He was not impatient for he had nothing much to do today and he fleetingly pictured the horticultural chaos along the back fence.
The youth had, he noted, only two customers between himself and the teller. But before George’s gaze moved on, a woman was pushed roughly aside and the boy began screaming and wildly waving a gun at the surrounding customers.
Stunned disbelief turned to horror when people suddenly realised they were enmeshed in an attempted bank robbery. Deep rooted anxieties erupted as ingrained images of violence and death began to assume a terrifying personal relevance.
Spittle flew from the boy’s face when he rushed a few metres and savagely pushed a woman in the chest sending her sprawling across the gleaming patterns on the marbled floor. He pointed his gun and her moan of terror immediately removed any lingering doubts in the room as to the precariousness of the situation. Fear became the robber’s accomplice as he graphically outlined his intentions towards anyone who interfered. Madly rolling eyes and twisted mouth signalled impending mayhem.
In an instant he changed direction, grabbed a young girl around the throat and with the gun forced roughly in her ear, dragged her to the counter. Ripping a plastic bag from his jacket and thrusting it under the window bars, the youth shrieked at the gaping teller.
“Fill it up you bitch or I’ll blow her away…I don’t give a f…..!”
George had not moved. For some reason he had been able to observe proceedings in a calm and detached manner, sheltered behind the shield of advanced years. Maybe he was in a contemplative mood today for he felt little anxiety, only a profound sense of disgust at such a violation.
“Surely one of these young fellas will do something about this idiot,” he mumbled under his breath. But as he searched the faces of the ten or so young men that were present, George saw only fear or a determination to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Nowhere in the bank office did he detect a sign of resistance or opposition to this abysmal act.
The hot flush around George’s temples and the acceleration in his heart rate told him that he was rapidly losing his detachment and was becoming increasingly emotional about the situation.
“A couple of blokes from the old C Company would fix this bastard,” he muttered. “Shhh,” softly pleaded the terrified lass cowering behind him.
The unfortunate hostage was by now reduced to a state of helpless terror and physical distress. The robber was having difficulty maintaining his grip as her knees buckled.
“Hurry up you bitch,” he screamed above the pathetic moans of his captive. As the teller thrust the bag back under the bars, George could see that the terrified girl had begun to urinate. As the pool spread around them, the youth suddenly realised what had happened.
” I’ll kill you for that you bitch,” he cursed flinging her to the floor. Each frame of a slow motion movie ticked over in the deathly silence that enveloped the room. He aimed his gun at the girl’s contorted face and George could feel a massive rage building.
Arrogantly confident of his total dominance, the youth suddenly decided to take his leave. Slowly waving the gun, he began to shuffle towards the front door, simultaneously pledging the demise of anyone who had the temerity to stand in his way.
The hollow feeling in George’s gut, the shortness of breath and the dizzy flushes in his head told him that if the opportunity presented itself, he was about to do something that would be, considering his age and condition, extremely stupid.
As in a scripted movie, the youth paused in his retreat and spun around to issue a final threat. “Stay where yous are or yous’ll get this,” he snarled, turning to run.
Stark images.. the mahogany stick raised upwards before smashing down across the bridge of a nose..blood squirting through the air as if pumped under high pressure..feet and legs still intent on escape towards the front door, upper torso in momentary suspension before recoiling and hurtling downwards .. notes and coins spewing in all directions and scattering across the marbled floor..silence as an old man recovers from his mighty swing. Shock and wonder as he resumes his attack, repeatedly striking the bloodied and writhing form..the eruption of chaos as three or four young men rush in to gleefully jump up and down on the robber’s remnants and wild encouragement for their endeavours from the onlookers.
George was exhausted and, feeling symptoms that could only be considered as worrisome, sought the refuge of a large leather lounge he could see near the bank’s entrance. Flopping down into its soft folds, he caught his breath and subsequently admitted to himself that maybe he had been rash and premature in his condemnation of Rebecca’s choice of large and expensive furniture. He then turned his attention to the pandemonium.
The robber was obscured by the large group of customers that milled around him, venting their anger by screaming their suggestions as to what his fate should be. Others stood back, drained and shaken while others still, rendered assistance to the ashen-faced who had flopped along the walls. Distant police sirens added to the cacophony that filled the room.
“I think I’ll do my banking tomorrow,” George muttered as he heaved himself up onto the stick and shuffled out the door.
The old man had spent most of the afternoon immersed in his mission of mercy with the struggling vegetable garden until he heard Robert arrive home from school on his new multi-geared mountain bike.
As usual, it was hurled down on the driveway as the boy made his headlong charge to the refrigerator to extract a feast which generally consisted of cake and ice-cream washed down with a can or two of Coca Cola.
“No wonder the kid’s so fat and pudgy,” thought George as Robert pushed past with barely an acknowledgment.
“How was school today mate?” he enquired determinedly as he followed Robert out of the kitchen.
“Shithouse as usual,” was the rude reply.
The stony silence that ensued told the old man that conversation with his grandfather was the last thing that the lad desired as he launched into one of the noisy computer games that seemed to occupy a large proportion of his waking hours.
George returned to the garden feeling strangely perplexed about the day’s events. The collage of incidents and attitudes he had witnessed depicted a hard and impersonal world which contained very few of his own standards; standards that he admitted were rather traditional and maybe belonging to the past, but still, standards that he imagined were basic to living a good life.
Life in a so called modern household was not life as he knew it. Life, as reflected in the microcosm of his daughter’s family, was a devotion to the frenetic scramble for material wealth and social standing. It seemed to be introspective and constantly under-scored by tension, always oblivious to people and issues on the outside that had no direct influence on their little orb. Life in this family, to use the vernacular, was a bitch!
George was preparing the vegetables for tea when his daughter and Don struggled through the door. They looked tense and washed out and it was obvious they had been arguing during the journey home. The old man’s attempt at pleasantries had little effect on the hostility that pervaded the kitchen.
Don collapsed into his chair with a beer and flicked on an Arnie video that he had been watching the night before and Rebecca attempted to extract some conversation from her son as she went through her mechanical procedures of preparing the evening meal.
In exasperation, she turned to her father. “How was your day Dad?”
“Well..you wouldn’t believe what happened today Rebecca..”
“Peter rang today,” interrupted Don. “Wanted to know if we were going to the Rotary Charity Ball on the fifteenth.”
“I don’t think we’ve received an invitation,” Rebecca replied hollowly.
George felt a tinge of embarrassment, knowing that the lack of an invitation would be a crushing social setback.
“The bastard knew that before he rang,” Don snarled. “You’d better see what you can do tomorrow.” Rebecca did not respond and hung her head at the prospect of such an embarrassing and difficult task.
George shook his head, disappointed at the resentment and gloom such an apparent rebuff had generated within the family.
Halfway through the meal, after Robert had scoffed his steak and picked through his vegetables and had returned to his computer games, Don rose to adjust the television.
“Damn..I’ve missed the news,” he said, gunning Arnie with the remote. Arnie had been providing the meal with a background of screams and grunts, heavy machine gun fire and explosive eruptions in the course of wiping out yet another city block and its occupants. However, despite his undefeated status so far that evening, he was no match for the invisible death ray of the television remote control.
George froze as he stared at the screen and heard the announcer rounding off the report from outside the heavy electronic doors.
“…could not identify the elderly gentleman with the walking stick who disappeared after heroically foiling the youth’s violent attempt to rob the bank. Police and bank officials hope that he will come forward so that his gallant action can be acknowledged by the many grateful customers that were in the bank at the time of this vicious armed attack.”
As the news item wound down with scenes at the bank and some inane interviews, Don was launching forth with his assessment of the snippet.
“Silly old bastard…some people just go looking for trouble.”
“Some young people need help, don’t they,” Rebecca sighed as she rose to clear some dishes.
“Arnie would have blown him away!” Robert contributed as he re-joined the table for dessert.
George excused himself and after pushing away from the table, headed for the porch.
“I think I’ll go and have a look at the stars for a while,” he said.
“What’s on tomorrow Dad?” Rebecca attempted cheerfully as she sensed the old man’s change in mood.
“I think I’ll start getting ready to go home Rebecca,” he replied. “Might start looking around at some retirement villages for my old age.”
As he closed the door, he shook his head as he heard Don’s cold comment.
“I couldn’t stand being locked up with all those old farts, all sitting around waiting to die.”
“You’re all half dead now only you don’t know it,” George mumbled as he dropped his legs over the veranda’s edge.
The click of the door made him turn and he detected an enquiring tone in his daughter’s voice when she said,
“Dad…didn’t you go to the bank today?”