I was in line at the ATM. This task is always made more complicated by the set-up at my bank; two machines, side by side, each with winding lines extending into the parking lot. At the machines, there are the same number of people on both lines, so you have to take stock of the people on the line to decide what selection of people to queue up behind.
I don’t like to admit I judge people but on a pressing assignment like this, I have to forecast which of these characters is going to get to the front of the line and have a problem with the technology.
Some people are upfront about it, before it gets to their turn, they will turn around and say, ‘Abeg when I reach, you fit help me change my PIN?’
But many people say nothing. Between the people who admit they don’t know what to do, and those who think they know, are all the others you have to deal with.
The girl chewing gum and smacking it loud in her mouth who will get to the head of the line and have to call home to verify each step of what she is doing. While she is punching numbers into the keypad, she will squawk into the phone, ‘E duro, e duro, O so pe shecking.’
Or the young man wearing baggy trousers who gets to his turn, brings out a cache of ATM cards tied with a rubber band from his cargo pockets, cycles through each card, first checking the balance then ejecting each one, scratches his beard, stares into space doing mental calculation, reinserts the card and take out 1,000 naira, then repeats that nine times.
And the old man in the worn down leather sandals who will shuffle to the machine, check his balance and start muttering to the screen in a slow plaintive voice, ‘But…. my son…. sent me money…. last night. How come…..’
He will continue on an extended monologue until someone comes out of the crowd, wraps their arm around his shoulder and escorts him to the grief counselling section on the side to stand with all the other people who have been rejected by their account balances. Every ATM has that bunch of people by the side, they scrunch their faces as if they’ve been wronged or misinformed and hold their bank cards in their palms stroking them like magic lamps to coax funds into them.
I get to the machine and punch through the options, Savings Account, Withdrawal, and here things could go one of two ways. You could be taking out a lot of money, and the machine will take hours spitting it out. That endless uncomfortable Prrrrrrr sound is amplified by Nigerian ATMs as it double counts the naira notes alerting everyone in the vicinity that you think you’re a bigshot. Even the security guard all the way at the gate hears it. He has gotten up from the white plastic chair he was lounging in and pushed his crusty feet into his slippers. He is rubbing his palms together, and you know when you try to exit, he will smile and say, “Chair-man, happy weekend. Anything for us?”
But today is not that day. Today you’re taking out such a low amount that the ATM will spit it out to you in disdain.
The machine won’t even stick the bills out of the slot for you to pull them out yourself. It will just dump them at your feet so you have to scramble to recover them.
Then it will give you an uber-fact on the screen with an audio voiceover: Did you know the cost of the electricity it took to dispense your 2,000 naira, and the paper to print out that your balance is 528 naira was more than your entire net worth?
Now bow your head and do the walk of shame past the people whose time you just wasted.
Every bank has a different rule.
Some you can withdraw all your money as long as the ATM can dispense the bills.
Some you can withdraw up to an arbitrary minimum balance, you must leave five thousand naira in there.
Others you can withdraw up to a certain amount at the ATM, but if the withdrawal puts your account below, say, 2,500, you have to go into the bank and speak to teller in person to shamefully admit that you need the last 2,000 naira from your account.
And she will make a big deal out of it. “Ah! You know you will only have 500 naira left? Everybody come and see this man o!”
Sometimes she will get a puzzled look on her face, then she will whisper to one teller, walk over and talk to the next teller, then she will go to the back and talk to another person. You will see her craning her neck, using her lips to point at you, ‘uhm mhm that one, over there, don’t be fooled by the clothes he has no money,’ as if you cannot see them. She will gesture at her belly, ‘Even with my pregnancy, he is making me do all this work for common two thousand naira.’
Which is why I would never do that.
Which is why I am staring at the screen while it gives me another of its cryptic messages: ‘Invalid terminal ID’ ‘Data timeout’ ‘Transaction not permitted’ ‘Insufficient funds’
I know my time is up when I hear sighing behind me and turn to see the people fuming start to migrate to the other line. So I eject my card and move to stand with the ATM support group. They pat me on the back welcoming me as I take my place beside that old man in the sandals, and he says, ‘Wetin do ya own?’