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Banking on their Bad Luck
He did what he usually did when driving on route to a job: added the digits on the license plates in passing traffic. It had become a routine, not out of a need to practice math, but rather a ritual he used to focus his mind. After all, telling the debtor what needed to be told was like math - precise, rational, finite, and much like math he hoped the conclusion to his meeting would leave no doubt. Norman was unlike most bankers, and his profession was one that required a talent that most men and women didn’t have the taste for. He worked for Opportunity Group, a private company that made a profitable business out of loaning money to particularly desperate individuals. When fate knocked at the doors of professionals around the city, with news of a sick relative or an investment turned sour, Opportunity Group would often answer. Norman had always believed that bad luck for some meant good luck for others; in fact, he had built his livelihood in the shadows of others misfortune. When clients prospects turned sour, Norman was summoned from the branches of the night, much like a vulture, to inform Opportunity Group’s clients that they had seventy two hours to pay back all outstanding debts (and vast sums of interest) lest their house and most precious possessions be repossessed.
When applying for the job he had told his boss, “You see, most men would shy away from the things you’ll want me to do. They feel that delivering bad news, or profiting from others misfortunes are unpleasant things. Well, not me. I’ve always had a stiff upper lip - I feel nothing when I look into the eyes of a sorrowful man and tell him he’s ruined. That’s why I’m the man for this job.” His boss had looked at him for a few moments then leaned imperceptibly closer across the desk and asked, “How is that possible?” He answered, “The truth is ultimate. No sugar coating, no flattery, no lie should get in the way.” He had often felt that his profession was one of a refined ideological dignity – he was a man who spoke the truth to people’s faces, and derived pleasure from being blunt. He relished the looks on his client’s faces when he told them they had violated their contractual obligations. “Serves the fool right” he would frequently mutter under his breath when back from a job. It was not out of loyalty to his company that Norman was such a dutiful worker. In fact he had no attachment to Opportunity Group (privately Norman felt that the name Opportunity Group was a rather obtuse euphemism for a bank). Norman did what he did because he felt deeply that the people he informed were in the wrong, and that they had borrowed past good sense and ought to pay for their opulent habits.
Tonight he was on his way to tell Stanely Addleshaw, the formerly wealthy founder of Addleshaw Accounting, that Opportunity Group would have to reposes his home given his current financial situation. As he sped along the freeway to the suburb of Mr. Addleshaw’s residence, the orange glow from the streetlights shimmered rhythmically across the black paint of his car.
“R-L-G 9-7-4, equals twenty”, he calculated as he passed a Volkswagen.
As he entered the suburb of the Addleshaw residence he slowed and looked at himself in the rearview mirror – a man of only thirty he had the appearance of someone much older. Deep lines ran across his forehead and around his cold grey eyes were dark circles giving him the illusion of perpetual exhaustion. He combed his hair carefully.
Even in the thick darkness, Norman could immediately tell the Addleshaw’s residence was once one of grand suburban allure. The salmon coloured house towered above the other residences impressively, the three car garage, the double door entrance, all spoke of Addleshaw’s past success. Now the salmon coloured paint was slightly tinged around the window frames and the water feature made out of white stone had chipped and was no longer functional. He walked up the drive towards the door of the Addleshaw’s residence and rang the doorbell.
“Mr. Addleshaw, hello. I’m Mr. Hastings from Opportunity Group. Since you have failed to respond to the letters and calls that we sent you I’m here to notify you of some very important news.” Norman said in a slightly jarring tone.
Addleshaw replied with the tone of a man who was hiding great distress:
“I’m sorry about not returning them… Things have been stressful, what with my daughter’s chemotherapy treatments I’ve barely had time to answer the phone. Anyways come in.”
“Unfortunately your repeated failure to make your loan payments, and current financial position has left Opportunity Group with no option but to repossess your home.”
“Where will my family go? You think this is – ”
Norman silkily cut across him, “Sir it is not the responsibility of Opportunity Group to suggest your future place of residence. Calm down and I will be able to read your statement of eviction.”
“How dare you come into my home and tell me to calm down!” Addleshaw bellowed.
Suddenly, down from the living room stairs, came a girl of five or six, presumably Addleshaw’s daughter. At a glace Norman recognized her as the girl undergoing chemotherapy. Her head was devoid of hair and she was shockingly thin.
“What’s wrong Dad? Why are you shouting?” the girl asked trembling.
“Nothing, dear. Go back to bed.” Addleshaw replied in an attempt to calm her.
Something deep in Norman’s chest seemed to stir. For the first time in nearly six years on his job he felt something. He collected himself.
“Now sir, if you sign here I can be on my way without a fuss.” Norman said quickly.
“Look”, Addleshaw’s voice was shaking, “My daughter needs the money for her treatment, I’m self employed here. I don’t have it. Just give us a few months to pay.”
The stony look of indignation that Norman typically gave clients who attempted to plead with him was absent. Addleshaw’s daughter was still lingering by her father looking up at him with a melancholic expression. He met her gaze.
What started as a drop of emotion, a slight stirring deep inside his calloused soul suddenly gave way. With an overwhelming wave of sorrowful insight Norman realized what he had been doing over the last six years at Opportunity Group. He was a usurious vulture, proudly feeding off of others sorrows and pains for personal gain, and he had been doing it hypnotically for years. Looking at the little girl Norman did not know what to say, his mouth had no way with names, his eyes were blinded and something started in his soul. Looking into her eyes the heavens unfastened and opened allowing him to see for the first time in years the horrible deeds he had done to the people he once thought nothing of. Norman’s heart broke loose on the wind.
Mr. Addleshaw watched from the couch as the abrasive banker’s tired-looking eyes glazed over, and he dropped he briefcase as if suddenly he had forgotten where he was.
“I’ll see what I can do.” Norman said. He left the house without another word.
Three hours later Norman was at home sitting at his kitchen table. If anyone had been there in the early hours of the morning they wouldn’t be able to recognize him. Norman’s hair was disheveled, his grey suit creased, and most noticeably his cold expression had given way to a look of childish comprehension. Norman thought, “It was like the little girl had arrived in search of me.” All his life he had felt no sympathy to those who were desperate, down-and-out, but with the experience of looking into the little girl’s melancholic eyes his entire idea of the world changed.
That night it was not Norman who found salvation from the pedant cruelties of his job. It was the look of the faint girl – without substance pure nonsense, pure wisdom, was in her eyes. Norman realized that the same universe that made him into who he was before that unforgettable night in suburbia also made him into who he was today. Norman looked out his window, not at the license plates on the cars parked on the street, but at the rising sun. He knew his life had only just begun.