Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Monthly Rite

The months go by and we wait and listen. Each month I follow a ritual after my salary arrives. I walk to a nearby shop to transfer money via Western Union, which seems to be the only way one can send money to loved ones these days.

"Ah, and I have my passport as proof of identification", I tell the girl behind the counter.

"That's funny. We don't usually ask for ID for such amounts" she says.

"Trust me, it'll ask for it" I say.

By 'It' I mean the computer, the system, that mysterious void, through which this lifeblood to people in another universe is transmitted. The next week she doesn't need me to remind her.

"Oh hullo! Your that nice man who always has everything ready and is so polite "

I mumble an acknowledgment and smile back. Earlier I was waiting in a queue for fifteen minutes whilst a woman was getting a ring valued.

They were discussing whether the ring was 9 carat gold or 18. If it was 9 she would only get ninety pounds, but double that for 18. The girl agrees to have the item tested and the other girl disappears off for what seems an age. She comes back, it was 18! They fill out the paperwork and the girl behind the counter reads out the standard legal jargon and disclaimer.

The other girl is barely listening. She is putting her purse back into the handbag and nods politely, keeping a sincere face like a student pretending to pay attention in class. She got 180 pounds for seven months. Interest was charged at 37 pence a day, which works out to - let me see - around 77 pounds for a 180 pound loan. So for this temporary relief she will be paying back a third of what she borrowed if she ever wants her ring back. Not a good deal if you ask me.

I wondered what her circumstances were that she would do such a thing. There I stood, confident simply because of job security and having the right type of passport, getting annoyed because I missed my train and because I have to wait. I realise how foolish it is to feel that way, and how simple it is for me to wait whilst others can't. Behind me a black woman tsks under her breath for waiting. I have everything ready so she shan't wait long, I think to myself.  I smile, take my receipt and walk out into the chilly evening to catch a train home. Maybe she was foolish and was going to waste that money? Or the ring was stolen? And maybe she just genuinely needed it.

I think how one person's inconvenience is another person's lifeline. I also wonder at how desperate people would be willing to pay any price to survive and get by. For them tomorrow is another day and the present is all they can afford to worry about. Then I think about how a whole country has been pauperised and how such quiet desperation is taking place across Syria. The people I work with every day would find it odd that I walk into a pawn shop each month just after payday. They would probably be astonished at how six, and possibly even less, degrees of separation are all that lie between them and anarchy. I don't feel bad because I used to think this kind of suffering was far from me as well. And how different am I to any of these people in the pawn shops and bread queues? Not at all. We are all beggars and paupers in the making.

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