by the Michigan Father
December. 2011. Michigan. Times are tough, especially in small areas. I drove to a blighted part of the city with boarded-up homes. We were five months behind on electric payments and I’d been calling to delay the shut-off for one more week. Twice they delayed payment.
At the zeroth hour I pulled up to the building, preceded by a black woman driving a rusted, crumbling beater that shuddered to a stop. I walked in behind her, cash in hand, and waited in line. My children bounced on chairs nearby.
Two women behind bulletproof acrylic windows took money. But only one line moved. Delaying the other was a long conversation from a young white mother with a baby on her hip. She wore pajamas and a sweater, was good-natured and laughing.
“Well, so…” she said, “you know how it is. I mean, they just sit there in a pile, right? I don’t know where they go. I don’t know, I probably lost it.”
The woman behind the two-inch thick bulletproof Plexiglas nodded, unspeaking. Her nameplate said “Ella”.
“Fifty dollars,” the woman behind the Plexiglas prompted.
The young mother said, “Yeah… fifty. Dollars, I mean. And if we miss that today then what? Fifty?”
Ella confirmed, “Yes, fifty. The payment plan we arranged.”
“Boy, how could it be so much?” A long pause. “So what happens if we don’t have the…?”
Ella: “Fifty dollars. Well, that’s when the account needs to be discontinued.”
The woman with the baby on her hip looked at the floor during the whole conversation. Talking in a low voice, but in a silent room of people waiting. She talked as though every second she talked was another second the power stayed on. As though somehow in this circular conversation the situation would resolve itself.
Momentarily irritated that one woman was taking so much time, I then felt some shame. I’d just wait calmly. Clearly the young woman with the baby was just buying time. Seconds. Moments. Avoiding the inevitable: her power would be shut off in the morning.
Slowly the line crawled. My children became more animated and impatient. The woman with the baby kept talking.
Then the woman in front of me went up to the counter — the woman who drove the rusted beater. She handed the teller a check. “This is for her,” and pointed at the young mother with the baby.
The woman who wrote the check left. She bee-lined to her beater and drove off. The two tellers looked at one another confused. One said to the young mother, “Well, I guess, Merry Christmas.”
The woman with the baby looked at the floor, “I don’t think she pointed at me. I don’t know her.”
“She paid your electric bill,” said a teller. “Next!”
And the people in line who’d been staring blankly burst out in a joyous murmur.
- Narrator: Wayne Talmadge
- Young Mother: Andrea Muraskin
- Teller/Ella: Lisa Crick
- “child whining” by Aric Hartvig
- “Auto Car Approach Pull Up Shut Off” by gr8sfx via freesfx.co.uk