On the wobbly wooden table lay a W-2–a blue envelope that’d occupied its own little space and waited for two and a half weeks to be brought to the tax man, a pay stub–an undecorated strip of paper that resembled a check but was only a receipt, for the last direct deposit Amir would receive from the job he hated and had just been fired from, and a letter from the bank–warning that one of his two accounts had remained overdrawn for too long, and risked being closed forever if a deposit was not made. He was most concerned with the letter. It was the most generous with its paper but most frugal with its type, and he felt anxious looking at it; the negative space seemed more urgent than the words, and though all of his mail suggested some effect to his finances, the letter was the only piece that was threatened funds he did and didn’t have, but was nonetheless attached to. He put it back down on the table and looked through the window. Rain fell lightly from the ash gray clouds onto the concrete and cars, and the black street glistened in scattered spots like a dirty coin. He viewed at his balances on a banking app, before pulling a sweatshirt over his head and walking four blocks to Valise Bank. He walked in, signed his name and waited to see a banker.
“Mr. Boykins, how you doing, sir?” said the banker, holding his hand out to Amir. He was a young man with a fresh haircut, his hairline was as sharp and precise as the edge of a new dollar, and the top of his head was dark and brushed, and faded down to a deep brown as his hair vanished into his skin. His name tag read Steven Jefferson. Amir gripped his hand and shook it.
“I’m okay, and yourself?” Amir asked, as he followed Steven to his cubicle.
“Not looking forward to going out in the rain, but I’m well otherwise.”
“It’s nothing too serious.”
Steven pulled out a chair and sat at his desk across from Amir. He shifted his mouse and pressed a few keys on his keyboard, then turned to face his client.
“So, what can I help you with today?” he asked.
“I got a letter and I just had a few questions about it.”
“Sure,” said Steven.
“I have two accounts, one of them is in negative. Valise is threatening to close it. My first question is, will they close both my accounts, or just the one in question?”
“Really quickly, can you tell me your social security number?” he asked. Amir told him, as he reached into his pocket for his wallet and ID, familiar with the protocol. Steven pressed a few keys again.
“So I see that there are funds in your other account.”
“Well, to answer your question, there’s a couple things that can happen. Valise might close all your accounts if your debt remains unpaid, and then what would probably happen is a collection agency would get involved. But, seeing as you have funds in your second account, they’d probably just take the funds from there and try to pay the debt that way.”
“Should I take the money out of the account then?” Amir asked.
“You could,” said Steven. “It might be a wise decision. But if you have any automatic bill payments attached to the account, you won’t be protected. Depending on those transactions, you could end up with two overdrawn accounts instead of one.”
Amir stared at him for a second, processing his statement and deciding what to say next. He did not have a great deal of money, only about $1,200, but he’d worked and put in hours for every dollar; they were hard-earned and all he had from his former job, and in a sense, were meant to last a lifetime.
“I think I’ll do that,” he said.
“You want to take every dime?” Steven asked.
“The nearest dollar.”
Steven clicked a few times on his computer, then reached into his desk and pulled out a green withdrawal slip. With a bank-branded pen, he scribbled Amir’s name and account number, and wrote in the four digit number for everything he had. He slid the slip across his desk and handed Amir the pen, and Amir signed his name in the little rectangle on the bottom left corner, the curves bouncing sharply outside of the borders. He slid it back across the desk with his ID, and Steven rose promptly, and walked toward a door at the back of the bank. Amir watched as he entered a four digit code. The door beeped after every button was pushed, almost delightfully, as if it were some comfortable or magical experience. Then it opened, and Steven disappeared as the door closed behind him. He returned five minutes later with an envelope that he handed to Amir, and asked if there was anything else he could do for him.
“No, I think that’s it,” he said. Steven looked at his computer.
“You’re pre-approved for a credit card if you’re interested.”
“No, thank you, not today.”
“Well, thank you Mr. Boykins. Get your account sorted out, a few dollars isn’t worth being in debt in the long run,” he said plainly, as if Amir didn’t know it, as if he didn’t come to the bank seeking security from the same people who threatened it. It was the most sensible thing to do in his situation. He stood and thanked Steven, who held his hand out again. Amir shook it and looked him in the eyes. They were empty but not soulless, and he wondered if Steven was Steven or if Steven was the bank; if he was truly, even remotely concerned about his finances.
“Thanks, Steven,” he said, and pulled up his hood as he left the bank, and walked into the rain.
In his kitchen he stood over his mail again, the bank letter folded twice into a neat rectangle with its threat on the underside. He opened the envelope and took the bills from it. He didn’t count them, but instead held the stack in his hand. It seemed small. It was small. He’d never held so much cash in his hand, only looked at it on a statement or an app, and there it meant so much more. There, every dollar was the most important thing in the world, but in his hand, he thought, brooding, was all that he’d worked for and managed to save, a four-digit amount that only measured to a small stack of bills thinner than a new pack of index cards, and yet, it maintained a strange vitality because it was in his hands and not the bank. He returned them to the envelope, and thought about the door and the four beeping buttons. He remembered the way Steven disappeared and reappeared a few minutes later, holding everything that Amir had, like magic, or rain that isn’t visible until it hits the ground. Four digits, he thought, four digits to protect all the money in the world. It must not mean all that much.