a chance meeting at the bank

note: a really really short fiction piece

The woman from the human resources department of my company told me that direct deposit would not take effect until the end of the month, so when I received my first paycheck, I found myself walking to the nearest Citibank to deposit my check into one of their ATMs. The nearest one was just four blocks uptown from my apartment, right next to a Starbucks. I decided I would grab a cool cup of iced coffee on my way back. It was sunny and warm outside, so I put on my sunglasses before embarking on my errand.

At the bank, I began to fill out the deposit slip and tried to memorize the amount on the check so I could enter it when prompted by the machine. I remember one time I had to deposit a check, I forgot the amount and had to tear open the envelope I had just sealed with the check in it. It only took about three recitations in my head to remember the sum. As I broke the sum in my mind – one, five, four, six and two, two cents – I noticed a young woman just a few feet away walking towards an open ATM. Her small, round face and straight black hair looked familiar and soon, I realized it was none other than Audrey, whom I had dated for a couple of months in college. Looking my way, I could see her expression change as she registered my face in her memory. Her eyes widened, and she soon came towards me.

“Dave! Oh my goodness! Is that you?” she exclaimed. We gave each other a quick embrace. “How are you? Wow, this is such a coincidence!”

“I’m doing very well. And yourself? Don’t you live on the West coast now?” I asked.

“Yep. Still living it up in Menlo Park. I’m just in town on a business trip and was just shopping in the area,” she said.

“Oh? I live just a few blocks from here,” I told her. She gave me a thorough look up and down.

“Did you lose weight?” she asked. “You look so toned now!” She was right. I had dedicated myself to a rigorous diet and exercise routine after years of sloth and junk food in college. It was nice that she noticed it so quickly. She looked her pretty and slender self, although it was different seeing her with makeup. She rarely wore makeup in college.

“Thanks, I’ve been trying to keep myself in shape. I guess I lost some weight after cutting down on the fried stuff.”

“Yeah, wow. Gosh, it’s been like what, four years, since we last saw each other?” she said. We had dated each other during our junior year after a semester of sitting next to each other in our British Literature lecture class. Our relationship, if you can call it that, lasted only a couple of months. We rarely talked afterwards and had lost complete touch over the years, only hearing about each others’ whereabouts through mutual friends.

“How long you here for?” I asked.

“Five days. I’m actually staying not too far from here in some budget hotel near Times Square. My company is so cheap – they always put us in these dingy one-star holes,” she complained. “What are you up to these days? I heard from someone that you had quit your job.”

“Oh, I just started my new job. I’m doing some copywriting for an ad agency. I’m pretty excited about the work,” I said.

“That’s great!” she said. “I’ve actually been thinking about making a career change as well, but the pay is too good and I don’t know if I can handle such a drastic move at the moment.”

“Yeah, it does take a lot out of you if you don’t have a job lined up right after you quit. I was unemployed for about three months and had to get by by writing freelance articles for some local papers.”

She nodded. We stood in silence for a few minutes. I probably should have asked her about her own job, not really having found out what she had been doing for the past few years, but I somehow decided against it and said nothing.

“How’s the love life?” she asked. I gave her a surprised look. “Are you dating someone now?”

“Me? Nope. I’ve been single for a while now. Haven’t really thought about dating since going through the job switch and everything. And I haven’t had much luck with women since graduation. Just a few dinner dates here and there, but nothing more,” I said. “How about you?”

“Oh, I have a boyfriend back in San Francisco but he’s in venture capital, so I hardly see him. We’re both so busy, but he’s a really sweet guy and hopefully we can make it work. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to settle down with anyone anyways,” she said.

I nodded and tried to think of something to ask or say, but nothing came to my mind. Just then, something rang from inside her purse. She took out her Blackberry and looked at the message.

“Sorry, it seems like my team needs me for an ad hoc meeting,” she said. “It was really nice seeing you, Dave.”

“Same here,” I said. I began to look down at my check again and tried to recall the exact amount, but I realized that Audrey had not yet left.

“Dave, do you want to meet up later today or something?” she asked. “We ought to catch up.”

I looked at her blankly.

“I would love to, but I can’t,” I told her. “There’s a movie that I rented this morning that I need to finish watching by tonight.”

“Oh.” She seemed both disappointed and confused at the same time. I knew it was either an insensitive or just plain bizarre answer, but I conveyed it with a serious tone. “Well, then maybe next time, I guess.”

I saw her walk away swiftly, her lean figure swaying left to right, right to left. I would not have minded a good-looking girlfriend like her at this point in my life. And yet, I felt good about the way I had turned down her offer.

You see, I had once fancied Audrey very much. She had a certain energy about her and was very fun and witty. I felt that we clicked very well and easily shared many laughs together. Our relationship, however, ended after a few months, when she began to take interest in another guy that she met while visiting a friend at UPenn. She abrupty told me one day that we should stop seeing each other. That was the last time we had exchanged more words than just the banal greetings that kept things civil between us. I had spent the last five years trying to forget about the disappointment and insecure feeling of being dropped for someone else.

A year after college, I happened to meet Audrey’s Penn guy while playing pickup basketball at a park near my apartment. The guy was a hot shot investment banker at Goldman Sachs, and I only realized who he was when he mentioned he was from Wharton and that he had dated a “pretty Korean girl from your school” for a year. He was tall and built, but his basketball skills were lacking. It felt good to score on him repeatedly, and throughout our games, I could not quite figure out what was so great about him that Audrey had found it so easy to end things with me in order to be with him. My two months as her boyfriend now seemed like a pittance compared to the whole year Audrey had been together with Wharton boy. I forget his name, but he said he hadn’t spoken to Audrey since they stopped seeing each other. That was three years ago.

I finished depositing my check and stopped by Starbucks as planned. It felt good walking back with a cold drink in my hand. I thought again about my encounter with Audrey at the bank. She looked great, and I’m sure we could’ve had a decent time catching up, but sometimes old wounds just aren’t worth exploring again. I probably should have gotten over her a long time ago. I realized that in light of the day’s chance meeting, I probably would not be in the mood to watch the movie I had rented – some classic Hollywood romance picture starring Humphrey Bogart not titled Casablanca. Instead of returning to my apartment, I decided to hop on the subway down to the Angelika to see if there were any decent independent films playing there.

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