There are sixty stories in Tender, stories that lean into kndness. ‘Bank Teller’ is the shortest one, and it keeps popping up in people’s comments and responses.
In Melbourne, I’m walking along Sydney Road, Brunswick, the traffic is stretched bumper to bumper. There is a taxi at the kerb outside the bank. As I enter the foyer through the glass doors a young man is walking towards me. His arm is outstretched as if to make a space ahead of him. With his other arm he is guiding a woman dressed in long flowing robes and hijab.
Wearing the bank’s corporate dress code, the young man looks sharp and confident. As he shows his customer out through the glass doors into the street, there is something about the quality of his attention that captures mine. He is decorous, almost tender – not something I expect from a buff young bank teller.
As he and his customer pass me I catch a glimpse of the woman’s face. In the small section visible between the headscarf across her forehead and under her chin, her face is a mass of scarring. The teller gently ushers the woman past and I see that she has no nose, just two holes in her face. Her eyes are milky and appear blinded. Tall, erect and softly spoken, she is engaged in conversation with the bank lad and he leans his head closer, so he can hear. They go out through the glass doors and the he waits at the kerb while she shifts into the waiting taxi.
The small act of mutual respect I have just witnessed renders me teary in the bank foyer. The woman’s scarring is alarming. I wonder what searing cruelty or misadventure she may have met with. You cannot walk past unaffected.
Human cruelty and human kindness, they sit closely
together. The bank teller carved out a space for the scarred woman to walk in.
Her presence and energy called something out of him, and from other witnesses
to their conversation. What will it take before we can make space on our shores
for people who carry their scars less visibly?