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The Missing ATM 


By Savitri Narayanan

“Laura, come in fast!” Mamma called out, “The porridge is growing cold!”

“Coming, Mamma,” Laura replied but didn’t budge from her chair in the verandah. Her eyes were glued to the pair of butterflies fluttering around.

“You’re on holiday, what about me?” Mamma’s voice was getting impatient. “There’s so much to be done!”

Papa worked for a bank and was transferred to their branch in Goa just a fortnight ago. They’d moved into their bungalow and were still settling down. Laura, too, joined the nearby school and was getting used to its routine. Early in the morning, Papa would leave for work and Laura would board the school bus. It was left to Josephina to explore the neighbourhood for their daily needs.

“Lucky girl,” Mamma came out to the verandah. “Just joined the school and you’ve a week’s semester break! Need to go to the ATM; grab your breakfast and get ready!”

Laura was excited. She had often heard of the ATM but never been to one.

“It’s just across the road,” said Mamma, “We’ll also look around; there must be a vegetable shop somewhere!”

“What’s an ATM, Mamma?”

“It stands for Any Time Money; it makes it easier for the customers,” said Papa.

“You mean anyone can walk into an ATM and get money? That’s unbelievable!”

“There are conditions and systems to follow but yes, one can!” said Mamma as they crossed the road, “When I was like you, one had to wait for the bank to open and fill up a form, which went to various counters for verification before you got the cash from the cashier! Now, all one needs is the password!”

“What’s a password?”

“I’ll tell you later; come!” said Mamma.

Laura followed her into the small cabin in which stood a machine with a screen. Mamma opened her bag, pulled out the card which she put into the machine. She waited for a while, typed something. As Laura watched in amazement, currency notes came out which Mamma collected and put into her bag. Then she pulled out the card, opened the cabin door and came out, followed by Laura.

“So much money there in the machine!” Laura glanced back in amazement.

“Come, let’s look for a vegetable shop!” said Mamma as she walked on.

“So much money there in the machine!” Laura repeated at dinner time. “Papa, you keep the money under lock and key, isn’t it?”

“Yes, we do, but not in the bank,” he smiled, “But in many ATMs all over the country!”

Mamma didn’t even count the money!”

“No need, the machine knows how to count,” Papa was enjoying the conversation. “You type the amount you need, it’ll count and give you the exact amount!”

Every time Laura accompanied Mamma she grew more in awe of the machine.

“It even gives money in different denominations!”

“Just in case you need change to buy an ice-cream,” Mamma smiled.

But things changed soon. Next time the machine was there but had no cash.

“We’ll wait till tomorrow,” said Mamma, “Surely they’ll refill the cash!”

During their next visit, the ATM cabin had a note, ‘out of order’.

Mamma sought help from the shopkeeper nearby. “This ATM isn’t working; where’s another one?”

“It’s a long walk, madam,” he said signaling with his thumb. “There, beside the ice cream parlour at the bus stand!”

“Surely they’ll repair the machine by tomorrow!” Mamma was optimistic as they walked back home.

The ATM walked into their dinner time conversation.

“How much do you need? I’ve some cash,” said Papa.

“No Papa,” it was Laura who said, “Surely they’ll repair the machine by tomorrow!”

Laura was fascinated by the ATM! There was something exciting about the instructions, the silences and then the sound of it rhythmically spitting out the notes!

But next morning, they were in for a shock. There was no machine in the cabin! The ATM machine was missing!

Mamma, someone has stolen the machine!” said Laura in shock. “Must be with lakhs of rupees in it!”

“How inconvenient,” murmured Mamma as they walked into the bank, “’out of service’, ‘no cash available’, ‘under maintenance’ – excuses galore and now the machine itself has vanished!”

It was cool inside the bank. There were some customers at some counters, the staff had their eyes glued to their computers.

“Please may I come in, sir?”

The manager looked up from his computer and smiled in welcome.

“What can I do for you, madam?” he asked signaling a chair.

“The ATM needs your attention, sir,” said Mamma. “It’s either out of cash or not working…”

“And this morning it’s missing,” Laura interjected. “The machine is gone! How much money have you lost, sir?”

Laura sounded rather worried. The manager held his laughter.

“Appreciate your concern, little madam,” he said with a smile. “Nobody stole the ATM, the money is safe!”

“It has been giving us trouble for a while,” he turned to Mamma. “Our network team is into it, madam; the new machine is already here, will be installed in a day or two!”

As they walked out of his cabin, he told Laura, “The money is safe, little madam; we’ll put all of it into the new machine, no worries!”

  (Savitri Narayanan is a retired educationist at present in Bangaluru. A mother and grandmother, loves readig, writing and