Freedom from care. That’s what money means to me. Like if I had the money I could do whatever I wanted forever and nobody could stop me, and I could leave this place behind for something better. The bank robber was not thinking like I was. He was robbing us because we had the money. He was only thinking about getting the money. He had a gun and a getaway car. He was Hispanic or he was faking a Spanish accent. He was dressed like a business man in a black suit. He had no idea what he was doing to me.
“Empty the register. Fast, man, fast!” They train us to always do what the man with the gun demands.
“You honestly think this is a good idea? They’re going to catch you.”
A woman screamed. People have noticed. The police are coming. I’m sure they’ll be here any moment.
“I will do this that you ask me to do. I’m reaching for the register now and I’m doing this. Please, don’t shoot. Listen, though. I have to know. What does this money mean to you?” I was doing what he demanded. I was emptying my register into the bag, meticulously, without moving too fast. Robbers don’t like it when you move too fast.
“Shut up!” His hair was dyed black with grey at the temples. I’m sure of it. He has a Caucasian mouth, like a pudgy Matthew Perry. He was blond at the very tip of his roots. He had green eyes. They don’t look like contacts.
I looked him in his eyes.
” I’m doing what you say. Return the favor. Tell me what the money means to you.”
People are scared. They’re trying not to move. Fight or flight doesn’t work with guns. Bullets are too strong and too fast. Hold still. Hope he runs out of bullets before you. Call for help who have more guns — the police. “Please,” I said.
“Its just money. Hurry up.”
He had given me a grocery bag to fill up. It was a Whole Foods reusable bag. He was going to do this again; he needed a reusable bag.
I was at the change now. I was watching it go. Let him have it all. “I wish you well,” I said. I held the bag out to him. ” Hurry before they catch you. Police are on the way.”
He needed not to look too close. He needed to run. He leaned over the counter. I could smell his smell. A fancy soap, vanilla or lavender or something in between. It was an odd smell for a man. I saw him now for what I think he was: a man in a nice hotel, visiting town, and using nice hotel soap. A professional bank robber, then. I saw his clean shave, and the fine hairs on his face. I had not moved an inch backwards when he leaned over the counter. He saw the drawer, and looked up at the clock on the wall. “Plenty of time.”
I don’t say anything. I fill up the bag.
“You’re the manager, right? You count out the drawers?”
“Keep filling it up,” he said. “Plenty more in there.” He held the gun out.
I kept filling up the bag. There was nothing else I could do.
He was smirking now. His Hispanic accent was dropping away. The bag was heavy with paper. He reached for it, over the counter, and snatched it from me. “You want to know?” he said. “What this money means to me?”
“It means I win.”
The bank robber was smiling. He turned quickly then, and surveyed for heroism. He relaxed a little when he saw no one even try to run from him, or pull anything. He held the gun out to the woman who had screamed. She was cowering. “Bang,” he said. She didn’t move a muscle. She didn’t breathe.
I moved. I stepped around the counter. I walked behind him as he slipped into his running car.
There were sirens coming this way.
He looked over at me. He saluted with his gun and revved the engine. I stood in front of his car. I folded my arms. I looked at him. He held up the gun. I shrugged. He laughed and backed up. He swerved around me and was gone. I walked away before the police could find me.
Freedom is what money means to me. So I live free. My first night under a bridge a dirty man came for everything I had but I pushed him and fought him and shouted until he left and then I couldn’t fall asleep again. The second night was better because I had found a bench and I could be up off the ground and no one came to chase me off. I found an apple tree in an abandoned yard after that. The fruits were small and hard and tart but I ate until I could burst. I was sick from eating all the apples I could stomach. Then, I went to the police station and no one knew what I was doing there. I gave a statement about the robbery, and how scared I was and that’s why I ran away. They wrote it down. They told me to go home.
I went home and took a shower and it was like nothing had happened.
It was worse than being caught.