Scene: Logging onto Citibank US website to try and find out how to close a checking account.
Backstory: As a Brit, she likes to spend a little time roaming around the help pages getting frustrated, clicking the back button with her lip quivering like an enraged matador, before calling a customer services centre somewhere in Sunderland and having an icy, venomous exchange with a woman called Holly which ends with her having a delivery sent to the wrong address. At the outset of these sorry trips down gritted-teeth lane (“British customer service”), she sometimes open up the online chat box, just for kicks; but she has never in her life had anyone on the other end come alive and respond to one. Usually they just sit there winking quietly, fueling her impotent rage.
However, today, the Citibank chat box opens of its own accord. ‘Chat to us’. it says, in a mute American accent. ‘Chat to us’. So she does.
[After 2 second wait the screen goes BLEEP]: Agent has arrived.
Agent: Hi, I’m Michael! How can I help you today?
Me: I need help to close my checking account please. No longer living in USA so don’t need it.
[She is typing in shorthand, assuming it was a robot on the other end…How wrong, how foolish.]
Agent: Well, I am certainly very regretful to hear of your decision to leave us.
[Pause for effect]
Me: I know. It’s very sad.
Agent: However, your particular circumstances of course make this decision completely understandable.
Me: Yes. [Unsure how to respond to this display of empathy] That’s good of you.
Agent: I will endeavour to close your account.
[Pause, she imagines the set line of his mouth and his stony eyes, as he pulls himself together after the shock]
What are the last 4 digits of your account number?
Me: [Taken aback at the abruptness with which business is being gotten down to] 9450.
Agent: [silent for 3 seconds].
I have successfully closed your account.
Me: Wow, thanks, that was quick!
Agent: [quietly] You’re very welcome.
[pregnant pause while they both note, pensive but not heavy of heart, the end of their brief relationship]
Is there anything else I can help you with today? Have I addressed all your questions?
Me: No. Thanks. That’s great.
Agent: Then you have a great day.
Me: You too. It’s been special, Michael.
Agent: But before you go, please do click the box on the top right to end the chat and offer us your feedback. I’d really appreciate it.
Me: [touched] I most certainly will.
Agent: Goodbye. Thanks for banking with Citibank.
Me: Goodbye, Michael.
[She sits quietly for a moment. Her eyes are stormy with a sea of inner thought, though her face is calm, and her fingers quiet on the keyboard.
Suddenly, she is gripped by some unknown force, some urgency, she knows not what. Her hands move, typing as if they have a will of their own, driven to indiscretions, passions not to be named. ]
Me: Michael! Michael, wait.
Yes? Tell me. What is it?
Me: I just want you to know that…while we were talking….these words from Keats were playing around in my head.
I know it sounds silly, but I’d feel …better….if you let me say them to you, just once.
Agent: Yes. Please. Please say it.
…. While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Me: Michael? Are you there?
Agent: Yes. I’m here. Don’t you ever forget that. I’ll always be here.
Me: I know. I know.
Actually, it ended at ‘Goodbye’…but I’ll always wonder ‘what if’.