I was a banker for twenty years. It’s what I always wanted to do since I was a kid. I used to pretend to be a banker, using fake money and making pretend loans to my parents. I was good at it, and when I went to school I put all of my effort into mastering the art of banking. When I graduated at the top of my class I knew I’d be alright. I took a job with a prestigious New York banking firm and rose through the ranks quickly, because of my know-how and no-nonsense approach to loans. I had it all, or so I thought. It all came crashing down around my head one afternoon while I was finishing my lunch at my usual haunt down the block from my firm. I was eating my dessert and thinking about a loan deal I was making that afternoon. It was to be one of the biggest loans in the bank’s history. It would shoot me to the top. I’d be the youngest CEO in the company’s history. I was flying high. Then I noticed a strange sight out of the corner of my eye; at first, I thought I was seeing things. But it appeared to be a large man with the head of a cat. I turned to look at the creature, but it vanished from my sight. When I returned to my dessert I caught the same glimpse, but to the other side. I turned to look but saw nothing. When I turned back to my dessert I was startled by the figure across from me, sitting at my table puffing on a cigar. The man with the cat’s head stared at me with unsettling green eyes. I nearly choked on my own breath. Shocked, I pushed back in my chair instinctively and fell over. It caused such a scene that the waiters came over to help me up. I thanked them and told them to call security. They seemed puzzled by my request; and, when I told them about the cat-man sitting at my table, their confusion turned to concern. They looked, and I looked, and we all saw nothing. No one, nothing, was sitting at my table, except my dessert. Had I imagined it? Was I hallucinating? Perhaps the pressure from the loan deal was getting to me? I couldn’t let on otherwise it could’ve ruined my career. I laughed and pretended that I was joking, that I needed a good excuse for why I fell out of my chair. The waiters, unconvinced at first, started to laugh breaking the tension. They went about their business and I sat back at my table and looked down at my dessert. When I looked up, the cat-man was staring at me with a large grin. I gasped.
Careful old boy, you don’t want to startle the waiters again, after all, you’ve got an important business deal to seal, and you don’t want people questioning your sanity.
The sight was bad enough, but to hear the creature speak was too much. I nearly fainted. I struggled to respond, and managed to say, what do you want?
Oh I like a man who cuts to the chase. It must be the loan shark in you. Well my boy, what I want is very simple. I want you.
I cringed. Are you the devil?
Heaven forefend. Do I look like the devil to you?
Come now. That horned halfwit doesn’t have anything on yours truly. I’m much better company, and a hell of a better dresser.
Then who are you?
Call me Shamus.
Hello Shamus. I’m…
No need for introductions. I know exactly who you are. Do you think I’d come here unprepared? You and I have much in common. We’re both businessmen. We know what we want and we go after it. You want this loan deal, and I want you.
Are you here for my soul?
Soul? Souls are a dime a dozen. I want something more precious than your soul. But, enough of that, I’m famished. Let me have some of that dessert.
Shamus reached over with a fork and took the rest of my dessert off the plate. I was too stunned to protest. He shoved the whole thing in his mouth and took three bites then swallowed it down. Can a cat get a glass of milk around here?
I called the waiter over and ordered a glass of milk, half in a daze. What do you want from me?
You have nothing I need. I just want to chat. How does that sound?
I nodded my agreement.
Delightful. He said. The waiter brought the milk and placed it before me. I moved it over to Shamus, who just let it sit there. This is one fine restaurant. Do you come here often?
It must cost a fortune?
Yes. I guess it does.
How much did that dessert cost you?
That’s quite a bit. And your meal?
With the drinks?
Yes, with the drinks.
Well, Laaadeeedaaaa. Aren’t we the big spender? You must be rolling in it my boy?
I do alright for myself?
Do you now? And how do you go about doing alright for yourself?
Well I…now just a minute. I demand you tell me what you want.
Quiet down, people are staring.
I began to whisper, not wanting to draw attention to myself. What do you want?
What’s that, Shamus shouted at the top of his lungs, You’ll have to speak up, I can’t hear you.
I shushed him. Quiet down.
Why? You’re the only one who can see and hear me. Right now all these people are busy watching you talk to a glass of milk.
Why are you here? Why are you doing this to me?
Good question? Shamus removed his hat and revealed a notebook perched on top of his head. He took it and thumbed through it. Let’s see. Seems you’ve got some unfinished business to attend to my boy. And, it’s my job to see that you attend to it.
What sort of business?
Don’t know. I’m not privy to that information.
This is ludicrous. I looked around for the waiter. Garcon? But no one seemed to notice. That’s strange.
What’s the matter monkey-boy, not getting the attention you think you deserve?
Well yes, in fact. What’s going on here? I stood up and walked over to a waiter, but he seemed to ignore me. I say there fellow, I need your assistance. There was no response. I tapped him on the shoulder, but he didn’t even budge.
Don’t waste your time chum. He can’t hear, see or feel you. You don’t exist.
What? What do you mean I don’t exist?
Funny, I could’ve sworn I was speaking English. But, since you asked; you, for all intents and purposes, are nothing. It is as if you were never born.
How can that be? I’m talking to you right now. I must exist.
You are presuming that I exist.
Are you saying you don’t exist?
Not at all. I’m just saying you assume that I exist only because you’re talking to me.
I don’t understand. I sat back down, dumbfounded.
My boy, I don’t explain the miracles, I just make them happen.
Miracle? How is this a miracle?
There you go presuming again, who said miracles have to be pleasant or in your favor? Do you think that the Pharaoh who was chasing Moses in the desert thought the miracle of splitting the Red Sea was pleasant? Hmmmm. Not likely. One man’s miracle is another man’s curse.
Of course you are. Shamus leaned over and puffed smoke in my face.
Kfff! What? Cut that out, don’t do that.
Not so overwhelmed after all.
If you were really overwhelmed, a little smoke in the face wouldn’t have bothered you. That’s good though, it means there’s hope for you yet.
Hope? What hope? I don’t understand any of this.
What’s the matter, is your puny monkey brain all confused? Can’t you handle having your world turned upside down for a moment?
No…Yes…I don’t know. I don’t understand why you’re doing this. Why are you turning my life upside down, what did I ever do to you?
That’s right, nothing.
Then why are you doing this to me?
That’s a good question. Have you ever asked yourself that question?
What do you mean? Why would I ask myself that question?
Shamus stood up from the table and motioned for me to follow him. Reluctantly I did. We walked down the street for a few minutes and came across a housing project. He pointed to it and said, That’s why.
I don’t understand.
Monkey, are you really that thickheaded?
What is this place?
It’s a low-income apartment complex.
You’re contemplating a loan deal, correct?
Yes, this afternoon we’re settling the final numbers and the paperwork.
Well, once you sign on the dotted line, this entire block of homes is going the way of the dinosaurs.
But that’s progress. The contractor is going to beautify the neighborhood, make it livable.
For whom? For whom will it be livable?
Well someone will rent the apartments.
And the people living here already?
Well…I don’t know.
Think about it this way: with the flip of your wrist, and a flurry of your pen, you’ll turn the lives of hundreds of people upside down, without a single thought, without a single regret. It’s as if they don’t exist.
Now wait a minute. I said with bluster. Don’t give me any of that crap. These people don’t have to live like this they just need to get better jobs.
Shamus stepped closer to me and pressed his face right against mine. Listen baboon, if you ever speak to me like that again, I’ll make you vanish forever, intiende?
Y…yes. But you can’t expect me to refuse the loan, it’s my job, my business.
Excuses, excuses. Listen lamebrain, I’m not telling you to do anything. The choice is yours. Just be prepared for the consequence of your choice. You like your big paycheck, your fancy meals, and your fine accoutrements, but there’s always a price for those things. They don’t pop out of nowhere. For every big spender like you living it up there are hundreds and thousands of people toiling to keep your fantasy world alive. Never take for granted why you can be a banker and ride in your Cadillac. As far as I’m concerned you’re just a monkey in a fancy suit.
What do you expect me to do?
I expect nothing. That’s not my job. I’ve done my job. Sayonara monkey-boy. Shamus suddenly faded out of sight. I was left alone, and the people on the sidewalk were looking at me as if they just saw a ghost appear. I got strange and unwelcome looks for three blocks, before I got back to the restaurant, paid the very angry waiter, who thought I had skipped out on my bill, and went back to work.
I sat at my desk for an hour, waiting for my appointment with the contractor. When he and his team of lawyers arrived, we got down to business. We agreed on a loan and signed all the paperwork, but as I put my signature on the document I heard a voice in my head; it wasn’t my voice, it was Shamus’. When the contractor and his entourage left, I stared at the office wall for hours. Everyone else went home. I started to weep, thinking about all those people who would lose their homes because of this deal. I sobbed all the way home and went to bed.