Best 1000 Words for the Image Contest: Aïda Barsoum: Memoir of a Slogger

By: Aïda Barsoum



Five thirty-eight p.m. The bank is closed, but I am working overtime today. There’s only me and Melinda here, she’s the clerk in charge of sorting out the ATM slips. Nice girl, always cheerful, cute too…

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that, we’re just friends. Besides, she’s got a beau, goes by the name of Dwaipayan Hymavathsay, but she calls him Ham.

How do I know this? Facebook! I looked up Melinda’s page once, maybe twice: Ham and me at Chris’ Birthday party, Congratulations Ham on obtaining your BSc, Ham and me with Aunt Victoria, Ham and me…, Ham and me….

Let me tell you what all this overtime is about.

Jim (that’s my boss) has asked me to figure out the TDS for a bunch of clients of his. Don’t know what TDS is?

That’s short for the Total Debt Service ratio, my friend, and don’t you forget it. The TDS is crucial if you’re applying for a bank loan.

I’ll tell you how it’s computed. First, you add up all your monthly expenses, such as mortgage payments, credit cards, car payments, utility bills, alimony (no alimony? Lucky you!), I could go on and on, but you know what your regular expenses are – if you don’t, then you shouldn’t even think of trying for a loan, you’re in enough trouble already. Anyway, you divide the sum of your expenses by your monthly income, multiply by one hundred, and voilà, there’s your TDS!

The bank’s cutoff rate is 35%, meaning you don’t get a loan if your TDS exceeds that.

Now we’re conservative here, I happen to know that at CTSB, across the street, the cutoff rate is 38%. If we only raised our cutoff by 2 percentage points, we could increase our profits by 12.14%, which would make our shareholders ecstatic. Of course, that’s assuming that the ratio of bad debts does not rise by more than 7.67%, which is not unreasonable.

Let me prove it to you, I’ve got statistics galore here, and no one looks at them but me.

Your eyes are glazing over, I can tell. Are you one of those people who don’t like figures?

How about a graph, then? A bar chart? Most people like these, with the colors and everything, and I’ve got any color you care to name, well… almost any color.

I could add sound too, but that would be manipulative. Some of us have principles.

No bar chart either? You’re being difficult, but that’s all right, we’ll talk about something else.

The truth is, I’m not happy here. Why am I not happy? First of all, my office is too hot.

I’ve complained to Jim about it, but he says there’s nothing he can do, it’s a building wide problem, something in the pipes, he said.

The reality is, no one cares about the staff who does over time. We’re constantly being interrupted, the cleaning of the office, for instance, or maintenance tasks which are scheduled in the off hours; even telemarketing, for God’s sake!

You’ve got to watch for crime too. Being alone with Melinda here complicates things somewhat, but I manage. I caught someone the other day, Chinese dude, I think, claimed to be delivering some documents which he had been asked to translate. Urgent business, if you please! Penalties if not delivered on time and all that.

I didn’t let him in, ha! You can’t fool me that easily!

Where was I? Ah, yes! Back to why I am not happy. It’s all these TDS ratios. Ratios don’t bother me, I’ve always been good with numbers, I was calculating ratios in my mother’s womb, if you know what I mean. You could throw any two numbers at me, and I’ll give you a ratio in the blink of an eye. Just don’t pick zero please.

Why not zero? I’ll have to get technical here, listen to this:

Division by zero does not work.

This is an important rule, but some people don’t know it. I could tell you hair-raising stories, there was a chap the other day,… well, you don’t really want to know.

God, it’s hot in here!

Go ahead, any two numbers, not zero, and I’ll give you the ratio of the first to the second, or the second to the first, your choice…

What? No ratios? Think it over, knowing your TDS might prove really useful someday.

So, as I was saying, I do any number of these TDS calculations, but who gets the credit for all that work? It’s not Jim, no, poor Jim is only a bank adviser. The guy who gets all the recognition is the Adjudicator. Jim says the Adjudicator is an important man because he makes all the decisions on the loans, and loans are our bread and butter here at the bank.

What decision is there to make? Either the TDS is no more than 35%, in which case the loan is granted, or it’s higher than 35%, which means no loan.

I could do the same thing, except I am only an underling here, down at the very bottom of the hierarchy. The Adjudicator works at Headquarters, but he came here at the branch a couple of times to speak to Jim. Normally he just sends his decisions by fax, BY FAX!!!  I ask you!

Jim says it’s because the decisions must bear his signature. I say the man is just a pompous fool. Why, someone like me could handle the mailings in a fraction of the time! If I weren’t such a forgiving soul, I’d say he does it to spite me, but no, I won’t give him that satisfaction. Even though it’s poor Melinda who’s stuck operating that antiquated piece of machinery and doling out the fax sheets.

I know I’m talking a lot, but don’t worry, all those TDS computations are done now.I can walk and chew gum at the same time, you know. Just kidding…

What? Go home?

Yes, yes, yes, I know what home is, it’s where one gets the mail; if I haven’t done that 51,283 times, I haven’t done it once.

But I’m tired, I’ll check the mail later, I’ll just take a nap now, it usually cools me down…


Bio: Aïda Barsoum

aidia boursom

Originally from Egypt, I came to Canada with my family as an adolescent. I had a strong interest in writing, but circumstances required that I consider a
more straightforward avenue to employment and I chose to study mathematics, which I also enjoyed.

After a few years as a statistician and as a teacher, I embarked on a multifaceted career as educator, cook, healer and resource manager (read: mother). During those years I occasionally had bouts of intensive writing, as when I started a newsletter at my children’s school.

Besides writing, my interests include birdwatching, gardening and playing the guitar.

Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:

1) Memoir: Of Birds and Wasps

2) Memoir: The Wedding Dress



  1. Not too far into the story I was right there in that hot room with you! The Chinese guy at the door after hours was a particularly good detail – totally bought into it , including your reaction. A short period of time covered very well. As a reader, I felt the piece flowed well, was easy to read, and complete.

  2. Clever. I feel like the man in the picture with my head about to explode! I don’t do math or ratios or anything with numbers! Yikes! But I can appreciate the character and his frustrations. 🙂

    • What to do about our frustrations except laugh at them?
      It’s the best medicine, they say.

      Happy to read your comment!

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