Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Adolphus Kiernan is a short and sparsely built man whose lifetime spent stooped over architectural drawings has bestowed on him an unusual curvature of the spine. This semi-grovel and downcast stare give him a submissive air; many find it easy to bend him to their will. Still, sometimes, when the world’s gaze rests elsewhere, you’ll catch a glimmer of rebellion in the old man’s eye.

“Brother, I’m sorry, I can’t make your show tonight... I know... I’m sorry... last minute job.”

With that Adolphus returned to work. Artist, father, lover, his brother outshone him in most measurable capacities. He even had a better name.  But work must come first.

Many pressing matters cried for Adolphus’s attention. Every one of the bank’s branches resides in a building of some description, rarely are they purpose built. Customers visit converted Georgian homes, old print works, former hotels and units originally designed for shopping. Each one requires homogenisation of sorts; a raised floor for cabling, a floating ceiling for lighting, and appropriate heating. The IT area must be flood proof, air conditioned and well ventilated. A break area is a union necessity. Entrance must only be possible through two sealable doors and, most importantly, all cash must find itself behind bulletproof glass, spending the preponderance of its day in a time locked safe. Computerisation was not a priority and Adolphus drew all plans by hand.

He turned his mind to a recently acquired Georgian listed building in Cork. A box room offered the ideal size for IT equipment, but had no channel to run the required cables, and no legal method of adjusting the interior. Balancing the plans atop some boxed Christmas decorations he opened the photographs of the site. He checked the interior of the room, pausing to pull out a magnifying glass. Excellent. A servant’s bell. The tug cord in the room would be connected to a bell in the hallway – he could have the cabling run through the same route. Ancient force of habit caused him to turn and share this success. Finding no-one, he turned to his next item.

The hour is late when he rolls floor plans into a plastic tube for further work at home. The tube is large, while standing it reaches his sternum; he has been cautioned that cycling so encumbered is dangerous. He prefers the stairs to the lift.

“Goodnight Rashid” he makes a point of smiling to the night security guard, making eye contact.

“Goodnight Alphonsus!”, the reply accompanied by a smile of white teeth and what seems to be genuine feeling.  The cycle home is cold, he feels no benefit from his coat after a days’ wear. Rashid returns to his book.

“Good morning Rashid!” is delivered with the same smile, coat and enthusiasm used some eight hours prior. This was a rush job, and four hours’ sleep must suffice. After one short stop he leaves the revised plans propped against his manager’s door. No note required, his eight am deadline met with twenty minutes to spare Adolphus decided to treat himself to a canteen breakfast of tea and toast, consumed at his desk.

His work is hard and often thankless. Despite working in a facilities department the heater in his solitary workspace has gone unmended for some three years. In winter he does not remove his coat, come warmer weather he folds it carefully and lays it atop the old filing boxes, Christmas decorations and office bric-a-brac that share his workspace. His coatstand has long since been surrendered to more important staff, the space it once occupied now used to house a box of old keyboards. There is no longer space for two people; for expediency’s sake his superiors shout orders from the corridor. There is no need for a response.

 “Kiernan!” comes such a shout. His first name was never favoured. He turns to find his manager, Sean, bloodshot eyes, unwashed hair, the smell of last night’s smoke and mixed drink entering where Sean does not. Last night’s work in his hand, the roll squashed flat in the middle, decorated with a bootprint, he continues.

“You expect me to present this mess? You were supposed to have this ready at eight! It’s half nine!”

Adolphus sits quietly, accepting the blame for Sean’s clumsiness. He promises to have it redone by noon, silently reminding himself that the meek shall inherit the earth. He consoles himself by breathing “the second time around is always faster” and sets to work, meeting the noon deadline with his habitual fifteen minute safety net intact. He travels the complicated warren of corridors to Sean’s office. A newspaper tells of bank bailout costs, it lies on a desk beneath a landscape by Jack B Yeats. An original. Were Adolphus a greedy man, he may wonder how the mahogany furniture contrasted in value to his years’ pay. But he is not a greedy man, he never sought more than his due.

Judging by his desk Sean was on his third coffee. “You’ve let a lot of people down Kiernan.” He took the plans. “Now get out – I’ve got real work to do.”

Adolphus left without a word.

All in all the day passed smoothly, Rashid had barely commenced his nightshift when Adolphus crossed the reception area with his drawing tube. He allowed himself the luxury of a brief conversation about Rashid’s homeland, and even resurrected some French that had lain dormant since secondary school.

“You are in a good mood my friend.”

“Thank you Rashid, I suppose I am. I’m going to see my dear brother. I let him down quite badly yesterday, but I think some supper might make things right.”

Days passed, and had anyone caught Adolphus’s eye they may have caught a brighter glimmer. In a most unexpected development he left the building for lunch, returning within thirty minutes, rubbing his arm.

“Where the hell were you?” Sean asked in the corridor

“Flu jab sir, can’t be too careful at my age.”

“Running all over town on company time is as bad as stealing, and I’m not paying you for it. Make up the time before you go home tonight.”

Adolphus scuttled past, eager for the privacy of his office. Both shoulders were quite sore and he found difficulty reaching plans on higher shelves. He took the medical bureau’s receipt from his pocket and studiously ripped it into the tiniest of pieces, then ate the segments with a warm cup of tea.

Time marched on, his routine varied little. Early mornings and late nights continued, the day’s monotony broken only by occasional strolls through the office’s gilded halls and new plans for old banks.

Adolphus worked his sixty fifth birthday without ceremony or complaint. He finished his assigned tasks and took a brightly coloured envelope from his jacket. Not a birthday card, a Christmas card of sorts, he hid it with the Christmas decorations for later discovery. He was a shy man, and did not enjoy the prospect of delivering his message to Sean in person.  For the last time he rolled his plans and walked through the building. He passed Rashid with a simple “Bonne chance!”; a longer goodbye would follow by mail. He stepped outside, despite the late hour the summer’s sun still shone. His arms, no longer stiff from various immunisations, lingered for a moment by his bike. Would he need it again? For the first time in forty three years, Adolphus and his drawing tube flagged a taxi home.

“What line of work are you in buddy?” the taxi driver asked.

“Oh, me? I’m a bank robber. Recently retired.”

“Fair enough buddy, no chit chat then.”

Adolphus went to his bedroom, examining his tickets and passport to a new life for the thousandth time before opening his drawing tube. In keeping with routine he unrolled his plans, the topmost detailing a new branch’s secure doorway. It was no longer of interest. Beneath lay a John B Yeats original, recent subject of a private bidding war, replaced, as with so many others, by his brother’s excellent reproduction.