Most of us have dreamed of a huge deposit of money mysteriously arriving in our bank accounts. Trust me, even if you truly believe the deposit to be legitimate and then spent it, if it is actually not yours, you will be expected to pay back every cent (dime or penny), whether you can afford it or not.
I knew a young lady, let’s call her Florence, who found a windfall in her bank account.
At this stage she had been saving up for a plane fare to attend a family reunion which had been planned for a year and a half. In the mean time she had married and had a baby boy, Edwin. Not only was her husband a super spend thrift, he was also mostly out of work. Thankfully, he managed to get undesirable nightshift work and not too many weeks passed before he would find yet another job. For his latest job, a friend helped him get work further from home and his mother had put the deposit on a motorbike for travel, there and back. She insisted he keep up the payments. She also picked up her grandson each weekend and Florence would ride to and from her job, as a pillion passenger on the motorbike. If she didn’t get a ride, she would walk.
It had been a struggle to make ends meet and Florence had been constantly forced to dip into her savings for necessities. Though the family reunion was just weeks away she had nothing saved. In her heart she believed she would be going, she just didn’t know how . . . yet.
Her youngest sister lived at home with her parents still, while Florence, the oldest, had married and had a child of her own. Florence's youngest sister had been the first baby she had fed and looked after. With no money for presents, she started to make a token gift for her little sister. She found some round flat stones and decided to paint lady bugs on them. The three bugs looked so cute once painted. Her husband wondered what she was doing.
“I’m making them for my sister Maisy. I’ll give them to her when I go up North.”
“How is that going to happen? Money goes through your hands like water!”
“I never have enough. You don’t give me enough. and food is expensive.”
“So, how do you think you'll go away? ” He snorted in disgust.
“I’ve been trying to save up what I earn at my weekend job.”
“Well, I don’t think you’ll be going. You’ll need hundreds.”
“I am going, even if my parents pay for me. When we married, I told you how important the reunion was to me. You said I could go.”
“That was before the baby. All of this is your fault!” He wiped his hair back in an impatient flourish.
Her eyes welled tears as she thought of all the financial catastrophes which had happened to them. How angry he had been when she, in desperation, took all of his bills and fines to an agency. They helped work out a budget where money would come out of his pay. All his creditors had been told the time frame they would be paid back in. Their debts hung over them like the huge shadow of a mountain but they had enough to cover necessities. She understood how impossible and frivolous her dream trip to see family must seem, especially to her husband.
A week later she had little Edwin in his pram and she went to the ATM at the bank to make another withdrawal. This account held her Family allowance payments and she had tried and failed to add any of her weekend earnings. She hadn’t been able to save much of the allowance either. At least the money went into a secure account rather than their original cheques which had been grabbed and cashed by her husband.
Oh goodness, this cant be right, she thought, as she stared at the screen of the ATM. She went to the back of the queue to enquire at the counter.
“You have $240 dollars in your account,” said the teller.
“That’s impossible. How much was the last deposit?”
“Does it say where it came from?”
“No, but you definitely have that amount.”
“Are you sure?”
“Look here, you can see for yourself.” The teller showed her on the screen before them.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe its extra Family allowance?”
Many thoughts raced through her mind as perspiration formed on her brow. She hadn’t heard of any extra family allowance payments or backpay amounts. $200 would be enough for a plane trip up to her parent’s place. Maybe enough for some disposable nappies for convenience too? She withdrew exactly what she needed for the day and left the rest for her one-way plane trip. Feelings of excitement bubbled up in her but she resolved to keep her stash a secret in the meantime.
When she arrived home her husband was about to walk out the door. He had a scowl on his face. His motor bike had been repossessed and he was about to catch a bus to work. He knew he could get the bike back out of his wages but to keep his job he still had to get to work. He reckoned his friend could drop him off again in the evening and he had rung his mother to help him out getting the bike returned the next day.
“Well don’t look at me,” she said, “I paid last time and you are supposed to budget.”
“Well, if I didn’t have so much getting taken out of my pay before I even see it, we wouldn’t be in this mess. I promised my Mum you’d give her your weekend wages when she drops Edwin back home on Sunday.”
“You did, did you?” She truly sympathized with his predicament but still kept her windfall a secret.
He needed to leave and she wasn’t going to argue with him. At the time, it had seemed practical to get their bills consolidated and gradually paid off. She had been helping. She was sick of the weeks with barely any food because too many creditors demanded more than they could afford, all at once.
Her flight had been surreptitiously booked and paid for. She also packed her case which she carefully hid under the bed.
The first time her family had seen baby Edwin, he had been four months old. She had sold her stereo, the one her brother had helped her buy, way back in her flatting days. It gave her enough money for the return flight. The circumstances surrounding her trip had been awful.
One night her husband had locked her in the house when he went out. In frustration she had smashed the bedroom window. It had been so stupid. The landlord had replaced the glass, no questions asked, but she had also cut her hand in the process. Her husband had also rung up her parents and said that Florence wasn’t coping and needed to get away with the baby for a break. Naturally, they had been excited for Florence to visit and to see their first grandchild. But how? Finally, Florence had taken matters into her own hands and got the money together herself. She had also informed her husband that her trip to the family reunion, the following year, would still happen.
What had upset him immensely was that the stereo no longer sat in the top shelf of the wardrobe. He had never let her sell it even though he had another of his own on time payment.
“What on earth are you so upset about? We didn’t need it and if I don’t see my family now, they'll worry about your claim that I’m not coping. It's the best solution I could think of.”
“Because what is yours is mine! This gumby at work has been skiting about a new boom box he stole and sold for a lot of money. So, I told him I also ran my own business, selling stolen goods. That I had a stereo hidden in the top of the wardrobe and more in the attic.”
“How crazy are you! We certainly haven’t got anything in the attic.”
“And now thanks to you we don’t even have anything in the top of the wardrobe!”
She had dismissed his ranting as nonsense and spent a blissful week with her family. After that, she had to shorten her stay and change her flight to return home earlier. Her husband had rung in an absolute panic wanting her back. He raved on about police, the gumby at work being caught and no end of other related woes. Her family were disgusted that poor Florence had been bothered by these problems when she had gone up there for a break.
On her return, it was lovely to be greeted so warmly. It made her feel wanted and needed . . . until she walked into the flat and barely recognized it. She felt dismay at the appalling state of the place.
“I’ve been so worried about everything I haven’t had the energy to clean up. And I’ve been going to work most nights.” He didn’t even look ashamed.
“I can’t believe it took just one week of my being away for everything to fall apart and this place to become such a pigsty. As for the guy at work telling the police, I don’t know why you're worried. We don’t have any stolen stuff in the house and we don’t have any extra money.”
There had been silence until her husband finally broke it. “Well . . . I’m looking after an appliance for him because he was afraid the police were going to raid his place.”
“You what? You have to get rid of it right now. What possessed you to take it from him?”
“He’s such a smart-ass, I thought I’d just sell it. He wouldn’t dare go to the police about it. It’s stolen.”
“You really shouldn't have taken it.”
“He’s furious about it. I would have given it back but he got so scary. He even threatened to kill our baby. I told the police about him.”
She took a moment to digest this. “Sounds like I shouldn’t have come back to this horrible situation.”
“I really don’t know what to do. It bothers me that you sold the stereo up in the top of the wardrobe and went away with the proceeds.”
“Don’t drag me into this! It wasn’t stolen and I sold it back to the business I bought it from years ago. The owner will vouch for me. I am not involved in this at all. Shame on you!”
“It just doesn’t look good.”
“I’ll tell you what doesn’t look good; this damn mess. I’m going to feed our son and when he’s off to bed I’m going to tidy up. You have to help me.”
Late that evening she finally went to bed, happy that everything had been cleaned and put away. What a day. She had arranged for her dear mother-in-law to pick her up the next day, for a visit at hers. It would be relaxing to be there with family who doted on their grandson.
The visit had been lovely. Florence had been dropped back home late afternoon and had successfully dismissed from her mind the awful revelations of the day before.
The first weird thing she noticed was that the door wasn’t locked even though it seemed like no one was there. When she ventured into the little flat she had palpitations. Everything was awry. Drawers were opened and stuff had been dragged out. Boxes from the top of the linen cupboard were on the hallway floor. The lounge had been turned upside down. With huge trepidation she entered the bedroom; the bed had been pulled apart and all the contents of the wardrobe were scattered over the floor.
Hadn’t she cleaned it all up the previous day? Who had done it? Was it her foolish husband? Had they been burgled? Was it the gumby from work looking for the stolen appliance?
She stood for a moment holding the baby in shock not sure what to do. Finally, she went to the phone and dialed for the police.
“I’d like to report a break-in . . . How do I know? Someone came into the house while I was out and everything has been thrown around everywhere . . . No. Nothing appears to be missing. . . . I have no idea what they were looking for. My address?”
Florence gave her address and the next minute was told that the police had obtained a warrant to search the flat and had done so.
“How dare they! The mess is unbelievable. You have no idea how much has been emptied out and thrown around.”
“It’s not their job to clean up afterwards. I’m very sorry if you are upset.”
Upset? Florence was livid. Livid at her husband and livid at the police. But the worst was not over.
On the day the police arrived to speak with both of them she had tidied everything up again. Yes, the warrant had been to search for stolen property. The real thief had been apprehended and had reported her husband’s tall tale of stolen goods in the wardrobe and attic. There was nothing in the attic or wardrobe of course but they had to empty everything out to make sure. When Florence claimed to be completely innocent and just the one that cleaned up everything afterwards, the police turned on her. They had found Florence’s hidden cheque book. In it was a stub for one which had bounced. They had investigated and they knew Florence was guilty of that. She burst into tears.
“That was the only time. My husband beat me over the head until I signed it for a bill he wanted to pay. I knew there was no money. After that I hid my book and told him it was lost. I’m so sorry and they did get paid. I paid them the next week. . . . I just got back from up North yesterday.”
She also had to explain about how she had been able to go away.
Attention then focused away from Florence and on her husband. He ended up paying a hefty fine for his involvement. He finally gave the police the stolen item which he had taken somewhere else. The other apprehended young man received punishment for his crimes as well.
Florence sighed as she remembered what had happened. This time she would also be away. Did she dare to trust her husband? This time she had no return flight. She had decided to ask her father if she could work for him until she earned enough for her fare home. Was the whole venture even worth the risk?
She rationalized that the windfall was proof that she was meant to go. She did not want to miss the family reunion. If it meant that the bank came to her later about the error, she might have to work to pay the bank back. In all honesty, she had more or less told the bank teller the money was not hers. She may even get away with it.
On her return, a fortnight later, after reassuring her husband numerous times she would indeed return, she had two lots of music to face.
“My mother was furious that you went up North to your family when I had so much trouble with the payments on my bike.”
“It wasn’t my money and I decided to go away as I had told you I would.”
“What do you mean, not your money?”
“The money came from the bank but they made a mistake. I used the money for my flight up and worked for Dad to get the money to come home. I just about killed myself pruning an orchard which was more like a jungle! Doesn’t that sound like I wanted to come back?”
“You were so secretive.”
“You didn’t want me to go. I never lied about it. I told you clearly when I left that I would definitely return.”
Her husband was just as hostile when the bank came calling. A friend of hers managed the local bank. He came to visit her because he convinced his colleagues that they needn’t alert the police, that he knew Florence and it wouldn’t be a problem.
“if you knew the money wasn’t yours, why did you spend it?” he asked.
“Because I really needed it, and I had every intention of paying it back on my return. I had to work to earn the money for my flight back. I’m sorry if you haven’t been able to contact me. You know I’m honest. The teller refused to look into it. She was convinced the money was mine.”
“You have to pay it back. The sooner the better.”
“I haven’t any money. Now I have to find a job and organize child-care. I’ll probably have to pay for that too. I can’t ask my mother-in-law to look after Edwin every day of the week. She works some days. I will pay the money back but it will take time.”
“Florence, I know you and I can’t understand how you could just spend money that wasn’t yours.”
“This trip was very important to me. I didn’t look a gift of money in the mouth.”
Sometimes you get what you want and then you get what’s coming to you. Florence never found out how or why the money had been deposited into her account at just the right time. It never seemed like a mistake to her and she paid back every cent.