Nigel's Eyes

20240530 Bouncing Cheques

It is, in some countries, a criminal offence to bounce a cheque. In others, it can lead to a refusal to allow a person to leave the country until the cheque has been, demonstrably, satisfied. It can be evidence of insolvency and, of course, potentially a source of social disgrace.

But none of those reasons is why I'm writing this story. It demonstrates how little decisions can result in unintended consequences. Yes, it happened to me and no, I didn't bounce a cheque.


I'm cleaning my study / studio that I call my study-o. It's a horrendous task, far, far greater than i imagined.

There's the remnants from when we closed three offices in Kuala Lumpur, stuff shipped from my parents' house after they died and my own accumulations.

Three years ago, after I had finished "renovations" which basically involved building a new flat inside the original shell, I had sorted through stuff and had contributed greatly to the skips of rubble and other materials that were carted away. It included a lot - and I mean a lot - of old law books that I couldn't find anyone to take. I had to do it - post renovation, one bookcase alone, we calculated, had 600kg of books in it.

At that time, I had someone to clean everything and put it into the study. This time, deciding on another sort out as well as clean-up, I emptied the whole room, leaving only a cupboard full of multi-generations of photographs.

Sheesh, there's a lot of stuff especially when I go through it all piece by piece. That's where the story of the bounced cheques starts.

The story

I found a cheque book, at least 12 years old, still in its delivery envelope and within that still in its plastic shrink wrap. On the cover it showed that it started at cheque number 0001. So, being aware that cheques are risky, I decided to return it to the bank. I wrote on the (now torn) brown envelope "Please cancel and destroy. DO NOT REPLACE."

Then I walked to the bank.

I know. It's a privilege to live in a place where there are banks to walk to. The bank has moved (I knew that because I can no longer see it from my study-o window) but I knew the new address because 20+ years ago, I lived just a couple of hundred metres from it. It was a simple and sensible plan. I'd wait until the sun dipped behind the skyscrapers (by which time the public facing parts of the bank would be closed but so what?) and walk in, drop the envelope into the bank's letter box and walk home a long way round.

Well, the walking to the bank bit went well. Then it became the kind of silly that amuses me.

"There is no letterbox" said the "concierge." No, he said, I could not leave the envelope with him. I put it on his desk and took a photo of it, and him, taking a lesson from the couriers who no longer deliver to my door but hand things to the security lobby of my building. He looked really worried so I took pity on him and picked it up.

I hunted around the lobby filled with machines. Maybe there was cash-deposit slot. No. So I looked around some more and spotted a reception desk with drawers. One was slightly ajar (can a drawer be "ajar"?) so I opened it and found a printer. I put the envelope in it, told the increasingly baffled concierge I was doing it, took a photo of the envelope being pushed into the slightly open drawer and left. If nothing else, I'd made it someone else's problem and in the real world, that's almost as good as a win.

And I walked home a long way round so that was good, too, after thinking "who make a building without a letter box for one of its major tenants?

That was Friday.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, I received a call from a number I did not recognise so I didn't answer it. Then I got an SMS from a courier showing that he had delivered a letter from the bank. I immediately knew what it was because the label in the image showed that it came from the new bank office which isn't the office where the account is held.

I went down. Picked it up. Cut open the plastic shipping envelope and found the same cheque book, now missing the brown envelope with the "cancel and destroy" message.

So, someone, it seems, found it in the drawer, threw away the envelope with the message and passed it on to someone who, in the absence of the message and having no idea why it would have ended up in a printer drawer in the lobby, decided to send it back.

See. Cheques. Bounced.

The end