The Hallowed Brown Envelope
When I landed my first job as a civil servant, I did not have a bank account. I am not sure why I had not bothered to open one – call it youthfoolness (yes, I just made that up). I was at the university during the days of Boom, so I did have a regular and substantial ‘income’ to warrant having a bank account, but I chose to have my money under the mattress where I could access it easily. After I got employed, I decided that a bank account wasn’t really necessary.
For starters, it required maintaining a minimum balance. My mattress did not. I could spend the last cent without any surcharges. Additionally, after paying the house rent and other expenses, there was hardly enough money to warrant repeated trips to the bank. That, and the fact that people whose salary was deposited in bank accounts got paid day or two later than those who got their money in cash. On payday, we showed up at the cashier’s office- actually, more like outside the cashier’s office and queued at the metal-grilled window. You gave you ID and pay slip to confirm that you are on the payroll, signed against your name on the black ledger and got a brown envelope. The hallowed Brown Envelope.
Receiving a letter in boarding school was such a treat. Unless the letter was from someone you would rather not receive a letter from. Like a letter from that boy whose name you cannot remember, whom you met during schools’ music festival and who now has a crush on you.
I have high school memories of a prefect or captain standing in from of school assembly with a stack of letters, reading out the names of lucky recipients. Huge envelopes bearing ginormous birthday cards, flowered envelopes with success cards, post cards, and money order notification slips. (Talking about postcards, do people still send/receive those? I loved them. They held no secrets). For some reason, we regarded the Par Avion envelope – the one with blue and red stripes- as more superior to ordinary white or brown envelope. I learnt much later that original Par Avion mail was marked as such because it was to go by air. Well, I don’t suppose any of us received a letter from overseas. Mail was usually from your parents reminding you to work hard because education was a key to unlock your bright future.
Envelope Inside The Envelope
I am not sure when the transition happened, but at some point I stopped looking forward to receiving mail. Instead of the letters written on colorful notepads, with hearts and arrows, I started receiving letters with an envelope inside. The sender wants to make it easy for you to respond, so they enclose a self addressed envelope. People trying to sell you their products or services, organizations appealing for support and bills.
It is never good news when you get a envelope within an envelope. Someone is trying to separate you from your money.
P.S. I have a nephew who is sitting for exams this year. I have been looking for the 80s success cards remember those with couples? We used to call them Muranga Couples. Someone needs to bring those back!