The Too-Big Chip

Saturday downtown street market

‘You can wait in the line at the store or I can have someone give you quick service right now,’ he said.

His tone was labored as he motioned to the store where a few customers were queued and he smiled broadly at the end of his sentence. He wore a dress shirt and slacks and sweater vest with a pin that identified him as a ‘Customer Service Representative’.

‘And how would show my appreciation for the quick service?’ I said.

‘It is up to you,’ he said, smiling broadly at the end.

I thought that I was in no particular hurry to purchase a new sim card for my phone and the line did not look so long, but also I thought that this is part of learning a place.

‘I will be happy for you to expedite the service,’ I said.

He smiled and called the boys who wore company polo shirts and sat talking at a table under the shade of a canopy in front of the building. One of the boys detached from the group and approached.

‘This is my good friend,’ he said to the boy who came. ‘Treat him very well. Register him with a sim card. Make it double fast, please.’ Then he turned to me and he said, ‘The sim is five dollars. I will go to the store and get one for you.’

I gave him the $5 and sat with the boy in the shade of the canopy while he went into the store. He returned shortly with the sim card and we opened my phone and found that the card was too large to fit in the slot.

‘This is a too-big chip,’ the boy said. ‘His phone needs the small one.’

‘Yes, I see that now,’ he said and turning to me, ‘the micro-sim is 10 dollars. I will try to return this to the store.’

I gave him the $10. He went back to the store and was a long time in retrieving the micro-sim so that this was no longer the quick service it was advertised to be and I was annoyed.

When he returned, he delivered the micro-sim to the boy who fitted it into the phone. In his other hand he still held onto the too-big chip.

‘They would not refund for this sim because the box is open and the chip has been detached from the card,’ he said, ending the sentence with the wide smile.

I grinned because now I could see how this particular scam was done. The too-big chip was suddenly a convenient token of appreciation for the quick service, which had resulted to be not at all so quick as was broad-smilingly advertised. Of course, $5 is otherwise far too much to give for the few minutes of dragged out quick service unless you wanted to take the unneeded too-big chip with you and try to show appreciation with a few banknotes.

When the micro-sim was fitted into the slot and the phone had registered the new network, I helped the boy to navigate the settings on my phone, which were all in Spanish. In Liberia it is a law that the cellular providers must maintain a database matching each number to a registered user with their name, birthdate, national ID number, and a photograph. If the sim card is not registered within a certain period of time, the provider will disconnect the phone number from the sim and eventually assign the number to a new customer. The boy recorded my information in his smartphone and attached a photograph of me taken from the phone’s camera. A few moments after he hit ‘send’, I received an sms that my number had been registered under my name.

‘So I was not able to get a refund for the other sim,’ said the Customer Service Representative representative as I checked the sms confirming that my number had been registered.

‘I suppose you will keep the sim and our business is finished here,’ I said.

‘Yes, that will be the good way,’ he said and waved the box containing the too-big chip in a gesture to the boy who had registered my phone number.

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