Thing a Week 13: The Elevator

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The ding of the elevator informed me that it had arrived on my floor, ready to carry me off elsewhere. I lifted my head from the water fountain and wiped my lips with the back of my hand. The shiny, metal doors slid apart from each other, revealing seven others already in the elevator, though all but two—a man and a young woman—got off on my floor, marching off in a determined group.

The man that remained was Asian and clad in a blue, pinstripe business suit. In one hand, he held a plain, brown briefcase. The other hand held a small Nokia phone up to his ear, and he was speaking wildly in some language reserved for those with squinty eyes. He was easily six feet tall and towered over the lady he stood near.

The young woman in the elevator—probably early twenties, maybe five-foot-one—was staring straight ahead at a small notice on the elevator that warned patrons about its maximum capacity and what to do in the event of an emergency. I would venture to guess she had read it many times over, but I suppose there wasn’t much else to do in an elevator. She had a long, light blue skirt on that probably matched the sky when she walked outside and a shirt that advertised some indie band I’ve never heard of—and probably didn’t care to.

I stepped into the elevator quickly, hoping not to exacerbate any inimical feelings that the elevator’s occupants might be harboring towards the source of a pause in their vertical descent. The girl’s gaze broke momentarily to size me up—which I ignored—and the man continued to speak in a frenzy to his distant conversation partner. I pushed the button for the lobby—which was already illuminated, but pressing it again would close the doors—and the doors closed slowly. Moments later, the elevator gave a soft jerk as it began moving downward again. I looked at the floor indicator above the buttons: it read 36.

I subconsciously chose to mimic the lady and watched, seemingly interested, as the floor indicator slowly decreased its value as we descended through the office building. With my eyes occupied, I occupied my ears with the Asian man’s rambling, of which I understood literally nada.

The elevator gave another jerk—slightly more rough this time—and stopped descending. The three of us in the elevator tried to ignore it, if only to prove to one another that we were more calm in the face of potential danger than the others. The next jerk—more rough than the previous one—was what it took to break the stare of the lady. In my peripheral vision, I could see her nervously look around, surveying the elevator and its occupants’ reactions. The Asian man, standing in the corner behind me, continued to talk to his phone.

“Is…” the lady spoke up nervously, “is something wrong with the elevator?” She was looking at the elevator’s buttons that were directly in front of me.

I looked at her and then back at the buttons. There was one labeled “Open Door” but I’d never actually used it before. “Feels like we’re stopped. I don’t know why.”

The elevator seemed to start up again, giving that familiar, gentle jerk that it gives when leaving your floor, but instead fell several feet. For a moment, the three of us were free-falling with the elevator, our hearts in our throats and our eyelids on the ceiling. The Asian man said a few quick words and hung up to better get a grip on what was happening around him.

When the lady spoke again, her voice cracked in fright. “Is there a button to call for help?”

We both looked. There was the “Open Door” button I already mentioned, and there was an “Alarm” button. We stared blankly at the latter momentarily, wondering if our situation warranted it. Remembering the feeling of free-falling and acquiring a sudden phobia of falling the rest of the way, I tentatively pushed the “Open Door” button. Nothing happened.

Okay, I thought, trying to remain calm, nothing happened.

I looked at the lady again, who was becoming increasingly anxious—and it seemed to be contagious. The more I looked at her, the more afraid of the situation I became. Looking back at the buttons, I pushed the alarm button and waited for a response.

I sighed deeply and looked down at my feet, not daring to look back at the lady. Feeling defeated, I leaned against the elevator wall and sunk to the floor, where I placed my hands on my knees and sighed again. Once again in my peripheral vision, I observed the young lady doing the same on the opposite wall.

For a full minute, nobody spoke, and the only sounds in the elevator were those of our breathing.

And then: “I guess we’re stuck.” The Asian businessman spoke up in English. I wasn’t sure if he was stating the obvious to hammer the unreal situation into his brain or if he was trying to lighten the mood. The latter didn’t work, so I just assumed the former.

He stepped forward and looked at the two of us on the ground. “Look,” he said, trying to be cheerful, “this doesn’t have to be a bad experience. We can try to make something of it, right? You know, look on the bright side?”

“There is no bright side,” the lady muttered under her breath without looking up. “We’re stuck in an elevator that doesn’t work.” At that moment, the light bulb turning on above her head was almost visible, as she pulled out her cell phone and dialed the front desk. After a few rings, she spoke: “Yeah, we’re stuck in the elevator. Can you—oh, okay. How long? Oh. Well, okay. Yeah, okay. Yeah. Bye.”

I looked at her for answers, and they came.

“Apparently the alarm worked.” She nodded her head towards the panel of buttons on the wall. “They’ve got guys downstairs trying to fix it, but they don’t know how long we’ll be in here. I guess we’ll just sit here then.”

The Asian guy took another step towards her and sat down beside her, bridging the gap between her and I. He set his briefcase down in the middle of us and fiddled with the lock. “Do you like monopoly?”

The woman looked up with a raised eyebrow, but didn’t answer.

“The board game,” the man clarified. He clicked the last of the combination locks in place and opened his briefcase, revealing not papers and pens, but a game board and complete set of Monopoly pieces.

It seemed the girl’s sadness wasn’t the only thing contagious in the elevator; my smile soon provoked a similar smile to creep onto the lady’s face as she leaned forward and helped the businessman set up the board game. She fiddled with the small, pewter game pieces and chose the race car for her piece. I reached forward and laid claim to the hat. The Asian man chose the guitar.

“I’ll be the banker,” he said as a question, “unless one of you wants to be.” With no objections, he began to distribute the fake money from his briefcase to each player, starting with the largest $500 bills, and ending with the smallest $1 bills. When the game was all set up, he grabbed a pair of polished, white dice from a pocket in the back of his briefcase and rolled them on the board. Seeing his total of seven, he announced, “Roll to see who goes first!”

We all rolled, and the order ended up with the lady going first, then the Asian man, then me. We raced around the board as fast as we could the first time—apparently you can’t buy property on the first go around. I had never played like that before, but I wasn’t going to argue it—and we began our epic quest of gaining a monopoly on the board’s property.

As we played, we loosened up and began to talk as well. I learned that the lady’s name was Annie, and that she had one kid in elementary school named Ryan. She worked up on the 44th floor as a graphic designer for the company website. The tall, Asian man went by Chris, and was employed as an accountant on the 41st floor. He’d given a presentation about investments this morning to a middle school class on a field trip to a big, bad office building, which explained why he had the game on hand. He laughed and assured us both that he didn’t just carry boardgames around for no reason.

About the time when I was buying my second house on Tennessee Avenue, the elevator gave a gentle jerk again. At first I didn’t realize what it meant, until Annie cried out, “Oh no! We’re moving again!”

Chris smiled and rolled the dice, making no motion to return the game to his briefcase. He rolled a nine and landed on some open property, so he bought it. The game continued uninterrupted until the elevator stopped several floors down. We all heard the ding as the doors opened, and another man dressed in a business suit boarded our elevator. His bewilderment was transparent as he looked down to see an ongoing game of Monopoly in the middle of the elevator, but he just smiled and stepped on board and out of the way. He pressed the button for his floor and we were off again.

After a little while, his curiosity got the best of him and he asked, “Monopoly?”

Chris looked up and smiled. “Why not?”

He gave a short laugh and agreed. “How long have you been playing that?”

I looked at the other players, who looked back at me, and the lady spoke up. “About thirty minutes. And we’re gonna keep playing until I win!”

The elevator’s occupants exchanged laughs and Chris and I said simultaneously, “We’ll see about—” and looked at each other briefly before bursting out into laughter again. He finished: “We’ll see about that! I’m gonna win!”

The elevator finally reached the lobby. Instead of four people getting off, only one person left the elevator. The remaining three happily stayed to finish their aleatory game of Monopoly.

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