Meditations on the Elevator

You walk into an elevator with two strangers. You may think that it is a mere metal box being pulled upwards that you walk into, but nay, it is much more. What you stroll into with such indifference is an environment shaped by social forces so strong that they would give Emile Durkheim an orgasm. Welcome to the boiling room of humanity.         

Three strangers, three human beings with no prior connection, walk in and by some miracle of nature space out evenly in the compartment. We take for granted this phenomenon, this spatial equilibrium that takes place as we make our way inside. An equilibrium that stays constant through osmosis, as one man leaves, the remaining shift to retain it. Only when one is left is the inhabitant free to wander wherever he pleases.

So we have left this trio, frozen in a spatial construction of their own making as they press the buttons dictating the floor for which they are destined. After the flurry, an ominous result reveals itself. A red light lingers over that infamous button, that button marked by the number 1 and the eyes of the two inhabitants not responsible dart towards the culprit; that lazy mass of flesh who chose not to take the stairs. In those eyes lies the hatred, the raw abhorrence, smoke from the fire we feed every day with our petty insecurities and silent criticism, wafting across the room. But the perpetrator stays content, safe with his gasmask of apathy.

The culprit leaves and the remaining two hope nothing for him but the worst. But hark, a replacement enters. A female nonetheless, and one of our dwellers gasps. They have met before, he is sure of it, but no flash of recognition flits over her eyes. He thinks about saying something, even opens his mouth, but nothing but a hopeless gust of carbon dioxide exits his mouth. The doors close, the elevator goes up and he approaches a jarring realization. She has not pressed a button; her destination has already been ordained. He hopes to God that he was not the progenitor of this fate, but in his heart he is sure of it.

It is at the seventh floor that the portable room stops abruptly and the doors slide open. The three feel a sense of hope welling up in their stomachs, and wait with bated breath for a new addition to the family. Each imagines someone who could burst open their melancholy, someone who could brighten the darkness that lingers in their hearts. But no light appears, the floor is empty, just another button pressed by a capricious being. And the hopeful potentialities, just beginning to swirl upwards out of a quotidian dust, invert in on themselves and fall downwards in a swift, natural movement. The elevator doors close, and the box is pulled upwards.

Two buttons are left illuminated, 11 and 18. The silence permeates the space and the expectation of conversation begins to suffocate the man four floors from his exit. Four floors left: 8, 9, 10, 11. He rifles through his possible topics: personal life, contemporary politics, lack of sleep and he lands on an old favourite: “It’s so cold out today.”

The other two panic momentarily and wonder how to fill this breach into social convention, only to find nothing to hold on to. They remain silent. The speaker stands, pretending as if he does not mind the lack of response, but internally performing self-immolation for jumping into the void. The 11th floor cannot come fast enough and he steps forward, his nose parallel to the center of the doors. This transient deviation from equilibrium ceases as he hurries out of the exit.

The remaining two unfortunate companions continue upwards, past 12, past 13, past 14 and soon find themselves just steps away from home. He lets her pass first in a spirit of desperate chivalry that he hopes may compensate for their ignorance of one another’s existence. He hopes that she turns left and not right, he hopes in vain. They both turn right out of the elevator and to his horror both turn down the same hallway. It is his last chance now to redeem himself, to transform a tragedy into a triumph. She enters her room, they discover they are neighbours. He enters his, reflecting upon the infinite paths to social redemption he may have taken in that big metal box. The metal box, once a receptacle of hopeless associations, now filled to the brim with unrealized dreams.

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