Aditi Wardhan Singh

Strangers in an Elevator

I look up to thank the lady whose holding the elevator door open for me, dusting the snow off myself. Mouthing a thank you I look around, only to be flabbergasted on seeing the last person on earth I would ever want to see. My ex.

What the hell is he doing here? He’s staring at me giving me that sheepish, disgusting smile probably cursing his own hard luck. Or did he know I would be here. Wait?! Why is he smiling? Does he not recognize me? Sure, I’ve changed a lot. 10 years is a long time. What rubbish! Of course he does. God! I need to get out of here.

But the lady is already proudly Good Jobbing her kid for pressing the floor number 4 and the doors are shut.

My fate is quite literally sealed.

He bends forward and presses 21.

Panic ! Panic ! Panic !

Why did this damn building have to be 25 floors and why is my office on the 20th ? Has he got a job here ? Will I have to see him everyday. What is on the 21st floor? Law offices. He’s not a lawyer. Or has he become one? My hands are getting clammy. Is the air on in here? Deep breathe. Deep breathe.

The fourth floor is here. Out they go.

Should I go out with them. But that will tell him that I’m affected by this. I will NOT give him the satisfaction. Besides, I don’t want to climb 16 floors!!! It’s a matter of another minute or two, I can get through it with some dignity, I think.

Just him and me. I never noticed before this elevator being so freaking small. That ceiling has so much dust on it. That corner even has a cob web. Does no one ever clean here?

5,6,7

I should have saved myself the pain and got off when I had the chance.

8,9,10,11

No, I’m stronger than that.

12,13

Explicit expletives stream live through my dizzy head.

14,15,16

Just a few more.

17

Has this elevator always been so ridiculously slow?

Clang !! What was that ??? This is NOT happening. What are the chances of my TWO worst nightmares coming true at the same time. Who can be that unlucky ?

Deep breathe. Deep breathe.

I’m pressing the call button.

” Yes. How may I help you ? ”

” We are stuck on the 17 floor. Well, after I guess. ”

” I’m sorry to hear that. Someone will be there shortly.”

I squeak out a whispered Thank you and think ” Hurry ! ”

Don’t look at him. No! No! No!

” Ahem. I think you are having a panic attack. Have some water. Here. ”

Was he really talking? Or are my ears ringing ? I’m trying but I can’t see anything now. How dare he try to reach out ? Everything seems to be fading out of focus.

” Brushing me off won’t stop you from hitting the ground. Sit down. ”

Here ?! In this filthy elevator? My legs aren’t supporting me anymore, maybe the floor isn’t so bad after all. I reach for the bottle, weakly sliding down into the lotus position. Opening the cab after a few pathetic tries, I take a few much needed sips.

Deep breathe. One. Two. Three. Four.

” You seem well. I mean, you seemed well at least a few seconds ago. I’m sorry. I’m sure this is weird for you too. ”

Ignore him. He will stop talking eventually.

” Are you okay ?

Deep breathe. Five. Six. Seven.

” Can’t we … for old time’s sake. At least, …”

What is his problem ?

” Well this is ridiculous? It’s not like we don’t know each other. In fact, … “, he has the audacity to smirk.

I snap, ” Can’t we WHAT? In what scenario is THIS okay? In what world do you think that you and I could be anything BE anything? It’s been almost a decade of me trying NOT to think about … “, oh God ! these eyes are so traitorous. They are defying ever single atom of my body telling them not to, and brimming up.

Defiance radiated off him,” I figured … you, I .. well, time HAS passed. ”

” Time. Time is not magic. It solves everything till the problem comes back to stand right in front of you in an elevator that is not moving. ” I fume.

” Fine. Whatever. Nothing has changed. Ever the drama queen. ”

Did he freaking just roll his eyes at me?

I jump up and start punching the call button with all my hatred directed towards that one finger.

” STOP THAT. It will break. ”

” No, it will not. ”

” I’m talking about your finger! ”

” Hello. Yes, how can I help you. “,says the service operator.

I plead. ” Someone was supposed to come help. We are still stuck. ”

” Oh yes. I’m sorry. It seems like an electrical problem. We are working on it. The electrician will be here in half an hour, earlier maybe. ”

I close my eyes and the tears roll down.

” Oh, really stop. “, he says, smirk in place. ” I’m sure there are worse things that being stuck in here with me. You are forgetting we used to get along really well. It’s just minutes, not a lifetime. Stop being such a baby.”, says the King of sarcasm.

BABY ? DRAMA QUEEN ?

” Are you kidding me? True as that as may be, LOOKS like you are STILL an asshole!! Of ginormous proportions. ”

His eyes pop out. He regains his composure. ” Colorful language, coming for you. Looks like your if nothing else, your vocabulary sure has extended. Though I’ll have you know you weren’t that great to be around either. ”

” Sure. But What was the tough part? Please enlighten me. Me being there for you at your beck and call. Wanting to be with you. Sure, I was super clingy but I was young. I was in love. I thought wanting to be with someone when you loved them was natural. What was tough for You though ? Me traveling every weekend to see you for a few hours? Or me being your personal punching bag ever available to take every sarcastic remark you threw out. Or me spending all my money calling you, buying you stuff, visiting you. You didn’t seem to mind any of that at all. In fact, you hardly ever even made any real effort for us, not even turning up to meet my parents when they were in town while I built my world around you. Meanwhile YOU went around flirting with, sleeping with Every skirt behind my back and lying about me, us to everyone around so that you were the quintessential eligible bachelor. ”

I’m panting. Years have reduced into seconds ticking by.

Him looking sheepish was no relief. ” Look! You left me. Got married, seem happy enough from what I know. So, why the angst? Shouldn’t you be happy that you got a better deal? ”

Tears are flowing freely. I smile through the tears, ” Yes, I’m happy and am married to a wonderful man. A man who surprisingly turned out to be everything you weren’t. ”

That brings forth another defiant hmph.

I continue,” But every single time I think of you I’m filled with regret. I hate myself when I think about those years I WASTED blindly behind you, behind the vague idea that was us. I don’t care about you. Don’t flatter yourself. But seeing you here reminds me of all those beautiful memories that only I thought were real and love and trust that was all for nothing. I hate myself for wasting my time, energy, money on a horrible person like you. I spent years wondering why I was not enough. Why you didn’t want to put in an effort. But later on I understood that it wasn’t me. As cliched as it is, it was actually all you. You didn’t want to miss out on anything better, if it chose to come around. All options open as they say. And I guess you got it too. Just as you wanted. So, hurrah for us ! ”

I sit back down, spent.

It’s quiet. And remains that way thankfully. Memories flooding us, our own versions of our truths haunting us with their ghosts. All the good times, the laughter, the friendship, the intimacy, the fights, the pain, my begging him to change, my asking him to let me go, the abrupt end when I just stopped answering his calls after I found out he had been cheating on me the whole time, the ridiculousness of it all, even this moment here.

Why did I have to say Anything? Why do I ALWAYS talk so much? Does it even make any difference? But as the seconds tick away I realize I do feel lighter. How come he’s not saying anything? Maybe age Does bring some maturity? Who knows. For the last five minutes I felt like I was 21 again back at college, the stupid girl who believed in fairy tale romances.

10, 20 something mins have passed by. The red in my mind has passed. My mind wanders. I wonder if the kids have had their lunches. What is hubby going to say when I tell him about this surreal meeting? I bet he will make some funny comment about how I finally got the last say I always love having. What am I going to make for dinner today? Baked chicken and beans maybe. And as I find myself coming back to the person I am now, I realize I’m actually fine. THIS, us here also seems fine. What are we but just two people who once were bound together by a different time and now aren’t. Strangers.

I sigh in embarrassment as it hits me how futile and maybe foolish my outburst was. ” I’m sorry. I really meant when I said it’s not about you and I realize now that this moment has passed, it’s not even in me anymore. I shouldn’t have said anything. I always did talk too much for my own good. I always wished you the best and have always been genuinely happy that things worked out exactly as you and even I wanted. ”

He looks at me, for a second he looks just like the person who was my friend. ” It wasn’t all lies you know? I did love you.”

I rub my hands on my trousers, smiling at the empty words, looking down. ” Thank you but I guess not enough. ”

Another long silence. The elevator dings, starts moving up to the 21st floor. I stand up. The doors open. He starts walking out. As the door closes, he looks back, smiles the smile I used to say was the best one in the world and waves as silent Bye.

***************************************************************

A month later, I’m standing in the elevator and see that he’s walking towards it again. He acknowledges me with a nod. I nod back. He turns around to face the doors. The elevator starts quietly moving upwards.

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