The lift at my workplace works on an unusual system. There are several cars, but you can’t choose which one you want to ride. Instead, you select your destination floor from a central panel, which will then direct you to go stand in front of the car which will take you where you want to go. Once inside, there is no way to select a floor or manipulate anything except for the Open Door and Close Door buttons (the metal around the Close Door button buffed to a worn glare from the desperate punchings of people who can’t wait for the door to shut after someone leaves the lift. And I’m not even convinced it makes things faster). There is also a panel which has the floors lit up where the car will be making its stops. I can only guess this system is designed to stop those maverick button-pushers who fly into the car and swipe their hand down the whole panel before running off in hysterics, and although I’ve never seen those non-conformist madmen outside of the movies, it’s probably best to be safe.
If you get on in the lobby, and you are the first to enter the car, there’s a good chance that the only floor number lit up will be your own destination. Then you have the few seconds of waiting for the door to close, while staring at the number panel and hoping another one doesn’t light up, indicating someone else being allocated to your car, and therefore one of those irritating mid-climb stop-offs. The tension fades as the doors slide closed, which may explain the worn appearance of the Close Door button by impatient fingers.
I got on the lift today on my floor, and as I headed down to the ground, it made an unexpected stop at the 4th floor. A second man slid on board with me, one of those thin, nervous people who always looks uncomfortable in a confined space with a stranger. I glanced up at the number panel, and saw that the only one lit up aside from my ‘0’ was an additional ‘3’. There was the possibility that a third person might have requested the car on the 3rd floor, and would be joining us shortly, but it was more likely that this newcomer had decided to make that his own destination. He had summoned the car, waited for it, and was now hoping for it to take him down a single flight of stairs, the stairs which were immediately next to the elevator doors themselves, within a well-lit, warm building. And as if that wasn’t enough, in doing so, he had delayed my own journey by several seconds.
This being just the kind of ridiculous, unconsidered, lazy, yet totally insignificant and unimportant act that gets me worked right up, I quickly slammed by judgemental glare back down onto the man’s cowed head. He was getting the benefit of the doubt until the 3rd floor, but things weren’t looking good for my baseless impression of him. He glanced at the doors as we slowed about 2 metres from where he had got on, and they slid open to reveal … no one. Nobody was waiting. My eyes shot back to him, as he hung his head and stood still.
He wasn’t getting off? But nobody was getting on? It was a mystery. One that could easily be solved by person X having called the car, then realised they’d forgotten something, or deciding to take the stairs after all, or any number of perfectly reasonable and banal explanations, but a mystery nonetheless. At any rate, whether it was a bluff or not, this man was not going anywhere. He was staying with me down to the ground floor.
The doors slowly slid shut again, and the car continued its descent as I examined the top of his balding head, picking out individual hairs and hoping he would look up so I wouldn’t have to think of him as such a weird, timid fellow. We hadn’t made eye contact once. He kept his back pressed against the wall, putting as much distance between himself and anything else as possible.
But, the car reached the ground floor, and the doors slid open, letting the sunlight of the lobby spill inside. I thought it fair to let the poor man out first, as he obviously wanted to be gone as soon as possible. But he didn’t move. Before the doors could shut on us, I stepped out. He stayed put.
A few steps away, the doors shut behind me. I looked back. The man had not emerged from the car. As I walked away slowly, through the lobby and out the front door, I kept glancing back. The doors remained shut. But wait. There is no way to manipulate that lift from inside. When I got off at floor ‘0’, that was the only number lit up on the panel. Unless a third party were to call it to another floor, that box was not going anywhere. It couldn’t be moved to any other floor through any action of the man inside. All he could do, was to push the Open Door button, and step out right here. Yet he stayed hidden. On the other side of that door, was a thin, awkward man, standing in the corner, staring at the floor, and not. going. anywhere.
And it creeped me out.