Elevator

The group getting on the elevator was too big, so I hung back and let them board without me. The door closed and I waited one, two, three seconds before pushing the call button. I would have the next car to myself. I’ve been in six worship services in six days, including three on Christmas Eve in an unbearably tight N95 mask that had me scratching at my beard like it was on fire. I’ve been around too many people in these days of surging Omicron, and I’m not trying to cram myself into a crowded elevator.

This one took too long, because before the elevator could arrive I started hearing the approach of a group of children. Not good. They reach the elevator bay and I casually turn to look: mom, unmasked and coughing, attended by four girls under 10 with American Girl dolls tucked under their arms. No masks on any of the kids, and two of them are red-faced, coughing and sniffling. The light above the elevator dings and the doors open. “Go on ahead,” I say kindly to the mom.

“OK” is her only answer, and she hustles her crew inside.

Alone again, shaking my head. There are only two elevators here, and I’ve watched them both go up. The next one available should be the first one that left. As I’m thinking through the timing of its return, a couple quietly arrives and leans against the wall. No problem. Two people I can handle. Except when the first elevator returns, it’s full of people who disembark slowly, unsure of which direction they want to go. When they finally clear the door I defer to the couple to get on first, and they defer to me, and in the time it takes for our mutual politeness to get sorted out the door closes and the elevator is gone.

Only one more person arrives before the next elevator returns, the one that took the sickly mom and her kids. It, too, is full of uncertain passengers, but I get my arm in the door before it closes and our quartet is loaded. Buttons are pushed for floors. I’m first at floor seven. But the lift stops at floor six, which can only mean someone there called it to go up; more people are getting on. The doors open on six to reveal a woman and four girls under ten–no.

“Come on!” she orders, and the whole coughing crew shoves their way into the car. I hold my breath for the one remaining floor, but I can barely manage it.

The door opens and I emerge alone to inhale deeply of tires and oil stains.

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