Babies. Wherever you look, you’re bound to see someone with a baby. Now don’t get me wrong – I love babies. It’s elevators I could never stand – I still can’t.
Maybe I should explain. My mild claustrophobia goes wild – for obvious reasons – whenever I get into an elevator. I used to be able to manoeuvre around the hellish things just fine. That, of course, was before the demographic explosion forced land development into verticality.
Long gone are the days when you could take the stairs because you weren’t going further than the third floor. Of course, nothing is on the third floor anymore, is it?
I have come to believe that building owners rent only the floors up to the second and from the tenth to the top. What is done of floors three to nine, I don’t know.
In the nine days I was forced to take the elevator up to floor seventeen of the Atlantic Tower, I never once saw someone get out on floors three to nine.
It was the ninth day, and the elevator torture was proceeding as usual. Up to the fifteen floor, I’d find myself hemmed against the wall by a throng of nondescript people wearing nondescript suits. I’d try not to look at the spot on the elevator wall where a different coloured square marked the absence of a plaque – a plaque I was certain had stated the weight limit I knew that crowd exceeded.
Around floor eleven I’d be desperately trying to peel off my coat, feeling rather like Houdini.
Fortunately, most people always got off between floors thirteen and fifteen. On that particular day only one person remained. A man some three years older than me with the eyes of a cat – you know, curiously green.
Between floors sixteen and seventeen, my ears picked up an ominous sound – the kind of high pitched metal-grinding sound you don’t want to hear when you’re in an elevator between floors sixteen and seventeen.
Needless to say; the elevator stopped, the doors wouldn’t open, and the voice on the other side of the emergency line said they’d be right there in that when we get around to it tone of voice.
Also needless to say, my claustrophobia was not having fun. I sat in one of the corners, and tried to ignore the crowd of me the mirrored walls were producing.
“Are you pregnant?”
I stared at him. “What?”
“I said, are you pregnant?”
Of course he did, what else would you say to a strange woman in a broken down elevator. “No.” But now I was curious. “Why?”
“The statistics show that pregnant women are more prone to get trapped in elevators, especially during earthquakes.” He smiled. “Hollywood figured it out ages ago.”
Now, what do you say to that? I watched him sitting on the floor. He was still smiling. I closed my eyes, trying to keep him quiet – I felt bad enough as it was.
Not easily deterred, was he? I said nothing.
“James R. Solvay.”
I sighed my resignation, and looked at him. “What does the R stand for?”
He looked at his feet and didn’t reply. Interesting reaction. I insisted. “Well?”
“Ruby,” he said, so low I almost didn’t hear it.
“It’s a family name,” he said, defensively.
I was actually starting to like the guy. Anyone who goes through life – not to mention primary school – with that kind of middle name, and doesn’t turn into a homicidal maniac, rather deserves being liked.
He didn’t ask my name until much later. He did ask what I was doing there.
“I can’t get out,” I said.
He laughed. “That was funny.”
Well, maybe he did deserve being called Ruby.
He spent the next fifteen minutes trying to get a word out of me. I spent the exact same amount of time making a point of staying silent.
Until he finally said, “I don’t usually talk this much, you know. I’m just trying not to think.”
I resisted the will to say That shouldn’t be much of an effort. Instead, I offered an uninterested, “Really?”
“You see, I’m claustrophobic.”
We were trapped in that elevator for over three hours. I found out that talking does keep claustrophobia at bay. I also found out that sometimes there’s more to strangers with the eyes of a cat – you know, curiously green – than you might think at first.
Somehow, I ended up marrying him. We have a little girl. She was born – Where else? – in an elevator, during an earthquake. Hollywood figured it out ages ago.
Her name is Ruby.
Well, it’s a family name.