Locked out. . .
"I've never had an elevator break down on me," I said to the brown-eyed, auburn-haired stranger, I was riding it with on 450 Sutter Street, San Francisco.
"Shh, shh," she admonished, laying a finger on her lips. "Don't say it out loud. This one's already broken down twice."
"What did you do, then?" I asked with morbid curiosity, a die-hard suburbanite visiting San Francisco for the day and looking for some tame adventure. Being rescued from a stuck elevator would qualify.
She shrugged and exited the elevator with rapid strides. I continued on to my floor and was a little disappointed when I arrived without any upheaval. The lingering disappointment remained with me after I'd been examined by my doctor and found 'healthy as a horse.' Time to go home to placid Pleasanton.
I lumbered towards the exit and pressed the button for the elevator to arrive on the 22nd floor. When it opened, I peered inside. Nobody to share my ride down and listen to my rants about the Trump administration. Ever since I emigrated to the United States, I've found great liberation in talking to strangers. Specially strangers in elevators. You make eye contact for a split second, enough to spill out your deep dark secrets. . . how you've been avoiding your mother-in-law or the latest $4,000 Louis Vuitton purchase you've yet to tell your husband about. The stranger nods sympathetically. You feel their empathy and compassion and next, poof! They arrive at their floor, and then they're gone, never to be seen or heard from again. In the meantime, you've confided in someone, a burden has been lifted from your shoulders, and you carry on your merry way without a care in the world.
To find nobody waiting in the cavernous vault of the elevator was a tad anti-climactic, but I consoled myself. It only takes half a minute a reach the bottom floor, anyway. I stepped in confidently. A loud creak, a heave-ho and whoosh! I waited to be transported to street level while I admired the pink polish on my newly-manicured nails.
Crash. Boom. Crash. Boom. The elevator jerked forward and sideways like a drunken man lurching home from a bar at midnight. I flung my hands up in a reflexive motion and turned my body to clutch the nearest wall. Crash. Boom. The elevator righted itself to come to a shuddering halt. Blink. Blink. The one solitary bulb hanging from the ceiling was suddenly extinguished. I found myself in pitch darkness.
I opened my mouth to emit a piercing scream. Aeeeeeiiiiiyeee! The deep walls of the elevator bounced my voice back, distorted and unfamiliar. Helppppppp! I tried again. No response. Nothing. Just a weak cry. A part of my brain registered how helpless and nasally my voice sounded. The airless chamber began to close in on me. I was finding it hard to breathe through my tightened chest, my swollen throat like a nuclear plant at the brink of a meltdown.
My suddenly-shaking limbs hit the floor. I could hear my heavy breathing. I brought my nails up to my mouth and started to chew on them. Maybe that would stave off the shakes.
Then, I remembered. I rummaged through the handbag still hanging over my shoulder. My cell phone! Yesssssss. It showed a low battery warning with only 20% power left but it was still flickering. With frantic fingers, I dailed 911. The dial tone was soothing, but then teeeeeeeee. No reception. I called my home. A second's worth of comforting dial tone and then, an infinity of silence.
Never mind. I'm still connected to the world, I thought, refusing to give in to panic.
I scrolled through my downloaded pictures. Admired a few, deleted few more. Tried to immerse myself in the novel I'd started a month ago on my Kindle app. 'Catfish and Mandala'. When that didn't work, I turned to chanting my prayers aloud. Breathe in, Breathe out. 'Ommmmm' just like Kathy at Downtown Yoga instructed every weekday at 6:30 p.m. Anything to stop myself from hyperventilating.
My phone call to Heaven must have worked. I was still humming 'Ommmm' during the out-breath when I heard a crew prying open the elevator doors. I scrambled off the floor, never so happy to see the blinding beam from a flashlight.
"How long was I stuck?" I asked.
"Just a few minutes," said Jack, the lumbering San Francisco Department Fireman who helped me to my feet.
Discreetly I wiped the tears off my cheeks and hid my chewed-off nails behind my back.
"Oh, really, it seemed like an eternity."
"Nope." Handsome Jack flashed me a reassuring grin. " You were stuck for less than three minutes. Were you scared?"
"Nope," I feigned nonchalance. "I knew help was coming."
I dusted off the seat of my pants. "Bye, bye," I crooned, as I swaggered out in my best Kim Kardashian imitation.