The elevator jerked to a sudden stop. The number 83 was flashing on the panel. Eighty-three floors above the street. That’s about 996 feet I quickly calculated, remembering that someone had once told me each floor in a skyscraper was about twelve feet high. I was on an express elevator – supposedly a straight shot to the ground after picking up its last passengers on the 90th floor.
The silence was eerie. I was careful not to laugh, my typical reaction when a situation was going sideways. I was in my usual spot in the back, left corner, claimed as my space where no one could bump up against me, cough on the back of my head, or share their garlic breath.
Fifteen seconds passed and still silence. Was everyone mute? Were we in a time warp? Were we all willing the elevator to move?
The elevator was full. I knew from reading the brass plaque on the wall just below the electronic floor numbers that the elevator held a maximum of 18 people or 3,000 pounds. Which got me wondering who was responsible for determining that 166 pounds is the average weight of a human in this day and age? Did that 166 pounds take into consideration the weight of the overloaded backpacks – those ubiquitous carry-alls that took up as much room as a person on an elevator?
Finally, someone cleared their throat.
And then everyone spoke at once.
“What’s going on?”
“Are we stuck?”
“What do we do?”
“Who should we call?”
“I can’t breathe.” (I think that was me.)
The noise level grew slowly, like a gathering storm. Incredulous voices rose in pitch and I wanted to cover my ears with my hands.
I willed myself to calm down, and breathe. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. This technique was supposed to help when I felt anxiety bubbling up from my core.
My second, deep breath made me gag as the odour of a mishmash of bodies went up my nose and caught in the back of my throat. Sweat. Late lunches of Lebanese fattoush. Beer. Sickly sweet Chanel No. 5. Dirty feet. Hairspray.
A few strained voices started up and I heard potential panic. Hang in there everybody, I wanted to tell them. Please don’t panic. Because that’ll make me panic. When I panic, it’s not a pretty sight.
All four chambers of my heart were pumping at full speed and I could feel the pulse in my wrists, in my neck, in my ears.
Little spots appeared before my eyes and just as I was sure I was about to pass out, the elevator jumped about two inches, and then calmly continued its descent.
The din of anxious voices changed.
Relief was palpable.
The electronic numbers counted down.
I was going to make the 5:20 bus.