“Get ready! One, two, three–” I jumped and the dark elevator shook a little.
“STOP IT! Bea, don’t!” Pol’s voice bounced off the steel walls of the elevator car. “Are you trying to get us killed?”
“I was just trying out this thing to see if it’d restart. Maybe it just got stuck or something.” I replied with the confidence of someone who has fixed many glitches by simply rebooting a computer or hitting really hard and persistently the sides of a TV.
“Please, stop messing up,” he pleaded, his tone of voice subsided. “Don’t you see the lights are out? There must’ve been a power cut.”
“They are not all out,” I objected. “There's that light over there,” I pointed to the shimmering yellow dot above the door.
“You can’t be serious,” Pol’s voice trembled a little. “That’s obviously an emergency light that gets powered by a generator. It’s not good for seeing further than your nose anyway.”
“Well, if there's a generator to power the light, why wouldn’t it power the elevator as well?” I asked while still staring at the hazy light. “Also, I can see further than my nose!” I insisted to the empty space next to me. “Pol? Pol? Where are you?” I looked around, not being able to see much more than my own shadow falling across the elevator walls. Then I looked down, “What the hell are you doing on the floor?”
Pol was sitting on the floor, hugging his knees, with his back against one of the corners of the carriage. He looked up at me, “OK, it might be a simple AA battery. I’m not an expert on what powers emergency lights in elevators.” Then he fixated his eyes on the floor. “I’m not doing so well–“
It was the first time I’ve noticed that my friend was shaking. Was the blackout really making him that anxious? I decided to try to distract him in the best way I knew – by making a joke, “I hope you weren’t looking up my skirt, mister! I know the view could be a heartstopper, but it wouldn’t be very decent of you.”
My comment seemed to liven up his mood. Ha! I knew that Pol’s dirty mind had the capacity to overtake the part of his brain that was responsible for his failed crisis management reaction. He mustered a smile and said hopefully, “Maybe if you do let me have a look, my heartbeat will get back to normal?”
“Or more likely it will accelerate even more and explode,” I laughed back at him. We were always exchanging playful flirtations like that, ever since we spoke for the first time at the company Christmas party. Despite the fact that we were both accompanied by our respective boyfriend and girlfriend at the time. Despite the fact that it was right at the onset of the #MeToo movement. We seemed to have the same type of sarcastic humor that helped us click really fast, and an unspoken pact was sealed there and then – you can joke inappropriately with me, if I can throw back the same saucy comments at you, as long as it helps us make our day at work a bit more fun no one has to get management involved in our childish games. Now, two years later, we are both single and the bestest of friends.
I tucked my flowy skirt between my legs and crouched next to him. “Seriously, are you OK? I didn’t know you have a phobia of... elevators, tight spaces, the dark? Actually, which one is it?”
“Try all of them.” He looked like a child someone had left home alone. “You can imagine it’s not something I go bragging about…”
“I had no idea. Dude, you could’ve told me. We are friends, right?” I tilted my head and looked at him inquisitively. “I know about the girl who tried to drug you in order to have your baby, but I don’t know important stuff like that?”
“Haha, you’re right!” The memory of one of his less successful conquests seemed to cheer him up, although at the time catching his crazy date right in the middle of spiking his drink had been quite the shock. “Well, I'm a guy, you know. I have to be tough. Or at least play the part.” He continued, “If you think about it, we’ve never been in this situation before, so there was no point in admitting how pathetic I am. Actually, I never take the elevator. I have no idea what made me follow you today. It must've been your red skirt.”
“Yeah, right! Now it’s all my fault.” I was trying to keep the conversation light, but seeing Pol struggling to come up with a funny reply made me worry about him even more. Pol, the big guy who trains every day in order to keep in shape, had a vulnerable side to him. Who knew? I looked him in the eyes, “So that you know, I'm not responsible for the electricity in the building, but I do know that elevators also have emergency buttons. I’m going to call and hopefully someone can get us out of here soon.”
“Bea, no, please don’t.” He held my arm, forcing me to remain with him. “Promise me you won’t move or touch anything else in this elevator.”
I let out a heavy sigh and sat down on the floor next to him. “This is really serious, huh?”
“Maybe, I don’t know,” he replied. “As long as I avoid confined spaces and let the street lights shine in my bedroom at night I'm fine. But then something like this happens and I freak out.”
“Where does it stem from? Do you know?” I asked. “Something must be triggering it. You're a grown man. You surely know that a dark room is not something to be afraid of.”
“Yeah, I'm aware these fears are completely irrational. But I can't do anything about it.” He shrugged, “And it’s kind of my fault actually.”
“What do you mean your fault?”
“Well, you know how I am. Now, multiply that by a hundred. That’s me during my childhood. I used to be quite the wild kid.” Pol continued, “My parents had a tough time trying to control me. So, when nothing else worked, they just started locking me in the pantry until I calmed down. That’s a lot of hours, days even, spent in that dark smelly hole of a room.”
“Oh, that sounds awful! How could they do this to a small child?”
“I don’t blame them. I was one nasty and annoying little brat.”
“Even so, surely there must be better ways to discipline a child. At the very least they could’ve locked you in there with the lights on.” I touched his arm which was still trembling slightly, “Obviously, this way you can only traumatize your kid for life. What better example than a grown-ass man freaking out just because a few lights went out.”
“Maybe you’re right. One thing I’m sure – if one day I have kids, I’d never do this to them.” Pol smiled at me. He took my hand a squeezed it gently, “You know, I had never told this to anyone. Just by sharing it with you I already feel better. Thank you, Bea. I am really grateful to have you in my life.”
“You silly man!” I smiled back at him. “You know you’d have to seek professional help to deal with this, right?” He nodded. “In the meantime, I’ll always be there for you.” I reached out to wipe the beads of sweat forming on his forehead. His honey-colored eyes looked back at me, finding their way to my soul. My heart did a somersault as we both started to lean over.
The lights turned on.