“Mr. Timba, when was the last time you had a glass of whiskey?”
As if he had the right to ask something like that. I knew that behind his desk or cabinet or wall, somewhere, he had a stash of scotch or whatever his poison is, just like I did. From one shrink to another, thanks. The relief in this thought is that it has come to me after I have already finished doing my business. I wash my hands on the sink and walk out of the men’s room. At work, they praise me for my deduction skills, but because I’m still under observation, I can never lock my door –at least for now. What magnificent trust!
One thing about a pandemic is that when people are at the height of the scare, they rarely go to the mall. I have never seen light bounce off glass and white shimmery walls as much as I do now. When I exited the toilet, I had to take a step back just to adjust. Or maybe it’s my eyes losing the battle of age? Either way, I am not bumping into any shoulders or apologizing to strangers every ten minutes, because if it’s not a shoulder you’re bumping in to, it’s a bag or a trolley or stepping on a shoe. I am happy about all the skylight, the commodious paths, the fresh air, but as I get closer to the elevator, the corridor begins to smell like pastries. A lady in the pink bakery to my right offers me the ‘deals of the day’ immediately we make eye contact. I knew this would happen. I always know yet I always look. I give her a tight smile, wave and say, next time, then make my way to the elevator just next to the bakery.
I press the button and eye the changing numbers as they glow away down from seven. I take in a deep breath and think about Sam, not that tight space coming down to choke the breath out of my lungs on the ride down. He must be home my now, my little boy. The nanny does a good job at keeping his focus on growing his painting passion as opposed to just watching TV, and I have never and could never thank her enough for taking up that role like that. I open my eyes and the orange light is frozen at five.
Deep breathe out.
Turning my head back to the bakery, my eyes run along the neatly arranged rows of croissants, pies, cakes, donuts, cronuts, cookies and three juice dispensers of mango, watermelon and passion juice adjacent to the glass display. I slip my hands in my trouser pocket looking for some change. Sam would love a carrot cake and he got a B+ at school so he deserves a small reward. Well, another small reward. As my hands dig into my coat, I tilt my head and meet the lady in pink overalls eyeing me from the counter. Her arms are folded across her chest as she chews at gum, or so I assume. She waves, flashing a smile, and I wave back with what I hope looks like a genuine smile and not too overstretched.
I’m startled to a jump with the ding of the elevator as it stops and slides open. I hear a soft chuckle coming from her direction but decide against looking her way. The mirror reflects my bulged eyes as I see my reflection trapped inside that six feet width. The stairs are to my left and three floors down is better than three floors up so it’s not all bad. The laptop in my briefcase weighs like a ton of bricks on my shoulder but the elevator has decided that I am a waste of time. As its doors begin to slide back together, I shift my eyes between my two options out of this mall until I hear a, “Go,” blaring from the bakery’s side. Again, the deer in me is startled to a jump that pushes me forward, arms first as I slip it through the little space left between the door, and find leverage enough to slip in right before it closes behind me. It’s quieter, and the skylight is no more in this dark place.
My first inhale is deeper than I anticipated, and stings with the sharp smell of rusted metal. My hands fumble inside the briefcase as I try to grab hold of my inhaler, which I finally do after what feels like a time too long to be deserved. I give it a quick shake and press the plastic actuator against my lips, taking another deep inhale, holding my breath, then letting my shoulders drop as I exhale. My father never let me work in the garage because of my asthma but every so often, I’d sneak in to the place and smell the glues, oils and metals. I wanted to prove to him that I was made of more steel than those machines he worked on daily, so instead of working the battlegrounds of a garage, I decided to go where the real war is. Of course the military rejected my application.
"Focus on things that suit your condition," father said, and mother just smiled lovingly, sometimes painfully. The lines on her face would come together like they were fighting and her eyes would glisten with wetness for a few seconds. That was then, when I was young, brave and completely reckless. Now, I get panic attacks inside elevators and sanitize my hands way more than I should, because those chemicals have started peeling off my skin. What happened between the boy and the man, to make this man who I am now? None of my colleagues, and by this I mean secretary, supervisor and manager, know about my panic attacks because our office is on the ground floor so I’ve never had an excuse to step inside that closet-like space with them. It’s a small establishment but Rosie would love this work I’m doing now. Noble, she’d call it.
The wires creak as I descend before coming to a sudden halt, making my hands pounce on the rail running around the middle of the enclosure. The doors slide open and a woman dressed in a long black dress and a yellow pull neck stands at the entrance with a sky blue stroller in front of her. I suppose the panic is still on my face because her eyebrow raises as she hesitates at the door. Misery loves company, please come in. I pull myself up straight and hold the door for her, nodding my head once. Smile, smile, but not too much.
The light…we’re on the second floor. She steps in. I could just use the stairs. The woman lets out a cough and I realize that my hand is still against the door so I draw back inside and she scoots aside, touching the opposite end of the wall with her body. A man in a blue pinstripe suit and black loafers shouts, “Please hold,” which I quickly do. More light, more breath. When finally the elevator shuts, my mind clicks, less space. The man is blocking my view of the buttons and my urge to see them is stronger than my urge to interact with his back, but I didn’t take the stairs so here we are now. Suddenly, I understand why I never got the job in London. I settle for what I know best after my father got squashed by a car as he was fixing it from underneath; fear and encouraging others not to fear. Why is life so ironical?
I encourage Sam to use the stairs because I tell him, the healthier way is the better way. What he sees is what he will emulate and I want the best for my boy, even if I have to lie to him about the person behind this face. I’ll do something brave for him one day. Something really profound that he will boast about me to his friends for all his days. Thinking about Sam calms me down and as I take another breath in, I feel the perfume in the air. I love me a good scent but Rosie was never much of a perfume person. Her eczema was the problem, but it was not the cause of her death. I made sure to google if eczema could be so bad as to kill someone but the internet said the condition is not deadly. So why did she die so suddenly? Another breath, and another. I move my eyes past the man’s frame, and finally, ground floor. The doors open up but no one alights. They close back up and continue with the decent.
Gucci bloom; the perfume I bought her on our first date. They say the dead communicate to you in mysterious ways. Maybe she’s saying hi by drifting these strangers my way. She knows I need the comfort because how she was taken away from us remains a mystery to me as it does to the doctors. One day we’re in bed sleeping and the next morning she’s not breathing. Till death do us part is a scam because eight years down the line have not changed how I feel about her. There can never be another woman in this life for me. For eternity, Rosie, you are my one true love.
The lift creaks again, this time doing a little dance, enough to make us all hold on to the rails. The man in front of me runs his hands through his dark hair then straightens his shoulders and clears his throat. The woman to my right closes her eyes and begins to move her lips. Her words are inaudible. Her head is shaking, and suddenly she’s burst out crying. The man remains calm, facing the front. He taps his foot once as if he is impatient with the woman’s despair already. My palms start to wet as the elevator comes to a halt. The woman is crouched in the corner with her hands covering her head, rocking back and forth with her inaudible chants. I blink, and the doors grunt as they pull apart.
The man continues to stand there despite the open doors. The woman is unmoving, the baby quietly asleep. There is a crowd of people in blue t-shirts and black jeans, some with posters in their grips, and most of them look sleepy. I excuse myself and request the man to step aside. He turns around with wet cheeks, his jaw trembling. My heart immediately catches at my throat. His palms come together as he says, for my…
I feel like my eyes are closed, but I realize the space around me. I can’t see anything specifically. It’s a black void of nothing. Time is not passing in this no-place place. Something is holding my no-frame self. Where I’m walking is not solid but air-like, and below this, I begin to see movement, like I’m looking through a pair of foggy sunglasses. The whole underside for as far as I can feel, is showing me something that looks like it’s being reflected from yet again another darkness below it, in a far off distance. Rustling echoes in the darkness above me, but I can’t touch myself or where it ends or begins, who this, what I am, is. This place, looking gradually faded, from black to grey to white, top to bottom, begins to fade even more. Where am I? The darkness begins to eat up the light, and the fog becomes a little clearer. The jumbled voices speak in hushed tones and the light goes, goes, goes...
“They didn’t check the stroller at the gate…” a male voice says. I try to lurch out through the light but there is no force pulling me in any direction. Like Rosie, my light is gone. There is no sound, no weight, no loss, or regret for the lost light. I’m not apart from this darkness, or at the center of it and suddenly surrounded. I am everywhere darkness and light exist.
Rosie, I can feel Rosie. She is everywhere I am, and I am everywhere she is. We are each other again eternally. No death, no parting. No light, still loving.