Chronicles of an elevator

A journey through concrete

chronicles of an elevator - Cairo

It is the king of all the elevators that I know. A warrior, a poet, a resistant. Not because it daily has to move back and forth between the ground floor and the 34th, but because, despite being in such a bad shape, it keeps delivering its job tirelessly. Of course there’s no inside door, hence each ride is a journey through the insides of the building. No stop until the 19th floor — you can access the office floors from the other side of the building, thanks to a similar service elevator, although with much less panache. All you can see is a never ending greyish concrete which, for anyone who can’t stand closed spaces, is a true challenge.

The first few times I had to ride it on my own, I got so nervous that I started to read a book. Reading in an elevator: there’s a first time for everything. From the 26th floor where I live, to the bottom floor, I could never read much more than one page but it was enough distraction to reach the final destination without going through a panic attack. Needless to say I would never ride it without my cellphone either. Even though I’ve not yet heard of anyone being stuck in it, I do know that it stops functioning once a week on average, and that’s enough information to take this basic precaution: book and phone, always.

Beware of the elevator jam. The ride is so slow, and the neighbours so numerous, that on any regular morning, it can take up to 15 minutes to get out of the building. When I have an appointment, I schedule my time according to the elevator ride as well, otherwise I know I will be late. Sometimes the elevator remains stuck on some floor because the door hasn’t been closed properly. Sometimes, you can’t hear any noise at all — those warm metallic noises which cheerfully announce the upcoming arrival of the elevator near your floor – and it’s as if it had disappeared altogether. My imagination wonders. The elevator could need a holiday too, once in a while. It could decide to leave the space vacant and go find a happier place to live.

When, after waiting from five to 10 minutes in the awkward silence, I realise that the elevator won’t be coming any time soon, I take the stairs all the way down to the 19th floor, where the other service elevator starts its journey. I can hear the footsteps of other neighbours on other floors diligently walking up or down for the same reason as me. Cats disappear in dark corners when you catch them playing with garbage. On the 21st floor, electric threads dangle from the ceiling and you have to step over them to pursue your journey down. On the 20th, the light is dim and a solitary blue neon light announces that you’re almost there. It usually doesn’t take very long for service elevator number two to show up and each time I finally get there, I’m tempted to become unfaithful — and go down every morning to the 19th floor to avoid waiting for the other one. The real one.

Back in the days, in 2011, two big hyper functional elevators with spotless steel doors and shiny outfits were the official companions de route of the building. As I only arrived recently, I haven’t had a chance to ride either one of them. I like to imagine there are mirrors inside but I never saw their doors open so I couldn’t tell. All I know is that one day, the left one stopped working; it was followed some weeks later by the other one. The twins being in a coma, every person willing to visit the upper floors — residents, workers, guests — had to use the service elevator. Three times smaller and wobblier, I was told. I believe it.

Rumour has it that a very famous Egyptian actor, whose name I don’t know, lives on the top floor. He tried to fundraise for the repair of the two former elevators, but unsuccessfully. Each ride is a promise to meet with him — my informants say he’s a sexy 40-something — but the only time someone pushed the 34th button in front of me was a boy carrying a pizza box.

This may be the best reason in the end to restrain from taking the stairs too often.

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