The Elevator

By Sarah Inouye, TIWP Student

They get into the elevator. There is a pause like always—strangers coming in contact with each other for the first time, being forced to talk to each other. They scramble to push the right buttons to their rights floors, bumping hands in a pathetic fashion. One is a middle aged women with greying hair and tired eyes. The other is a younger man with a hopeful and cracked expression.

“Hi,” the young man says. “How are you?” “How are you” is always the slippery attempt to make the few seconds of awkward silence in a metal box more pleasant.  

“Good,” the women replies. She’s lying. “How are you?”

“Alright,” he responds. He’s lying. In the many, many years that this elevator has been operating, 897 lies have been told on it, and that number keeps going up. No one means it when they reply to “how are you.” No one is ever just “fine” or “good” or “alright.” It’s impossible to describe a life in one pathetic lie.  

“The weather has been crazy,”  the man says, trying to keep the exchange going.

“I know,”  says the women giving him a tight smile. “Always changing.” They are lying again. Neither of them care about the weather. This women would really love to talk about her sister who just got locked up for a crime she didn’t commit. This women wants to cry on someones shoulder and she wants someone to hold her. All she wants is someone to tell her that it’s going to be okay. But she keeps lying. She keeps talking pointlessly about the weather, even though she wants to break down.   

“It’s way too cold,” the young man replies with a gravely laugh, one that rests on the border of awkward and friendly. He doesn’t care whether or not it’s cold. What he would really like is to feel like he is actually good enough for someone. What he would really like is someone to look at him the way you would look at the moon. He wants to feel like he hasn’t failed.  

“I completely agree,” the women says. The air becomes thicker with the weight of their thoughts, with these simple and easy lies they are telling. It’s never been quite clear why humans hide pain from each other. Maybe it’s because they are also hiding it from themselves. Maybe it’s because they can’t bare to even speak the words of sorrow.  Maybe the intimacy of explaining your problems is worse then being naked. Maybe you are too proud to have pain at all. The door opens and the young man steps out.  

“Goodbye!” he says. “Stay warm.” He gives her a half smile.  

“You too!” she calls, jamming her hands into her pockets. Those were not lies. They do want the other to stay warm, and even though it’s a tiny and thoughtless bit of their lives, the kindness of the moment is still striking. It makes you wonder if—because they care a very tiny amount for each other after one tiny conversation—what could have been if they had put everything out on the table, if they were honest for a minute?

The women would have given the man comfort, if he had just said something.

He would have given her solace, if she had just said something.  

And they might have been happier for a moment. They might have heard what they needed to hear. But doubt and fear always walk hand-in-hand with the liars.  

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