I saw an old professor of mine across a crowded train station. He was standing by a bank of elevators, waiting for one to take him to a higher floor. I called out to him, waving my hand high in the air, and I started to hobble over to him with my injured left leg. The light glared off the lenses of his glasses for a moment as he glanced over, and then he quickly looked away, lurching slightly at the elevator doors, as though he could will them to open and make his escape. I could tell that he didn’t want to see me, but I still made my way over to him, propelled by the momentum of my efforts to get across the floor. It was the holiday season, and everyone had on heavy coats. Everyone was headed home. I pushed my way through the crowd, still waving my hand in the air.
When I got over to him, he glanced down at my injured leg. He seemed to be disgusted by it, or else he was just revolted by me in general and the leg was just a larger part of it. I held out my hand to him, and I launched right into a conversation about something he had discussed in class. But I hardly got two words out before he cut me off, saying, “I’ve been waiting forever for this stupid elevator.” He pointed up at the arrow moving across the semi-circle dial that indicated the floor that the elevator was on. “I can’t keep wasting my time standing here. I think I’m going to take the stairs, and you can wait here for the elevator, and I’ll meet you up on the third level.”
I knew that this was a ruse to get away from me. He could see that I couldn’t take the stairs with my injured leg, and he was using that to his advantage. But he tried to make it look convincing; he tried to make it look like he was really going to wait for me. As a show of good faith, he even handed me his brown briefcase and his plum colored umbrella, which was wet from the melted snow. He would get these things back from me when we met above. But I could feel that the briefcase was empty, and I could see that there was no actual mechanism to open the umbrella. They were just props, cleverly employed for these exact sorts of situations.
He pressed these items into my hands, and then he backed away towards the stairs, almost stumbling against the bottom step in his hurry to get away. He kept reminding me that he would meet me on the third floor, maintaining the pretense that this actually mattered. I nodded and played along, the fake umbrella and the empty briefcase cradled in my arms. And then he was up the stairs and gone. As soon as he had slipped out of sight, the elevator bell dinged and the doors slid open. The elevator was empty. A florescent light in the ceiling flickered for a moment and then burned out and then the elevator was dark inside. There was no one aboard, and I knew there was no one waiting for me on the floors above.