I hate the Christmas season, or rather I hate the social side of things, or rather I do now when I discovered that after my partner left I had no friends and my family were elsewhere in the world. Seems the people I thought were my friends, were actually the friends of my ex and what social life I had revolved around her. So, all I really had left was work, a few acquaintances and a pretty boring life when I wasn’t actually working. Yes, there is the work’s social club and I often go on their activities, but more often than not feel like a fifth wheel. Now I was facing the prospect of the work’s Christmas party in a pretty flash restaurant near the Harbour Bridge of Auckland, New Zealand and turning up alone without a date/friend and getting the usual looks as if everyone expects me to drink myself silly and start a fight (I doubt they actually thought that, but it’s how I feel they view me.) Me? I’m a lift engineer. Basically all I do is maintain lifts running in all sorts of buildings and ensuring they breakdown as little as possible. Occasionally I’m called upon to answer a breakdown call, particularly on my round. Once every sixth day I’m on call throughout the night from 16:30 to 08:00 or twenty-four hours if it’s a weekend or public holiday. There’s usually two of us on call, well, three, if you count the supervisor, though it’s rare for him to get involved unless it’s a serious breakdown and a key customer. First call and backup is how it goes with the guy on first call fielding the out of hours calls which can either be zero or overwhelming and if necessary passing them on to the second guy as there’s no pattern to a breakdown, usually.
Tonight I was on first call and it was fairly quiet, only three jobs so far and looking like I might get a full night’s sleep. I’d just got undressed and slipped into bed when, with impeccable timing, the phone went off.
“After hours, Marie here, got an entrapment for you,” came the ridiculously cheerful tones of the young lady who manned, with others, an independent out of hours service for the company (and a good few other companies too).
“Sure, where,” I replied politely, it wasn’t their fault after all.
“NZ housing, Grey Street between fourth and fifth she thinks,” came the answer. “Er ... she’s in a wheelchair and is panicking a little; I’m staying on the phone to her.”
“On my way, I’ll be twenty minutes tops,” I replied before hanging up and pulling my clothes back on.
Entrapments are a priority, if we’re in the middle of something and one comes in, we’re expected to make things safe and go rescue them, no excuses. Getting someone out of a lift is often easy enough. We have a key that opens the landing doors and we can open the lift car doors to allow people to climb out. That’s assuming the lift is near a floor, naturally. If not we can often drive it from the top of the lift to a floor, or, if it won’t move, release the brake on the motor and allow the car to move up or down (depending on the weight of the people in it) to a floor. Worst nightmare is a balanced load where the car won’t move, but that’s so rare, few lift engineers have run across it.
The drive in was fairly quick, traffic was minimal and although I had to pick up the emergency access keys from the office I made good time. Judging by the partial darkness on some of the building it looked like a phase had blown on the electrics somewhere and that usually meant the lifts stopping. Still, I was inside the building and managed to climb the stairs to get to the fifth floor before the twenty minute mark.
Opening the landing doors, I saw that the car was between floors and so I carefully opened the car doors.
“Hi. Lift engineer. Soon have you out,” I said loudly and confidently.
“Where the fuck have you been?!” came an aggrieved tone.
“Had to get keys, but I’m here now,” I replied as I suck my head down to see a blotchy faced middle aged lady in a wheel-chair.
“Been hours,” she replied hotly.
“Twenty minutes since I got the call,” I answered.
‘Oh hell, one of those’, I mentally sighed.
Most people stuck in a lift, even the drunks, tend to be happy you got there and are going to let them out. Occasionally some will have a medical emergency such as a panic attack or asthma episode and require the ambulance people to step in with me. Some though, don’t like the claustrophobia, the heat/humidity and are generally bad tempered buggers to begin with. They tend to be trouble and sometimes we keep them there until we get a police presence just in case. I made a judgement call and decided that a lady in a wheel-chair was unlikely to get physically aggressive or at worst, I could retreat to the stairs, so I decided to remain polite.
“Well, I’ll get you out as soon as I can. Don’t worry, you’re pretty safe where you are,” I replied. Most people aren’t aware that a lift is the safest mode of transport on the planet, way, way safer than air travel.
“Fuck off and just get me out!”
‘Charming’, I thought, but closed the car doors and climbed on top of the car and switched it to inspection before closing the landing doors, only to find no response, even with the power to all functions made.
Climbing out I opened the car doors.
“Going to have to go to the motor room and move it from there,” I said. “Won’t be long.”
“I’m going to sue!”
“Do what you like,” I replied with a shrug and started to close the doors again.
“I ... I’m sorry. I don’t like close spaces and this is freaking me out,” she said, looking very tearful.
“I’ll do my best, got a phone?”
“Give me your number and I’ll call you. I’ll leave the inner doors open and the outer ones slightly open and you can help me out by telling me when the lift is level with the floor,” I replied, though there was a floor level indicator on the main controls.
“Yeah, I can do that. Thanks,” she replied and gave me a number.
I rang her and she replied and I told her that I was going to have to climb the stairs to get to the top.
“I’ll try not to be too long,” I finished.
“Thanks ... I don’t even know your name,” she replied.
“Nice to meet you, if in difficult circumstances, Evelyn,” I replied as I climbed the stairs.
“Glad you came, even if I was a bit of a ratbag,” she said a bit ruefully.
“Well, you probably have enough problems without this as well,” I chuckled.
“Yeah. Car accident, hit and run, some spinal damage, but hopefully repairable with a good surgeon. But until then I daren’t get out of the chair except to haul myself onto the loo or into bed,” she explained.
“No husband, family to help?” I asked.
“Hubby ran off with his secretary a couple of years ago, went abroad. Kids are down in Christchurch. I was supposed to be working here, but this happened and I was unable to start and had to be rehoused here as I couldn’t afford my rent,” came a sad voice.
“Couldn’t move back with the kids?”
“No room and tricky for travel.”
“What about friends?”
“New here, got none.”
“Same here. Mine all stayed with my ex.”
“Heard that happens with guys.”
“Did with me,” I chuckled. “OK, got here. Won’t be long.”
“Thanks ... er...”
“Um, I don’t suppose you could get me up to the seventh, only the fifth isn’t much use for me in my current state?”
“Sure, just grab the rubber banana as you head up.”
“The door stop on the landing floor. It’s keeping the doors open.”
“Oh right, sure.”
“Moving now, I’ll keep it slow.”
“Thanks.” A pause. “Got the banana,” came a giggle.
“I’ll want it back,” I chuckled.
“You’ll have to find it. I’ve hidden it.”
“Someone’s heading for a strip search,” I chuckled.
“Sixth floor and how terribly rude,” came a prim giggle.
“You’re the one hiding my banana,” I laughed, watching the lift slowly move between floors.
“Oh, if only,” she laughed out loud.
“Should be close now.”
“Yes, and stop please,” she replied.
“OK, coming down and will unlock the doors for you,” I stated,
“Thanks, Sam. Sorry for being a bitch,” she replied.
“You were stressed, Evelyn, so no worries,” I chuckled as I locked the motor room and hurried down the stairs.
A quick twist of the key and Evelyn wheeled herself out of the lift car and onto the landing.
“Oh, thank God!” she breathed.
“I’m sure he helped somewhere,” I chuckled.
“And thanks, Sam,” she added with a slight blush and held out her arms in an invite.
I leant over and gave her a hug, as well as finding a kiss on my cheek.
“Got time for a coffee?”
“Yes, just let me close this down with the call centre,” I replied as the lights flickered and the power came on again.
“Follow me,” she nodded as I rang the centre and closed the call.
Despite the condition of the building and its reputation of being a haunt for junkies, the flat was neat and tidy, below a certain point. There clearly were areas Evelyn couldn’t reach.
“Coffees over there with the kettle, milk’s in the fridge. I need the loo. Might be a little while, so make yourself comfy,” she stated and wheeled herself off through a doorway.
I had two coffees ready by the time she had sorted herself out. We moved over to a lounge area where I sat on a sofa.
“So, divorced?” she asked.
“If we’d been married, yes,” I replied.
“Do a runner on you?”
“No, we just drifted apart. Got to the stage where we couldn’t live together,” I sighed.
“Yep, but not as bad as what happened to you,” I replied.
“Yeah. Bastard was fucking his gold-digging secretary for over a year before I found out. I’m supposed to be owed money, but the clever git put the house in a trust and buggered off abroad.”
“So you can’t touch the trust and can’t get support?”
“Yep. Then this, just when I hoped to start a new life,” she added, looking about ready to burst into tears.
“You’ll be back on your feet soon. You said there was a good chance,” I replied, reaching out to hold her hand.
“Yeah, but I don’t know if I’ve got the strength to go through this again. I can’t even get out to do things, and the people here...” she finished with a shudder.
“I could offer you a house share,” I said on the spur of the moment.
“You don’t know me, Sam.”
“I know you’re a neatness freak,” I chuckled.
“Below six foot, yes,” she giggled.
“You’re easy on the eyes and deserve a decent chance. Plus, I need a friend too,” I added.
“I can’t say I’m not tempted, but...”
“Besides, it might be the only way to get my rubber banana back.”
“Oh, that,” she replied, handing it back with a grin.
“Damn, I was looking forward to searching you for that.”
“Probably frighten the bejesus out of you if you did; there’s a fair few scars there,” she replied.
“I don’t scare easily,” I chuckled.
“You mean you would?”
“If that’s what you wanted.”
“Oh God, I hardly know you, but it’s been so bloody long,” she said clearly weighing some odds.
“Um ... how would it work, if we did?”