Etiquette in enclosed spaces is still an iffy thing in the middle of 2021, and a hitch of hesitation showed in the movement of the young man who instinctively lurched toward the doors of my elevator as they started to close. It was only a hitch, though, and the urgency in his eyes caused me to stick my hand between the moving stainless steel panels, sending them back open to allow him to step into the car with me.
In his early 20s with a ball cap covering his short curly hair, he carried an overfilled bag in his left hand and a phone in his right. He had been walking hard, and a mixture of anxiety and exertion showed on his face.
I reached down and pushed the button beside the number six, then turned to face the new passenger.
“What floor are you headed to?”
“Fourth, please.” His countenance darkened slightly as he spoke, although it’s possible it was just a figment of my imagination or a product of my own memory. I pushed the appropriate metal button.
As the doors slid closed all the way this time, a brief moment of silence hung between us, and with the slightest of jolts, we began to move upward.
Save the hum of the ventilation fan, the ding of passing the second and then the third floor was the only sound in the car until I found the words to say.
Our car slowed to a stop and the doors opened as I spoke. “My dad just left the fourth floor the other day. I hope y’all are out of there soon.”
Hope. I hope.
He turned his face toward me as he left the car. Inhaling deeply, he hesitated for the second time in the last 30 seconds before saying, simply, “Thanks, man.”
He turned and walked away as the doors slid shut.
Within a few seconds they opened again to let me leave the small compartment. As they had many times over the past three weeks, my eyes looked toward the brushed steel letters on the wall just ahead of me: Heart and Vascular Patient Care.
I whispered a short prayer as I dropped my eyes to the directory on the wall beside me. As if I needed to be reminded, I read the label beside the number four.
Heart and Vascular Intensive Care
Hope. I hope.
Turning away, I stepped in the direction of the patient I had come to see, happy to be able to make the trip.