I stare at the man for several seconds without fully recognizing him. His dark hair with the faded sides and the long, slicked curl on top with the barest hint of lightening is familiar to me but I can’t place him. To cover my ignorance I smile broadly and hold out my hand. I have already pressed the down button for the elevator so he is either going to ride with me or keep walking down the hall toward the office of Requests.
“Hey! How have you been?” I note his slightly overlapped front teeth as he returns my smile and we shake hands like old friends. I also note the brushed wool of his navy blue suit and the impeccably creased lapels. I can’t quite stop my eyes from flicking to the sleeve cuffs of my own black jacket where light stains catalogue my ongoing battles with the automatic soap dispenser in the restroom.
“I’ve been good, very good.” His grip is firm and friendly. Too friendly. I take my hand back and shove both hands into my pants pockets to keep from wiping my palm on my jacket hem in front of him. I keep smiling. The elevator is sluggish. I could end up staring awkwardly at him for a few minutes before the doors open.
“I’m still selling supplies,” he tells me and lifts his leather briefcase a couple of inches for me to see. It is a deep brown color, well cared for with polished gold locks. I don’t have a briefcase. Where the hell do I know this guy from?
I can hear the motor of the elevator car, a sure sign that the doors to the right will be the ones that open. The car on the left is newer and doesn’t make a sound when it shows up. I turn slightly to stand closer to the doors on the right.
“Are you still working downstairs?”
The question surprises me and I stiffen a little. I doubt he has ever seen the downstairs. This guy probably works out in a company gym and eats his lunch in a bistro every day while I sit alone at my desk shoving baloney sandwiches and small bags of salty chips down my throat, chasing it with a lot of cheap, artificially colored and flavored liquid that masquerades as sweet tea from the vending machine. I am building an impressive pyramid with the empty cans against the wall behind my desk.
“Oh yeah, still in Acquisitions.” My voice is forced and overly calm. Acquisitions is a terrible department and everybody knows it. That I have remained there for the past seven years while everyone else moves on is a clear sign that I have no further aspirations in life. I tell myself everyday that it’s just a paycheck and not my life. I have goals that do not involve my job. Acquisitions is just a place to work, that’s all. So why am I suddenly irritated over this guy’s nice suit and well loved briefcase? Where is the elevator?
Silence hangs between us now. My brain stops trying to put a name to the face for the moment and I am just waiting to escape.
“Well, take care. I need to get to work.” I turn my head just enough to meet his eyes a final time and nod like I give a damn.
“Yeah, me too. Good to see you again.”
I watch him walk away, heading down the hall toward the offices with actual windows and fresh air. He walks with long, healthy strides. He likes his job.
The elevator doors in front of me open, it’s bell belatedly ringing out its arrival. I step inside the familiar car with it’s old, brown wall patterns and permanently scuffed floors and I stand with the toes of my cracking, black shoes touching the oldest of the gouges. I figure it was probably made by one of the cleaning personnel and their cart. The doors swish closed as I press the button for the safety of the basement.