We all do it — rummaging into our bag on a pretend search mission or stand staring at a cell phone — during those awkward moments that you are in the company of strangers trapped in the close confines of a metal box suspended on cables — the elevator.
I have almost always ended up with the same set of ‘strangers’ while I am being lowered or raised up to my destination.
One regular elevator companion was a mother and son. The little boy’s shy warm smile and crimson-tinged chubby cheeks had caught my attention. The mother and I exchanged a smile of acknowledgement before we reached our destination and parted ways.
During the encounters that followed, our smiles gravitated to exchanging pleasantries, her charming son almost always holding all my attention. The Mother dressed in colourful clothes, warm smile and bright eyes walking hand in hand with her son into the morning sunshine painted the perfect canvas of happiness.
And then, I stopped seeing them. I only assumed that our elevator timings did not coincide anymore.
Months later, the little boy stepped into the elevator along with a relative. There was a glint of recognition in his eyes as he gave me one of his most disarming smiles. Upon a quick inquiry, I learnt that the boy had lost his father. The mother had come back to Dubai to complete the formalities required to return to her home country for good.
All day, the boy and his Mother stayed in my thoughts as I pondered about how she must be coping with her loss for one can never be prepared to lose a loved one.
Death often grips our mind with uncertainty and fear but we are all bound to feel its effects at some point in our lives, so the right thing to do was to pay her a visit and offer my condolences, but the introvert in me could not fathom what I was expected to say. I did not want to be the dreaded ‘sympathiser’ but I could be of some help. Not knowing even her name made me find more excuses than reasons to make that meeting happen.
Then one day, I found myself face to face with my elevator friend. Bereavement affects people but I was unprepared to look at a shadow of the bright and happy person I had last seen. She had aged considerably and her tired listless eyes screamed the depth of her loss. Tongue tied, I stared hopelessly at the unexpectedness of the situation before I managed an ‘I am sorry’. She smiled — merely as an acknowledgement of my words. I gathered myself together and asked about her son. For a moment I saw a glint in her dull eyes and warmth in her smile as she spoke about him. My elevator companion and I once again shared a few moments a few words and unexpressed thoughts inside its metal confines a little more than we usually did.
The terror attack in India (that took place in J&K in February 2019) snatched away the lives of many who were also sons, husbands and fathers holding a special place in the hearts of their mothers, wives and children. Nothing can replace the gaping hole that is left in the wake of a loss.
It was in a sense a final goodbye, and the last encounter with my nameless elevator friend. I understood that it takes tremendous strength to continue to function in a world that is bereft of the one you dearly love and look up at the uncertain looming future with hope.
Pranitha Menon is a freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @MenonPranitha