The elderly lady stands outside the big glass door. Round and round it goes. One side in and one side out. Round and round. It’s new for her. How to negotiate such a beast? Better off crossing a field with a herd of steers than attempting this one.
She counts. One. Two. Three. She watches the briefcases enter the right-hand side and whisked into granite intimidation.
My, my, she thinks. A portal to a new world she has to penetrate. Is this for her? What is on the other side? Crossing over. A great divide; crossing over to the other side.
Through the darkened glass she sees a woman with a stroller negotiate the left side. The glass gate whirrs and she spills into the sunshine. Victorious. She smiles at the observer.
The elderly lady takes a massive breath and rises to her full 61 inches. She steps timidly into the gap, a whoosh of air, a whap, whap, and she stumbles into the high ceiling ogre’s castle. Glass and granite surround her. Suits, a briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other, scurry across the polished tile floor. Ants on the patio, she thinks. Her one-inch heels clack-clack as she makes her way to a large counter, centre stage underneath a giant wall of polished igneous rock emblazoned with an equally giant brass numeral 2. A burly 75-inch uniform stands behind the glass-cased counter. Moustache, unsmiling, bored, the mid-morning slump.
She clutches her leather handbag in two hands against her chest and walks over. He looks at her. She looks at him, smiles, and from her bag retrieves a large manila envelope. He spots the address and with his pudgy finger stabs at the glass. 1701, elevator 3. No words.
She stares at the aluminium-framed notice boards in this 25-story cavern of commerce. The moustache points left to the elevators Clack, clack, clack, and she stands in front of a closed, lightly buffed steel door. Lights blink and she hears the rush of air. The doors whisper apart, disgorging passengers. She waits, breathes in courage and steps across the line. Like moths to a flame, a multitude wedge her in the back corner. What next? She peers at the list of numbers and buttons on the wall by the door. She shows her envelope to the suit next to her. “17”, he calls.
Automatic doors clamp shut in a whisper. There’s a shudder and the elevator glides up. Red numbers flicker on a digital display above the entry. There’s a stop at “7”. Suits out and suits in. The same at “12”. She’s now tight in the corner. “17” flashes. The box stops, the entry gapes open. No movement. She can’t move.
“Me,” she squeaks.
Suits shuffle and a half a gap opens at her timid alert that she wants to disembark. She smiles at the suit who now keeps the door open as she hesitates, before stepping across the slit, conscious of the void beneath.
Another granite gallery. Glass doors to the left and glass doors to the right. Another wall-mounted aluminum framed board listing names and numbers. Where is 1701? She compares the name on the envelope. Elevator doors slide open behind her and a young man emerges pushing a mail cart. There’s no smile. But she does. Smiles always win, she reckons. She shows him the envelope, and he waves his hand to the right. “Through there,” he says.
Funny place, this she muses. Even my chickens say hello to me in the morning. I wonder what that young man’s future is? Here is moving envelopes from floor to floor, from one desk to another. I wonder if people thank him or smile?
She has difficulty hauling and holding the heavy glass door open while she slips through. She’s not as strong as she used to be. Farm life made her strong once, but now, not so much. In maybe half an hour she will complete the legal documentation of her late husband’s wishes, her daughter will take over the big farm and she’ll settle into a modest life in the new cottage nearby. She crosses the shiny floor and steps on to the carpet. Passageways to the left and the right. People coming and going. Papers in hand. Worried looks.
“May I help you,” a voice calls. She looks around and sees the black-dressed woman who has emerged from behind a wall.
The elderly lady smiles and shows her the manila envelope.
Name, date and time of appointment. It has taken her three hours by car, bus, and transit rail to reach this emporium of greatness. Her homeward journey to her rural home will take the same, if not more time. She smiles again at the elegant greeter.
“Oh, dear,” the black dress says, her finger on the time and date on the manila envelope. “Oh, dear, I’m so sorry, but he’s not in today.”