033. A Shanghai Elevator. Joseph Corey

I closed the old door to my cube on the eighteenth floor – late for work. A shuffle echoed down the otherwise empty hall while I paced to the elevator. A kuài dì stumbled onto the floor by the lift waiting area, landing on his face. His blue helmet clanked on the floor. But the kuài dì, or express delivery man, managed to hold his arms straight forward, careful not to spill the warm contents of the plastic bag he held.

I pressed the down button. He stood up, then paced around in circles while we waited for the slow machine to heave itself up 18 stories. “Nǐ zài nǎli?” he yelled, not to me, but into his earpiece. Where are you?

“Eh?” The kuài dì turned to me. “Zhè shì sān hào lóu ma?”

“Bùshì. Zhè shì èr hào lóu.” This is tower two, not three.

“Ah!” He spoke into the phone, too fast for me to grasp, then stood silent. 12.

14. I asked what was in the bag. He glanced at me, then muttered, “jī ròu hàn bǎo.” Chicken hamburger. I made some sort of sound of interest, then stared at the elevator doors. 17. 18. Ding.

In the elevator, he stood on the left side by the LED ad screen that ran a loop of commercials. The smeared floor reeked of metallic mud and sweat, but the stink blended with the chicken hamburger, which by now was probably a bit soggy in its paper box, yet my empty stomach ravened for it anyway. No time to eat breakfast.

The lift stopped at 13. The kuài dì checked the time on his phone, leg jittering, sending vibrations into the elevator floor and up my feet. A humming lady came in holding her white, puffy poodle which had dark red stains around the eyes. I always wondered where the rusty stains came from.

Another pause at eight, but no one there. The kuài dì jammed the close button about seven times. The poodle lady glanced at him, then at the advert on the screen in front of him – some pretty Chinese actress eating a yogurt on a rooftop.

“Wéi?” He spoke again in his earpiece. He talked rapidly, too much for my rather low Mandarin level. But I knew. His voice raised. He pleaded, he begged, but he was too late with the chicken hamburger. He cried and smacked a hand on the LED screen, right in the smiling face of some basketball player promoting an English school. My English school.

The man let out a single sob down toward his feet. The poodle growled. The man then faced the elevator doors, quiet, like nothing happened. We must all save face.

I almost gave the man a hug. I wanted to, I half-lifted an arm up toward him, but the doors opened, and he stepped into the lobby.

I did the same; I was late for work.

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