There are two entrances to the office building where I work. The first you come to walking from the tube is the main entrance, a pair of sliding glass doors. A little further along the street is the back entrance. I usually go in this way: it’s quieter, the lift is bigger with a mirror to check for stray porridge and you don’t need to have your security pass to hand.
Friday morning, I’m walking from the station. The glass doors come into view. I look down at my bag. My pass is in a side pocket, where I stowed it whilst rooting around for my iPod. Looking up, I catch a glimpse of a familiar face through the crowd. He’s still a little way off but walking in the direction of the glass doors. I remember the hard time I’d given myself the other day – I’d had stern words with myself in the lift mirror – after making the frankly bonkers decision to avoid a lift ride with the guy by keeping walking (an act of self-preservation, I called it). I know better than to do a repeat.
The main entrance has always struck me as oddly and illogically designed. The glass doors give straight onto London’s busiest thoroughfare, offering a minimal sense of separation. Passers-by looking in – and they do – can see a small unfurnished foyer with yellow lighting and a narrow pair of silver lift doors.
This morning as I approach, I see the lift doors open and two people enter the narrow space beyond. I hold my pass to the sensor and the glass parts. I don’t look round – why would I? – but walk quickly in the direction of the closing doors. I put out a hand, a little slower than I normally would, to hit the button to stall them. He gets there first.
I half-turn. ‘Oh, hello.’
I don’t recognise our fellow passengers. The doors close on the four of us.
‘You’re not dressed for church today.’
He puts a hand to his throat. ‘No…’
It’s been a running joke since he expressed concerns that his jumper made him look like a vicar. The next time I see him I’ve just been given a roasting by someone in our Paris office – undeservedly I might add.
‘Are you off to church?’ I say, at the very moment that he crosses himself.
We laugh and he proceeds to tell me what we’re going to do about Paris.
‘I’m glad we’ve got God on our side,’ I say, laughing, and turning red.
I wish I could say the sexual tension skyrocketed with the lift. That, when the two strangers left us at the fourth floor, he leant in closer. That my mind didn’t go a complete blank and waste the opportunity to ask him something – anything!
We emerge onto the landing, laughing at some silliness. I put my pass to another sensor and he pulls the door open. As we enter the office side by side I try to ignore the feeling, the wish, painful almost, like a tug at the heart, that it was always this way.
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The Friendly Ghost
‘I Carried A Watermelon’