All my life I’ve hated physical exertion of any sort, so I considered it life’s way of giving me the one-finger salute when I found out that the lift at my new apartment broke down frequently enough to make me wonder if the building super and my mom were colluding to get me to exercise.
But my neighbours were nice and quiet enough, which was a rare enough event, and a godsend to someone like me. I spend most of the time inside my room—I do online freelance work—and I can tell you that there is nothing more infuriating than a noisy neighbour.
So I thought it fitting compensation for the unreliable lifts that the neighbour above me was so silent that I came to think that it had to be vacant, and the only person I encountered with any regularity on my floor was a doddering, grey-haired grandma living right across me. Bonus: she made cookies that were simply scrumptious—although I did suspect that after the first time round she drastically cut back on the sugar in the subsequent batches. Usually, that sort of judgment-laced concern for my health by a total stranger would be crossing the line, but if you haven’t guessed by now, my one big weakness is food. Throw me a cookie and I’m pretty much already your friend.
The lift breakdowns, though, continued to be the bane of my life. I stepped out of my apartment one morning to find a familiar sight greeting my eyes—a plywood sign telling me that the lift was “Under Repair”. That was nearly enough to make me turn back to my cave, but I had run out of instant noodles, and I hated going hungry. I lived on the fifth floor, so walking down wasn’t that bad, even for someone like me, but I knew there was a real chance my heart might just give out if I tried to climb up on the return leg.
“Hello!” I yelled. I knew the lift technician couldn’t be far off. I even knew a few of them by sight, being always the one to seek them out to ask how long the repair was going to take. “Anyone from the lift company here?”
I heard footsteps coming up from the stairwell. A lanky middle-aged man carrying a toolbag sauntered into view. Nodding at me, he pointed at the sign.
“I know, buddy. I’m asking how long.” I was getting a bit exasperated, especially with my stomach roiling like a tempestuous sea.
“Not yet. Not yet your turn.”
Oh great. He couldn’t even understand or speak English properly. I was just about to try again when I was stopped cold by the slow, appraising look he gave me.
“Not yet. But soon.” He spoke deliberately and gravely, like he was giving a well-considered opinion on some matter of great seriousness. He looked straight into my eyes for a moment, causing an involuntary shudder to pass through me.
What a weird guy. Mumbling my thanks, I quickly shuffled past him and made my way down the stairs.
Still wary about fully trusting a guy who might not even have fully understood my question, I decided to go with just half of my weekly supply. The last thing I wanted was having to lug a big bag of food up the stairs.
The flashing lights of an ambulance was dancing against the brick wall of my apartment block when I returned barely an hour later. The building super was there too, looking sombre.
“What’s up man?” I asked.
“It’s Mrs Lindsey.” Grandma Fat-free Cookies. “She passed away.”
“Oh dear.” It was sad news, but not really unexpected. She had to be ninety at least.
Now, I’d like to think of myself as a decent human being, and as you shall soon hear, I think I’ve been more than punished enough for my rather insensitive remark that followed. I know it’s not nice to ride on a tragedy to push a personal agenda, but hey, we all have our lapses, so cut me some slack, ya?
“I hope the lift breakdown didn’t slow down the EMTs too much though. It might have made a difference between life and death.”
“What are you talking about, man?” The colour had gone out of his cheeks.
I was slightly taken aback by his response. I was just hoping I hadn’t offended him when he said something that chilled me to the bone.
“The lift was working perfectly fine. In fact, the heart attack came when she was in it.”
I felt the world swirling around me. The plywood sign. The technician.
Not yet. Not yet your turn.
Oh my god. Oh my god oh my god oh my god.
Not yet. But soon.
Did I tell you about my new diet and exercise regimen? Oatmeal and daily runs around the block. We all must take precautions to keep the killer that is heart disease at bay.