She dashed through the rain and into the lobby of her London office building, shaking the wetness off her as she moved to the elevator. She got to it just as the gleaming silver doors were closing in on one another. As she looked into the narrowing opening, she was stunned to see the eyes of someone she hadn’t seen for what seemed like forever: someone who had died years ago.
Her mind a jumble, and lost for words, Alberta Alexander shuffled to a nearby bench and tried to breathe. She looked around and felt abandoned. She was aware of sweat on her upper lip and could feel the beating of her heart, as if it was a pounding drum ready to break out of her chest. It’s a heart attack, she thought to herself, even though she experienced no pain. She felt the need to go to the bathroom but couldn’t recall where it was.
With the dignity she could muster, Alberta sat up straight, pulled her dress over her knees, and attempted to look nonchalantly around the lobby. Despite her feigned demeanour, she was terrified. Only one word could describe her plight.
Confusion. Confusion everywhere. Confusion in the people milling past her. Confusion at the sound of the elevator bells. Confusion as to what she was doing here. Confusion at the millions of sounds around her. Confusion at the way people passed her without greeting, and then confusion when a black woman with a kind face smiled as she moved by. Confusion about whom to call on her cellphone. And, above all, deep confusion as to what to do next.
It was a sign of her inner strength, her historic sense of personal dignity, that she sat on the bench for another twenty minutes without looking out of place in any way. Alberta didn’t want to appear sick or alarmed, drunk or lost. She just sat there, occasionally peering about her, but mostly with eyes straight ahead.
And then, suddenly, as if by some kind of intervention, she knew the faces of some of the people – especially Bert at the reception desk. Looking at her watch, she realized she was late for the office and hurried to the same elevator that, only moments before, had thrust her into the land of the lost. She had no memory of it, although a queasy feeling rumbled in her stomach at the sight of the elevator. Why that was, she didn’t know.
Alberta pressed the button for the fifth floor and stood ramrod straight, aware that others behind her were likely appraising her dress, her purse, or her demeanour.
A minute later she entered her workplace. She passed the reception desk and walked into her office.
“Bertie, this is the first time I’ve ever known you to be late. Everything okay?”
“Yes, of course, Leslie,” she said to her assistant. “Why do you ask?”
“The time,” was all that the woman said.
“What?” She glanced down at her watch. It was 8:30 a.m., and she was ridiculously late. “Leslie … I’m … sorry. Don’t know where the time went.” She leaned against her desk, frantically wondering where those lost minutes had gone.
“Not to worry. I’ll get you a coffee and then we can go over those profile pieces for the magazine,” Leslie said. She exited through the glass doors, as if on rollerblades.
Alberta Alexander sat in her office chair. She didn’t remember the person on the elevator or what had transpired in those moments in the lobby. She looked around her office. Everything was in place – exactly as she liked it. But as she looked up at the clock, she somehow discerned that time had escaped her, sifted through her, or her through it, and that she was a woman slightly undone.