The staircase of our 19th-century apartment building is made of stone.
More than a hundred years' worth of footsteps going up and down have worn away the stone's surface to a gentle, almost organic sheen. When I take the stairs, I think of the people who walked here before me. Who were they? What were their lives like?
Our building does have a retro-fitted elevator. We live on what would be the Amreican 6th floor, and luckily, it has never been out of order when I come home with wine bottles and laundrey detergent. But it does break from time to time, and when it was broken earlier this month, it took them -- whoever they were -- 10 days to fix it.
During those 10 days, I thought of the gentleman who lives upstairs from us every time I walked up to our apartment. I thought of him when I was going down, too. You see, he uses a mobile chair to get around. I have seen him down in the entrance hall taking several steps, but he needs to steady himself on the railing when he does. If the elevator is out of service, he cannot possibly go out.
Then I thought of the people who lived here before the elevator was installed: people who had trouble moving about, people who were confined to their apartments, people who didn't have the hope to hold onto, for the day "when the elevator is repaired."
How oppressive that must have been. My heart ached at the thought.
The day I came home after an errand to find the elevator working, I was relieved for our upstairs neighbor. I felt lighter (I know that's silly), and it looked as if the inside of the building got brighter (even sillier). I decided to walk upstairs instead of riding the elevator.
Taking the stairs one step at a time, I couldn't stop thinking about how the world must have remained dark for the housebound. A broken elevator is just an inconvenience for me, but for someone like my upstairs neighbor, it is a broken connection to the outside world.
I now take the stairs whenever I can. I am doing so for the past residents in this building, for the people who would have wanted to go outside and take a walk but couldn't.
I walk their sadness out of this building with me. When I come back and walk up five flights of stairs back to my apartment, I am walking in their stead. I do this every day, hoping to lift up the ghost of their memories.