Our apartment building has a ramp into the main parking area, a 40 foot stretch of concrete on all sides to walk through until your each the glass doors in the back, which require a key-card to open the magnetic lock, to enter the building. Most of the time this door is propped open, making use of the key-card unnecessary; there is a printed sign, in Thai, warning residents that there is a 1,000 Baht fine for not closing the door but you can only see this sign when the door is already closed.
Last night Kevin and I made a late-night Tesco run, picking up some snacks and cough syrup (we’ve both been sick with bronchial infection). After a sweep through the convenience store we headed back across the street to our apartment, where we happened to be a few steps behind a young Thai woman also entering the building. The doors were propped open, as usual, and we all stood in the dull foyer between the doors and elevator. The young woman hesitated before hitting the button to summon the elevator and we all stood there awkwardly while the red light indicated that the carriage had moved up to the sixth floor before heading back down to ground level. When the doors opened another young Thai woman began exiting the elevator, made an exclamation of surprise when she saw us all and then she and the first Thai woman giggled and squirmed back into the elevator.
It was immediately clear to me what had happened: the first Thai woman doesn’t live in our building and was visiting her friend, the second woman. She had called from outside by phone and the second woman was coming down to let her in but since the door was propped open she was already inside the building, thus the first woman not summoning the elevator. What was so spectacular about this, however, was that the second woman was wearing her pajamas – sweatpants and an oversized, white Micky Mouse sweater – had her face greened out by some kind of beauty mud mask and was wearing costume reindeer antlers as a headband to keep her hair out of the mud mask. She most definitely had not banked on encountering anyone other than her friend coming out of her apartment like this. When she saw us her eyes shot open wide and she let out a squeal, revealing a mouth full of braces with green and blue rubber bands along the front teeth. I smiled and was sure to face the door of the elevator while standing in front of the two women; Kevin stood sideways, not even noticing the antlers, because he’s a dude and wouldn’t notice a real reindeer in the elevator.
On the sixth floor I stepped out of the lift when the doors opened and held my arm across the threshold while the two women scurried out, dipping their heads as they passed me in a kind of gesture of thanks, then disappeared into the sanctuary of the second woman’s apartment. Kevin shifted his position in the elevator and we rode up a couple more floors to our apartment. As I unlocked our door I said to Kevin, “that was interesting,” and he coughed, then added, “I know, why didn’t she hit the elevator button?” He still hadn’t taken note of anything else about the situation. It was pretty funny.
Not a minute after we’d unpacked our grocery bag the lights blinked out. The whole apartment was blacked out, no outside light from the streets coming in either. From the hallway outside our door you could hear the high-pitched beep of the power box, alerting everyone and no one to the fact that there was no electricity. Power outages are a pretty common occurrence here, so there’s no strong reaction to it on our part, but I was excited by the entire grid being out on our block. We both stepped onto the balcony and saw darkness stretching out in all directions, across the silhouette of tree tops and all the way to the ridge of the mountain, touching the barely lighted sky. To my delight, we could actually see stars. It’s been almost two years since I’ve seen stars. They were pale and weak, if I looked for too long the dots would become almost imperceptible but a softening of the gaze could bring them back. On the street below a strong, conical beam from a flashlight stretched out and swept across the surfaces of neighboring buildings, the limbs of trees across the yard and through the tangled web of power lines. Across the street in the apartment building soft orange orbs from candles yawned into a glow in several windows and the white light of a flashlight moved in a drunken sway between floors on the long stairwell.
We stood out there for a few minutes, drinking in the quiet. Almost jokingly, Kevin reminded me of when my parents were visiting and my father wouldn’t ride the elevator in his building because he feared being trapped in the elevator, always for the specific, horrible duration of “12 hours.” (I don’t know if he’d read a case like this recently, or if that’s just how long he figures a really horrible experience of being trapped in an elevator might be.) With how quickly the power outage had taken place after our ride in the elevator, however, it was suddenly very plausible that we could have been stuck in there with those two women. The embarrassment of that poor second woman with the mud mask and reindeer antlers dragged out – in darkness – for potentially hours. Kevin and I would be coughing in that tiny box and probably Kevin would just keep telling me, “Sylvie, say something in Thai; just say something in Thai!” as a plea to bring peace among all the captives. Now, in addition to the beauty of a pitch black night and the suggestion of stars in the cold, clear sky, we also had our narrow escape to be grateful for. I wondered if those two Thai women were appreciating their freedom also.