Friday, March 7, 2014

Pandora's Manila Folder

Pandora (Dora to her friends) Steffen had never considered herself a calm person; in fact, in the eight years she had been working for the government as a secretary for the WHO, her superiors often criticized her for her lack of calm. According to the official evaluation she had read, she was “passionate” about her work, which she knew meant she was actually just the opposite, and not calm at all. The crowded elevator she was in now, though, was a different story. She had come to the mall to relax and unwind, and ate some lunch. When one of her associates from the World Health Organization mysteriously approached her mid-egg roll with an important file in a manila folder, with clear instructions to deliver to her boss and not read, she complied and began to leave the mall immediately. Dora went to the side of the mall where she had parked, by the department store where she frequented, and began to take the elevator up, to the parking garage floor where she parked.

            It never completed its journey, and stopped in between the third and fourth floor. She was stuck, she realized, with ten strangers and a manila folder with something mysterious inside she wasn’t allowed to read. The large man behind her with the handlebar mustache and considerable girth shifted his weight and impatiently sighed. The old woman next to her began fidgeting with her purse strap, and the strong scent of lilac hit Dora’s nose: the woman’s perfume. The manila folder sat in her hands.

            “Are we stuck, Mommy?” a chunky little boy with a Spiderman shirt and gracious snot bubble asked. His mother, who was equally a wreck, just wiped his nose and told him to hush. The manila folder stayed in her hands, closed, its secrets contained. A little man in the back corner started coughing. A nervous-looking man with a comb-over and frayed sweater started humming loudly. A teenager with gold chains, a pair of Beats headphones and sideways LA Lakers hat glanced at the sweater man dismissively. His girlfriend giggled rudely.

            “I knew this was going to happen, Dave. I told you Ramirez didn’t fix this damn elevator. We should have taken the stairs.” one mall policeman said to the other, completing the group of ten. He began radioing the eponymous Ramirez, who Dora took to be a maintenance man. The small man launched into another coughing fit. Dora knew her instructions, but the folder began to taunt her with its secrets.

            The first policeman’s radio buzzed and the voice of a Hispanic man speaking broken English rang out. The policeman replied.

            “Ramirez, we’ve been stuck for ten minutes. Something’s obviously wrong…” the cop was saying, but Dora was watching as the small man began coughing up blood. Some got on the teenager’s shoes. He attacked the small man, the second cop intervened. The large man was pushed into the mother, who fell into the older woman.

            Dora bent down to help her up and the folder fell. Its classified contents spilled everywhere. Dora lived up to her namesake, and her curiosity got the best of her. She read the documents.

            She just got snippets of the document in her shocked state, phrases like: “new disease” and “airborne” and “contact with others could spread the disease” and “kills within one hour of contact”. The coughing man fell to the floor. The elevator was still stuck.

            Then she heard the voice of Ramirez, the maintenance man, clear as day over the cop’s radio: “I need two hours to fix it, Wilson. Two hours.”

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