It was 2013 and I was in Dubai, selling advertising space in private airport lounges to earn enough money to travel again. My colleague Michael and I were transporting furniture to our new office in the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
As we stumbled into reception carrying a cumbersome desk, we were shunted off to the service elevator by a surly security guard. We maneuvered our way inside and were joined by two Afghan members of the cleaning staff clutching a bucket and some rice. I was also carrying a mini portrait of Elvis Presley I used for inspiration on particularly barren days of business.
The lift was gliding seamlessly towards the 36th floor when the lights flickered off. The jangly sound of electronics complaining, then we shuddered to a halt at the 22nd, leaving us blind to the views outside.
We all looked around in the futile hope that one of us was a secret elevator engineer. The blank faces confirmed none of us were. I pressed the emergency button and an Indian voice answered. I explained our predicament succinctly and the Indian voice returned with something indecipherable. Michael and I both glanced at the two Afghans, wondering whether it would be racist and or stupid to assume they could understand him just because they come from the same continent. One of them manned up and took on the role of talking us to safety. So it wasn’t stupid, but probably was still racist. After a little less conversation he turned to us and said the words we had been waiting for.
“Someone is coming.”
“When?” I asked.
“Soon, I think,” came the less than certain response.
“Well in the meantime, we’ve got food, The King and a bucket.” Michael said, motioning at the rice, the portrait of Elvis and the bucket.
It was now that I saw one of the Afghan men shuffling uncomfortably between his two standing feet. I raised my glance upwards and was disheartened to see him staring longingly at the bucket. He crossed his legs. I looked over to Michael and his grimace confirmed we shared the same suspicious minds. Swiftly, we assumed a position on either side of the lift doors, gripped, then pulled as hard as our arms allowed. They edged apart seductively, flirting with our freedom. As a gap appeared we gave the doors a final yank to buy enough space to slink out onto the 22nd floor. We had escaped; an anticlimax perhaps, but a vastly preferable ending to an Afghan relieving himself in a bucket. We walked up the remaining 14 floors and went back to work to sell people stuff they didn’t really want. Viva Las Vegas.