Read Paper Republic: Cao Kou – The Floor of Pipes

The thirty-fifth floor of this building is known as the floor of pipes. This is how Wang Li referred to it on the phone. She did not actually say the thirty-fifth floor. Wang Li is presently in an office on the floor of pipes, and I am going to find her.

The regular work lift goes only as far as the twenty-sixth floor, so getting to the floor of pipes necessitates squeezing into a different lift alongside workers with their building materials. The total number of workers is: two workers. Not one fat worker and one skinny worker but two workers who are both skinny. Theirs cannot be any ordinary variety of skinny, with the weather as cold as it is. As I approach the lift they are transferring sack after sack of cement into the lift. They see me and they stop and gawp. When they inspect the interior of the lift they discover that there remains room enough to stand, and they begrudgingly let me in. I scoot into a corner while they continue to move cement. They seem angry, and perhaps this is because I am now occupying the space or the weight of one cement sack.

With each new sack of cement I feel the lift sink down and then bounce back up again. With each bounce I sense the lift straining to do better. Having been stuffed so full it must actively fight against the pressure or else it will never rise again, like a man with a broken back. I was expecting them to join their cement in the lift but this is not what they do. The lift bleeps because it is too full, and the one whose leg was holding the door open steps nimbly outside. They watch the cement and me, and they are still watching as the gap between the doors narrows to nothing. They stand there like they are an elderly couple in the autumn breeze and they are saying farewell to their departing children.

Read the full story at Read Paper Republic.