OUR FATHER - ESSAY SUBMISSION UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER
WHEN I was 21, I spent a year living abroad as an exchange student at the University of Leicester in Britain. That year was one of the best years of my life, and my time in Leicester informed my career – and my life – in many ways.
In December 2017 the University announced that it would be removing the famous Paternoster lift in the Attenborough Tower. Before I moved to the UK, I had no idea what a Paternoster was. And I haven't seen another one since. The news that it was to be removed from the tower upset many, including myself.
The university is compiling a collection of essays, poems, and short stories honouring the curious elevator, and I found out this morning my short story 'Our Father' is to be published. A version of the article written below was first published on Medium in 2014, and will appear in the upcoming collection of fiction to be produced by the University of Leicester.
THE GIRL stepped out from the curious rotating machine with a calmness and surety that the boy instantly envied. The paternoster rotated quietly within the walls of the building; a curiously foreign elevator he had no idea how to ride. The girl, who appeared to be of similar age and circumstance as him, boldly strode past him with a bundle of books held casually by her side, and he turned to watch her go.
The Lord’s Prayer, as you may or may not know, begins as such; “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Or, in Latin, Pater Noster. The paternoster device is named thusly as it is set out in the form of an eternal loop, similar to the rosary beads used in church to aid in reciting prayers. Before he stepped foot inside one, he had never heard of the paternoster. They were not common; electrical elevators or escalators filled every train station in the city, erasing the need for the feeble human body to carry itself up and down the many platforms of the station. Here at his closest station, there was an old, still functioning paternoster, which clunky and loudly pulled itself up and down on an old, well oiled chain countless times a day.
He always liked that it was named after the Lord’s prayer, because the paternoster was so disturbing the first few times he rode it to the second floor that he felt as though he should get down on bended knee and praise some heavenly being for his successful survival. After the third or forth week attempt he became accustomed to the curious beast that was the paternoster. A kind of elevator, the paternoster rotates slowly, consisting of a chain dragging several compartments that loop slowly up and down within a building without stopping. The paternoster is designed for passengers to step on and off at any floor they like.The need for doors is simply eliminated. Which is a simple enough concept in theory.
What actually happens when you ride the paternoster is this; first there is darkness, a gaping hole in the wall into which if you poke your curious head, all one sees is a sudden drop down into what appears to be an infinite darkness. Then, slowly, a wooden platform begins to rise up from the shadows, ascending slowly, creeping up your ankles, rising up your shins and knees like flood waters and then you see it is a cube, a cabinet with no doors, with room for two, perhaps three people to hop in.
And so you step in. You carefully judge the gap, muscles poised and tensed like a fawn on an icy precipice, before you step into the cube as it climbs higher and higher. There is always a moment of vertigo, that sickly feeling in the centre of ones stomach of missing the bottom step in the darkness or falling back into a chair that you expected to be there and falling with a great whoosh to the floor.
There are signs plastered all over the insides of the paternoster; warning you not to alight too early from the machine, not to touch the red wire that crosses the top of the cube you travel within, and not to jump too early to and from the compartment. What they do not warn you about is riding the paternoster all the way around. Sure, you ride to the very top, climbing past the fourth, the fifth, the sixth and seventh floors before revisiting these levels once more as you gradually come back down. Second floor, first floor and then you dip down below the floor, down into what can only be described as the belly of the beast. Suddenly there is a great heat as you rotate past the cogs of the machine, and a noise and a darkness fills your eyes and your ears so completely like coal dust and the heat blasts in your face and you cannot breathe and for a moment you feel as though you have been plunged into the very depths of hell before a crack of light appears above your head and you are pulled back up, up once more onto the first floor and you quickly jump out of the paternoster, shaking as you turn and watch the beast continue once again on its eternal revolution.
To ride the paternoster, you have to jump. You step out into the dark and the empty air to mount your steed, and you ride it up to the level you want to go to before you jump once more, out of the beast and onto the security of terra firma once more. The very nature of the paternoster demands you to trust; to step out into the unknown and to ride the eternal oscillations of our Father.
He occasionally dreamt about being trapped in the paternoster, though. In his dreams he descends down into the darkness and the heat and no matter how trusting and how faithful he was, he would never rise back up into the light.