Talking to the Wall

In Features, My Piece of the Sky, Opinion by Louise Norlie

When talking to inanimate objects Martha never lost her sense of humor.

“Abracadabra!” Martha shouted into the wall, laughing, “Does anyone hear me? Can you open the door please?” Passing students stared at her, even more than they usually did, with their eyes wide and quizzical.

Yes, accessing the library at her small private university in the city was always a ludicrous experience. The front entrance to the library led directly to a flight of stairs. There was no automatic door opener, no lift. But not to worry. A designated handicapped entrance was on the left side of the building and all a disabled student had to do was ask.

The wall on the left side of the building was an impressively solid mass of beige concrete. The only interruption to its pure continuity was a grey door of grimy appearance.

A short ramp, partially concealed by bushes, led to this “special” door that had no external handle. Beside the door were a red button and a tiny metal plate perforated by three dots.

This represented a portal of communication.

Pressing button and shouting into the dots, a seeker of entrance could only hope that his or her voice would be successfully transmitted to the unseen guardians of the library. A muffled mumble of static indicated that a response was pending, yet even this was slow in coming.

Within twenty to thirty minutes, an irritated librarian or janitor would appear, creaking open the heavy door with great effort.

“Sorry for the delay,” the janitor would mutter, “Maybe next time you should call us in advance.”

The university had recently been graced with a new president. He hailed from a similar position in a remote, countrified part of the nation. With the regrettable disdain that urban students feel for anything rural, the students nicknamed him “the lumberjack.” With his rugged red beard and brawny dimensions, the nickname did not necessarily seem insulting or inappropriate. It had the potential to refer to positive attributes, such as strength, deliberation, courage, and resolve.

Send me your suggestions, the new president wrote in the university newsletter, Let me get to know each one of you.

With doubtful optimism, Martha wrote to him about how to improve access to the library. There were many approaches to fix the inconvenience, and she suggested them all to save the administrators the effort of thought.

During the next four months, the president proved very active. Most of his time was spent traveling around campus, shuttled by a chauffeur in a grey limousine, or attending fund-raising functions with the most generous alumni. But he had not sent a reply to Martha’s letter.

At 1:45 PM, Martha picked up a copy of the university newspaper in the library.

President holds open forum with students, 2 PM, it read, President invites all students to attend…Martha immediately sought the librarian and asked him to let her out the side door.

When she reached the forum on the other side of campus, the meeting had just ended. Thankfully this building had an automatic access button and Martha could enter easily.

The lofty President towered among a group of chattering students who swarmed around him in a tight circle. Martha waited. She watched as the long grey limousine pulled into the parking lot like a shark.

After twenty minutes, the crowd dispersed. The President picked up his briefcase and charged directly toward Martha. She turned to follow him as he headed to the door.
“Hi,” she greeted him, “Can I…”
“Let me get this for you.” The president laid his powerful hand against the door and swung it open effortlessly. She left beneath the stretch of his arm.

“Thanks. Did you get my letter regarding access to the library?” she called to him, her voice losing its volume in the abrasive wind that rubbed noisily against the building.

“It’s been my pleasure. Any time,” he muttered under his breath with distracted politeness. His red tie flapped in retreat as he strutted to his limousine.