The lady at the front desk was dressed in a traditional kimono with western jewelry jingling on her wrist. Its intricately carved stone was of bright ruby that glistened when she handed over my key. “You’re all set sir, room is at 801 and breakfast is served at six.” It was too bad I told her. I usually have trouble sleeping in strange places I rather want to start my day ahead. She recommended trying out the bar instead.
A bleeping sound was made when I tapped the card on the door panel. As I entered, I was greeted by a citrus scent that suggested that the room was clean, and it was. Everything was spotless, this I attributed to the reputation the place has. I started placing my bag on the luggage rack, retired my shoes under it, and sat on the corner of the bed in front of the television.
By the awnings, I watched the blanket of the night that slithered below. The moonlight shone over the rain-soaked pavement—it coated the foams of the clouds white, sailing across overhead.
As a matter of habit, I first unpacked the clothes I was going to wear, hanged them all in the closet and lined up the toiletries neatly on the lavatory before changing to head out.
It was getting late, and the hallways waned in the darkness as I waited long enough for the elevator before realizing that it was not working. I decided to use the fire exit since the bar was just four floors down. At the end of the hall the exit sign glowed as if an enticing invitation was calling upon me. In the dark, I trailed the narrow glimmer of green neon light until I reached and pushed the heavy door.
Two flights down I heard a murmuring from below. I stopped, startled of this irregularity. Guests were not supposed to loiter around these parts and I suppose the management does not allow employees as well. But the voices grew louder as I approached and caught a smell of stale cigarettes in the air.
As I climbed down the stairs, placing most of my weight on my heels, I came about a huddle of men on the landing. Some of them were on their knees, one was sitting on the railings, and a few were standing with their hands either propped on their thighs or on the wall. A flashlight was directed to the ground where playing cards were laid down with the pot money in the middle.
With their loud response, I do not know how many of them shrieked in surprise.
Standing so close to them this time, I reckoned that they were a good ten at least – some bore old tired faces, some were foreigners whose skins were as pink as salmons adjusting to the heat, and women smoking with only burnt tips visible.
“The bartender does not know what he is doing” A man complained to me and reached up and offered his drink. “Right here we like it clean.”
“Thanks comrade” And downed the drink in a gulp.
There was a voice that loomed from the lower landing. It was the receptionist but she is out of her uniform now. “You’re 801, right?”
At first I could not make out who she was but I remembered when I heard the jingling of her bracelet.
“I guess I am” I tried responding coolly.
“What are you doing here 801? Are you lost?”
“Your elevators do not work. The lights led me to the stairs.”
“Is it now?”
“Are you not going to fix it?”
“Everything gets broken around here anyway, why bother? Besides somebody from maintenance will find out sooner eventually, stay for a while, and care to play will you now? ”
I declined politely. I would rather take my chances at the bar I told her. It is one of the few places I know is fair.
She asked if she could tag along. I did not know why she did that, but it was probably because she suspected me of ratting them out. It took a bit of an effort but I convinced her that I was not.
“But it was not about that at all” she assured me.
“I thought you would rather go to a better place to drink. I owe you that”
We walked two blocks to this place she knew. She had one round and another. She was a terrific hostess until around two when she left me in peace.
But peace is a just another word thrown around so carelessly these days. What we have is silence in the shade of a world set ablaze.