I’m at work. It is 5:45a. It’s been a long night. As I type, I’m jumping at every sound. I can’t help but glance to my left, toward the long hotel corridor, every thirty seconds or so.
When I came in at 11:00p tonight, the clerk who worked the three to eleven shift – we’ll call her Annie – was in tears. (She’s my favorite “new” employee – a pretty, cheerful, nineteen year old, recently promoted from housekeeping to front desk.)
Her evening had been difficult, thanks mostly to a walk-in guest she had checked into room 108. By the time I got here, he had been plaguing Annie for a couple of hours. The troubles had started the moment he arrived. A friend brought him into the hotel, but then disappeared as soon as he confirmed there was a vacancy. The guest – wearing a plastic brace on his neck and a plaster cast on his left arm – explained to Annie that his neck was broken, and that he was feeling weak. She rushed to get him registered, then used one of our office chairs to push him to his room. Another guest noticed the spectacle and helped to get him settled.
Annie was shaken and concerned, but she had to return to her duties – there were other guests waiting to check in. An unprecedented number of those guests wanted to pay with cash, which is more complicated for the clerk than accepting a credit card. Considering her inexperience, it would have been challenging for Annie to keep the evening’s business straight … even if room 108 had not immediately launched a barrage of phone calls to the front desk.
By the time I came in, Annie was a wreak. She told me about the guest in room 108, and worried that she maybe should have called an ambulance for him. On top of that, she knew the cash drawer was off by at least $260.00. She knew she had overcharged one woman by sixty dollars, and had forgotten to collect the tax from another guest, but the origin of the extra two hundred dollars in the drawer was a mystery to her. Aside from that, she had not had enough time to do much more than start the day’s laundry.
Before she finished telling me about her evening, the phone rang. I answered it.
It was the guy from 108, of course. In a weird, raspy whisper, he informed me there was no robe hanging on the back of his bathroom door. I told him we don’t provide robes. He thanked me and disconnected. Annie and I started to review the evening’s transactions, but the phone rang again. This time 108 wanted to know if room service could deliver a soda to his room.
I said, “We don’t have room service, sir.”
“Oh. I thought that, since I’m in a suite, room service would be included.”
“You aren’t in a suite, sir. We don’t have suites.”
“Oh. Okay. Goodnight then,” he politely replied.
In the next hour – as Annie and I searched for the source of the mystery money – he phoned or visited the front desk seven times. Sometimes, when he appeared, he was wearing his neck brace. Other times, he was not. He had some odd pretext for seeking us out each time, but mostly it felt like he wanted – badly – to talk about exactly what had happened to him, how his doctors are shocked that he’s not a paraplegic, and how his family and friends are not responding to his injuries with appropriate concern.
Eventually, having untangled some of the registration mistakes that had been made, I sent Annie home. That’s when the real fun began.
108, by then, had given up on using the phone. Instead, he began to wander up and down the corridor and through the lobby. He circled my desk like a crippled shark – sometimes stopping to ask a question or make a request; sometimes just slowly cruising past; sometimes stopping to lean on the counter, wheeze and moan. I wanted to go into the back room to fold sheets, but every time I did, he reappeared at the desk. I would fold a sheet, then check the desk. If he wasn’t there, I would fold another. Usually he was there. Just waiting for me to come out so that he could give me the name of another friend who would soon be stopping by to check on his welfare. (No one ever came.) Or to obtain the number of the local hospital, so he could call them, just in case.
At one point, when he happened to be out of sight, I came out of the back to make a note about some supplies we need. As I was writing, he came running down the hall, through the lobby and out the door. He was gone for about twenty minutes. When he came back, the door alarm chimed so I emerged from the back room and buzzed him in. He hobbled over to the sofa with a bag of fast food, saying he needed to sit so he could cope with the blood poisoning. “Did I tell you that I have blood poisoning?”
All night this went on. Once he came out to ask for a Styrofoam bowl. He appeared about ten minutes later – shirtless and barefoot – and said, “I better get that number for the hospital again. Because the strangest thing just happened to me.” (I busied myself looking up the number.) “I was heating my cup ‘o noodles, in the bowl you gave me, in the microwave. Then I woke up and my face was in the bowl.”
“Do you want me to call an ambulance for you, sir?”
“Well, I know my health is the most important thing, but my finances aren’t in the best of shape. I’ve had a lot of medical expenses lately–”
“Here’s the information you requested, sir.” I handed a slip of paper to him. “Remember to dial nine to get an outside line.”
I retreated to the back room. I peeked out a few minutes later. He was standing at the swinging gate between the lobby and the area behind the front desk. He was pushing the gate open, then watching it swing shut. I tried to fold another sheet, but my nerve broke. I became convinced that I’d flip a sheet to snap out the wrinkles, only to find him standing in the back room with me when the sheet settled.
I went to the front desk, sat down, set up the laptop, and began my vigil. I could hear every time he opened his door in the silent hotel. Then I would prepare for him to show up. Sometimes he did, which was bad. Sometime he didn’t, which was worse. When he didn’t, I could only assume he was wandering the hotel. Then I would hear the door open and close again.
At 3:30a, the time had come to do the stocking in the breakfast area. I would have to leave the (illusory) safety of my desk area, and venture into a space that would not allow me to watch the corridor that led to his room. I moved fast, and checked for his presence between tasks. Only once did he come around the corner and surprise me. Without saying anything he turned and walked away. Within minutes, I had stocked breakfast … except for the yogurt.
I checked again for 108, then crouched in front of the small display fridge, with my back to the length of the lobby. As I arranged the yogurt tubs, I listened for any noise behind me. I even glanced over my shoulder twice. The thirty foot expanse of the lobby was empty both times. I straightened a row of peach yogurt, then looked over my shoulder again. The man was standing ( not approaching, but standing, flat-footed and stable) not six inches behind me. Of course I yelped. In fact, I believe I shouted, “OH! Christ!”
108 did not recoil even slightly. Instead he continued to lean over me. “Oh my. What happened? Did you hurt yourself?”
“You move very quietly, sir.”
He took four or five strides backwards, then stopped in front of the coffee stand. He picked up a handful of napkins, shook them at me, brought them to his nose. “Well goodnight then,” he said, before turning and leaving the lobby.
I returned to my chair behind the desk. I did not go into the back room, or the lobby, again until some of the other guests started to move around the hotel at about 6:30a. Instead I sat and watched him prowl.
Just before I left, he engaged me again. He had been absent for half an hour. When he popped up in front of the desk, he was fully dressed. He was not wearing his neck brace. He was not wearing the cast. (I want to assure you that this had been no brace. Either it was a prop of some kind, or he had cut himself out of a plaster cast.) He wanted to know where he could find a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. He offered to follow me to his room, so I could show him that it was hanging on the knob, on the inside of his door.
I declined the invitation and, instead, found a spare sign. He accepted it and said, for the too-many-th time, “Well, goodnight then.”
I’m on the schedule for Saturday night too. I am really hoping that he doesn’t extend his stay.
Such is life at:
photo credit: bixentro Licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 (Attribution 2.0 Generic)
It has been cropped to square.
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