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THE hotel room was spacious and perfectly arranged. The king-size bed set to the right, faced by the television set. A thin leathered chair sat behind an office desk a little to the left of that. To the right was the large window screen, which gave the room lodger a spectacular view of the world below. Between all of them there were spaces... Empty spaces!
Mark Histler has never been on the 39th floor of any building before. And he has never in his life seen a hotel as massive as this one. He arrived here for yet another marketing conference. Itís been quiet a while since heíd been to one. Heís not keen on attending them, but that is part of his job. Tomorrow morning, he will have to put on his same business suit, and walk into a large room full of strangers and pretenders all wearing dark suits and blue shirts.
All the ones heís been to before were crammed in a cheap little hotel in some dingy neighborhood. They would stack all the "suited liars" - as Mark himself describes them - all together in a stinky hall with little chairs to accommodate all present and with remaining snacks of what would have probably been the previous conference... and only God knows when that would have had been held!
Mark began walking around the room, examining the little ornaments and the pieces of furniture scattered around, still ashamed of himself for not having any change on him for the bellboy who brought up his mini-suitcase.
There was a wee moment of awkwardness and anticipation as the young Filipino placed the case on the empty space between two closets. The bellboy began stepping backwards, with an obvious false smile on his face, staring at Mark with inquiring eyes. As he was putting the suitcase in its proper place - that being the empty space between the closets - Mark thought to himself, should I apologies and be honest in telling him I do not have any change now? Should I say that I would make it up to him and put on a false smile myself? How lame that would be? How pathetic and lame?
In the end he decided automatically to not do a thing nor say a thing. Not seeing the guest making for his wallet, the young bellboy removed his false smile off his face, replaced it with a flat frown and opened the door to depart.
"Ah... OK, th... thank you." muttered Mark, but the boy had already shut the door by then.
Mark is neither young, nor old... nor he is middle aged. He is in between all of these.
Itís been seven years for him doing the same thing, a thing which he already detested even before he ventured into it. The only reason he went for this marketing representative job was because he needed to work. He needed money to survive, just like all of us do. It was never going to be what he would have liked to do.
At the coffee table in the centre of the room, there was a bowl of fruits with a little complimentary note from the hotel management and beside it was a bottle of red wine - some cheap brand - but he would not touch that.
Mark could not make his mind on what fruit he should have first; the banana or the pear or the red apple? He went for the apple. It was firm, juicy and sweet. He was delighted with it. Heís always liked fruit. The variety of colors, shapes and tastes always fascinated him. Eating them has been a joy for him since he was a little child.
The beautiful color of peach and its ripe mushy taste full of sweet juices, the strong sweet and sour taste of oranges with the tingling feel of its pulp; heaven to him. He doesnít like them because of their healthy value as most people would like to admit, he likes them because they color his life a bit, gives him a different taste, makes him calm and relaxed for they are the produce of nature, coming straight from the depths of the earth and its soil. Somehow it makes him connected to a bigger thing; something bigger than work, bigger than life.
As he bit his way through the appleís soft yet firm skin, he remembered the days at the farm with his old man, stealing apples from the trees without his father noticing and running off to the river half a mile away. He would set on a large, flat rock on the riverside under the largest tree and eats his apples in sporadic enjoyment, listening to the running water and the birds singing. Those were the days of the country. Oh, how he misses those days.
The room is very cold and shivering. It seems that hotel rooms are all the same all over the world. A stereotype. They are cold, finicky... and empty. Empty of life, empty of soul, empty of essence. Practically ghostless. Living in them helps manifest the loneliness within us. Unleash its terrors and flaws. Every time Mark has been in a hotel, whether it was a tall one or a small one or whether it was a cheap one or a luxurious one, the feeling of isolation presides. But today, here in this so-tall hotel, thereís something unique. He could sense it, but he could not know it yet. Perhaps it's the idea of being 39 floors above the ground.
The window was enticing, attracting him every now and then to take a peek out and look at life from above. Things are small... No, no. Not small, just... distant. Cars travel in cosmic lines on the highway, other buildings stand as little trees and people walking look like colored ants. All of this made Mark feel like a giant, superior to the things of lower life. The sun was setting. It hid behind the shorter buildings, stretching its last rays of the day to the top floors of the tall hotel. Mark placed both his hands on the cold glass and looked straight down.
For the next few hours he mingled around. He watched television, had a shower, watched more television, stared out the window and watched more television.
Television is bliss in hotel rooms - at least that's how Mark thinks of it. Just flipping through all those cable networks would be quiet enough to waste half the time. He clicks and clicks on the remote control. Hoping to find something catchy and attention-grabbing, but one would never find such a thing easily, not because there arenít any but because one would not concentrate enough on one channel to realize if it was interesting enough as one would keep switching to the next. Itís like addiction; one would just want to simply know whatís on the next channel, and the next, and the next. In the end one would end up with nothing.
Mark wasnít aware that he has spent more than five hours in this condition. After a quick glance at the electronic clock to the left side of the king-size bed, which indicated it was almost midnight, he decided to retire to bed and sleep.
He called the reception desk to request a wake-up call in the morning. For a silent little moment he remained silent holding the phone to his ear. Seven, he said in the end.
"All right Mr. Hitler. Goodnight," said the hurried voice of the female on the other side of the phone mockingly, a tiny giggle could be heard in the background.
"Itís Histler. Histler." he said in a careless tempered voice.
His name has always been a source of sarcasm and mockery. They called him the son of the Nazis when he was a little kid at a school. Now, people go on calling him Hitler even though they know itís not the correct name, just for the fun of it. But Mark doesn't care anymore. He would just correct them because they expect him to, and when he does thatís when their sarcastic smile pops up.
The bed was everything Mark would dream of. No squeaking, rich with comfort and a soft mattress topped with puffed white pillows. Exactly what anyone would expect from a bed of that caliber. As he laid himself on its white clean sheets, he felt a warm coldness. A feeling which obliges you to sink yourself further into the bed, making you indulge in its comfortness, to merge with it... be a part of it. Now, Mark can never escape from its absolute power.
And with his exhaustion from the trip, he expected only minutes to pass before closing his eyes and swimming into the sea of dreams. That didnít happen. He struggled, twisting and turning in desperate attempts to discover the finest position for him to sleep. He found himself, after much useless efforts wasted and time lost, hugging one of the soft, thick pillows. He held it tight to his bare chest while the television hummed away in the background.
In every short moment passing, Mark would sneak a peek at the television and then at the window, thinking of the spaces separating him from these two thought provoking features. And of the spaces that fill the gaps between the other objects, the desk, the closet, the door. Empty spaces!
With all these spaces, with all the irritant palliates, Mark noticed one more space. This was vast, huge, and magnificent! It was a space Mark was dreading. A space that he has been running away from all his life. A space full of lechery, full of emptiness and loneliness. It was the space on the other side of the bed. Mark stared at it. His eyes so focused and wide open. He wished he could neglect that space, just like he neglected all of the others in this high place of room. Oh how he yearns for someone to fill that space. For some beautiful, innocent creature to be within it, enriching it with brightness and joy. He held his tears back, still hugging the pillow to his chest, cocooning himself with the sheets like a frozen prawn.
With a soft, pale voice, he whispered to the pillow, to the space, to himself "Please no. Please no."
Copyright©2004 Ali Al Saeed
, Short Story
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