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Atiteh’s Notes: Room 36

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Titilayo Olurin ended her short story, The Gnawing Silence, last week and begins Room 36 this lovely Wednesday afternoon. Do read, share and leave us a thought in the comment box. Enjoy!   The room was at the end of a long, narrow corridor. On its door, a fading brown panel hinged to a rusty frame, was the number 36 painted ominously in red. As the porter opened it, the carved number six, which had previously hung awkwardly next to the three, fell to the floor with a thud. He hesitated for a moment, looking down at the wooden figure, before reaching for the light and fan switches, conspicuously placed on the wall by his left. Then, he stepped aside for the new occupant of the room.   Tola hadn’t expected much of a cheap hotel room but was surprised at what she saw. A small bed stand, a chair that dangerously stood on wobbly legs and a stool on which was placed a small Television that looked little more than a contraption, were all the furniture in the room. Drab window curtains made the room look rather gloomy, and the rug, a pale gray colour which barely covered the center of the room, was just as drab. The floor, the part uncovered by the rug, was a similar fading terrazzo to that in the corridor. It was dirty, extremely so. Someone had attempted to mop it but had only succeeded in smearing it with more dirt and grease. There was a square shaped plank in the space where the air-conditioner should have been and the fan, rotating dangerously low, sounded like it had known better days. She noticed a pair of blue jeans sprawled on the bed that was devoid of pillows and assumed that its owner was the previous occupant of the room. If it was still there, then she didn’t need a soothsayer to tell her that the bed sheet hadn’t been changed or the room cleaned.   The porter must have followed her gaze, for he immediately rushed to the bed and picked up the jeans. “I apologise. The cleaners forgot to pick it up.”   “They also forgot to change the bed sheet, didn’t they?” It was more of a statement than a question and was heavily laden with sarcasm. The bed sheet, light pink linen with yellow flowered- patterns, might have been beautiful if there weren’t obvious smudges on it.   “I’ll make sure it’s changed,” he said in a soft, even soothing voice. He spoke in a quiet yet clear manner. She could tell that he wasn’t that young, probably in his mid-forties. He wasn’t tall either, just a little taller than she was. He was fat – at least, by her standards - with stout arms. His face, a perfect oblong, was a contrast to his stout body, and his eyes were so narrow they looked like slits on a ragged doll. His best features were perhaps his pointed nose and the dimple on his left cheek that deepened each time he spoke. In his uniform, a worn out but clean purple short sleeved shirt and black trousers, he looked neat and his finger nails, she observed when he handed the keys to her, were clean and neatly manicured.   “Is there anything else, ma?” he asked, as he turned to leave.   She shook her head. “No, nothing. Just the bed sheet.”   “Yes, Ma’am,” he nodded and left the room in long strides, probably the longest his short limbs could take.   If she wasn’t too tired, she would laugh at the irony of this man, who was at least a decade older, saying “ma’am” to her. But she was tired and as soon as he shut the door behind him, she headed for the adjoining bathroom. The repugnant odour of both air-freshener and disinfectant hit her nostrils even before she pushed the door open. Like the bedroom, the bathroom was an ugly sight. Patches of rust and dirt were in and around the bathtub; the toilet bowl, which was nearly falling to pieces, was grimy with a few flies buzzing around it; and the original colour of the sink had disappeared beneath layers of brown and greenish mould. Any hope of a late night bath was quickly dashed.   “You must do something about this room. It’s awful,” she complained to the porter when he returned with the clean bed sheet.   “Ah, madam!” he laughed pleasantly, “I am not in a position to do anything about the room. I’m just a poor errand boy.”   Although she wasn’t exactly in a mood for it, she tried to find the humour in his words. “Well, thank you,” she said, handing him a 50 naira note, one of the two she had left on her. Payment for the room had drained her of everything she had, and yet, it was unbelievably like something from a nightmare. She blamed herself for rushing to pay without first checking out the room – not like she really had any choices. It was the only hotel within the neighbourhood. At least, she’d get some sleep now that the bed sheet had been changed, she consoled herself.   But that was not to be. As soon as she began drifting off to sleep, scurrying movements began from under the bed. Stiffening, she cocked her ears to be sure she was hearing right. The movements stopped fleetingly and resumed almost immediately. She sat up with her knees raised to her chin and her eyes wide with fear. Then, she squeezed her eyes shut hoping that it’d somehow make the noise disappear, and when it didn’t, she started to pray silently.   “Oh lord, I’ve been through too much today already…..” she began feverishly, scarcely believing the ridiculousness of her words. It was also hard to believe that the shriek that filled the room minutes later came from her.    By Titilayo Olurin

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