I arrived at the hotel three hours later than planned. The delayed flight, the jet lag, and the not-so-welcome thunderstorm had tiring effects on my body and mind. My phone battery was running low, and I was desperate to get a quick shower and long sleep. As soon as I checked in, I locked the door, double-checked it twice (self-preservation and security are of utmost importance to a single young lady living by herself), plugged my phone to charge, and went straight to shower.
As usual, the hot water had a healing effect on my body. I relaxed and simply stood in the steamy shower, recalling my schedule for the next three days of my stay there. Minutes into this ‘underwater meditation’, I heard a sudden movement…Adrenalin was pumped and it kick started my natural instincts , urging me to turn and check if the bathroom was properly secured. I listened intently to any sounds coming from my room, my imagination having given the alarm that the hotel fellows might have invaded it with a spare key. However, the only sound I could hear then was that of my racing heart pounding against my chest.
Minutes passed in utter silence. I almost concluded that my poor nerves were playing tricks on me, when I heard footsteps…and a hum. But what surprised me was the fact that the sounds came from the room next door. Perhaps, the first sound that I heard also came from there..I probably hadn’t noticed. I was more shocked, and very unpleasantly too, by the realization that the hotel rooms were too close to each other, and the walls were perfectly pervious to sound.
I tried to concentrate on my shower, and not feel disturbed by the fact that whoever is showering in the next room (for I could hear the sound of running water apart from that of mine) would hear whatever random and fancy cacophony I make during my imaginary concerts. I, being a terrible singer who loves to sing, have always made it a point to spare humanity from ear bleed, by confining my showcase of talent within my private cubicle…”Perhaps, for the next three days, I should give my vocal cords good rest”, I told myself.
As much as I was troubled with these thoughts, I couldn’t help but notice that the male voice singing next door was really good. His hum slowly paved way to a proper song, which I identified as one of my old favorites.. My troubles were soon swept away by the soothing melody, and I felt the brimming emotions being conveyed through the song…The voice was the most enchanting one I had ever heard in person. When the song ended, I couldn’t help but clap and exclaim, ‘Bravo!’.
It took me a few seconds to register the reality of the situation. I was reminded of the sound-pervious walls, and I almost died of embarrassment. Listening to the sudden silence that filled the air, I began to desperately pray that the outstanding musical talent was deaf.. like Beethoven.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t. I heard a controlled chuckle..a rather cute one. Then, as if to acknowledge my appreciation, came an almost inaudible , but sincere ‘Thank you’. Just listening to it, I was almost sure that my neighbor was as embarrassed as I was..and probably blushing too. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought.
I wanted to talk to him, but decided not to. Being an introvert, I always found it difficult to cultivate new friendships, even when I had the chance. I decided it was better to not pursue my curiosity about this singer, since I was there just for three days, and that too for an important business.
That night, I dreamt of a beautiful young man in white, playing the piano and singing the same song I heard in the shower.
The alarm rang at sharp 5:30 am, and I reluctantly pulled myself out of the cozy bed. I had only an hour left before my cab was scheduled to arrive. While brushing my teeth, I thought about the dream, and the talented neighbor who inspired it.
“Umm..Thank you for your appreciation yesterday.. and you don’t have to feel embarrassed”, said that enchanting voice from across the wall. I almost jumped in surprise, half-curious as to how he was awake and using his bathroom at that hour. Nevertheless, the deep sincerity in his statement urged me to reply, even when the introvert in me was screaming not to.
“Oh..OK..Thank you too…You are a blessed singer”, I replied after spitting out the toothpaste.
“That makes me happy”, said he.
Minutes passed, and I almost thought he left, when a question came:
“Do you sing”?
“Nope, I don’t”, came my immediate reply…I definitely didn’t want him to know that I sing only cacophonies.
“But I really appreciate music..and musicians.”, I added.
“I thought so.”, replied the voice.
It was then that my phone rang the 5:40 am alarm (that was meant to wake me up, just in case I pulled back the covers and went off to doze again), and I realized I was getting late.
“Well..gotta go…Goodbye”, I said.
“Good bye, and good to have met you”, came the reply.
I thought how the reply didn’t make much sense, since we hadn’t actually met..not yet.
That evening and the next day, I had more across-the-wall conversation with this familiar stranger. Even without needing to use the bathroom, I found myself there, searching for that voice. And curiously, whenever I turned the tap on in the pretext of using the washbasin, I would hear movements across the wall. Something in me began to warn that the experience was getting creepy, and that I should stay away from this fascination. But curiosity, and a strange emotion washing over my mental system, prompted me to initiate conversations whenever I heard any response from the ‘other side’.
During the conversations, which I shall not mention here for lack of time, I learnt that the young man was a graduate in music, a determined and self-motivated fellow, who was there to meet his favorite music producer to kick start his career in music industry. He sounded hopeful, and I cheered him on.
Apart from music, we talked about many random things, including books, politics, and about my plans to publish a book.
Every time I went out of my room, I would stop by the next door, and would almost ring the bell…And every time the bell of my room rang, my heart would race in anticipation, and I’d open the door to find the room boy.
I will never forget how the conversation ended the second night.
“I’ll be leaving tomorrow. It really was good to know you..Before I leave, shall we meet once? I’d like to come and say goodbye in person”, I had uttered the words after going through it a million times in my head.
Silence..An uncomfortable silence filled the room, almost as if the walls had suddenly turned sound-proof.
“It’s better if you don’t come looking for me”, the voice replied.
I felt a sharp pain in my chest, almost as if I was struck not by sound waves, but by lightening.
I couldn’t say anything…nay, I didn’t want to say anything.
“Good night”, the voice said…and it sounded more like a ‘goodbye’ to me.
“Goodbye”, I replied.
I couldn’t sleep that night. And when I finally did, I dreamt of that beautiful man singing and playing the piano…not in white, but in red…the red of blood.
The next day morning, as I checked out, I handed the receptionist a letter to be delivered to my mysterious neighbor. The letter was a quick note with my regards, my best wishes, and my e-mail address, with a vain hope that we might continue to be friends, even without seeing each other once.
The receptionist received it with bewilderment.
“Ma’am…are you sure you didn’t mistake the room no.”?, he inquired.
“Of course not..Please deliver this letter to the person currently occupying the room to the left of mine..Room no. 301. I believe he hasn’t checked out yet.”
The receptionist continued to look at me with a strange mix of shock, confusion…and fear.
“But madam…sorry to say this, and I don’t know what happened..You must have been mistaken. Currently, no one is occupying that room..Not since a young man committed suicide out of depression three months ago.”
The irritation I had been feeling till then, was soon replaced with an eeriness.
“But..how can that be? I heard-”
I stopped…logic and reasoning having failed to account for my experience.
As I stood frozen in the reception hall, my eyes went blurry, and all I could hear was a quiet whisper..
“I told you not to come looking for me..”
This piece of fiction was inspired by my stay in a hotel room a few months ago. My mother and I occupied the room next to the one shared by my father and brother. The bathrooms of both the rooms were separated by a sound-pervious wall…and my brother and I had quick conversations across it. Even in my hostel, as the common bathrooms are next to each other, my friends and I often have talks while taking bath, sometimes singing and listening to songs, and it could be fun.
I’m posting after a short break I took to focus on my exams. I’ve a lot to catch up here, and I promise I’ll visit my fellow bloggers soon..can’t wait to read your works!
To all the Malayali bloggers and readers, I wish you and your dear ones a very happy and prosperous onam…!