Day One: The Bellhop
He woke up in a cold sweat. It was the same old nightmare again, he thought to himself as he rubbed his eyes and then sat up in his bed. One nightmare had passed, but the nightmare of daily life still remained for him, he thought to himself as he looked at the small and cramped bedroom as the dull light of an overcast morning and saw the hotel’s gold fleur-de-lis on the red fabric of his bedsheets. He looked at the clock on his desk and saw that he had thirty minutes until he needed to take a shower before his shift began at the hotel. He had enough time to read, he decided.
He looked at the small bookshelf, filled with books he had read through before, many of them several or even dozens of times. His copies of the six complete novels of Jane Austen–one must not forget Lady Susan alongside her justifiable classics–were well worn, but he did not feel like he was in the mood this morning to read romance novels, as the mood sometimes struck him. He looked at his copies of the plays of Jean-Paul Sartre, appreciating that some French Esperantist had translated the plays from French into Esperanto and had appeared to capture the flavor of the French. He wondered who it might be that had done the translation, but the book itself did not say. He could not read in French, but he had read at least a couple of English language translations of Sartre’s plays, particularly No Exit, of which he was most fond, but there was something about the Esperanto version he read that captured the mood of the play better than the English translations.
He wondered why this was the case. It was perhaps unusual why a man in his position would worry so much about the problem of communication, but he pondered about it all the same. He tried to think about the life he had known before the hotel, but there was so much more that he could not remember. Had he always been this pensive and reflective, he wondered to himself. Certainly he had never been particularly handsome or skilled with people, because surely his obsessive ruminations on the problem of loneliness and communication suggested he had always been to some extent trapped inside his own mind unable to escape, but it appeared that part of his life, at least, had not yet changed for him. He wished he could remember more, but he realized he wanted to get some reading done before he had to go about the tedious tasks of his day and so he picked up his Esperanto Bible and took a look at it.
He tried to keep himself on a daily Bible reading program as a way of keeping the passing days, weeks, months, and years in mind, but the Bible had the apocrypha in it and so it did not correspond exactly to most of the Bible reading programs that he found. He thought it odd that the Bible had been translated into Esperanto by a group that included both Catholic and Protestant Esperantists, and it was, non-inspired bits notwithstanding, a pretty good Bible that used tenses in a thoughtful and interesting way. He was currently racing through 2 Corinthians, which would take only a few days to read as he read at least three or four chapters a day, and he got to one of the verses for the day’s reading: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.” Paul could speak for himself, because he definitely felt, many days, in despair. And yet he somehow managed to soldier on anyway, although he hardly knew why often. How long had it been since he had left the hotel to go anywhere at all? He could not remember. He turned his mind once again to his reading so that he could keep his mind off of his own personal problems.
After the shower he put on his red bellhop uniform and hat and shoes and walked to the lobby. It was, as always, empty. He looked at his computer screen idly but did not see anything of interest. It was time for him to begin his daily look through the empty rooms of the hotel and do his inspections. Today was the first day of the week, and so he would have the two wings of twelve rooms apiece on the first floor to look at. He had done it so many times that he had memorized the voluminous rules and procedures and did not even need to look at them any longer except when his memory failed him, which was not as often as it had been before when he had been relatively new. So he turned and walked away from the desk in the lobby and walked past the empty restaurant and lounge and turned to the right to go by the first twelve rooms. He opened the doors and looked through the room in detail, scanning over the bedsheets and mirrors and windows and air conditioning units, amazed that no matter how often he came in here there was no dust and there were no insects or anything else. Every week when he looked at these rooms it was always the same, and yet the procedures said to inspect the rooms and so he did. Room by room, it was the exact same, as each of the empty rooms was ready to receive a visitor should one ever come by.
But none had come by. In all of the years that he had been in the hotel, there had not even been a single guest. He was a practical enough person to wonder how a hotel could be open that long and have no business at all. He still got paid, after all, not that he had anywhere to spend his money. For whatever reason he could not leave the hotel grounds, so there was nowhere to eat except if he stayed in and cooked up something in the restaurant himself. Most days he wasn’t even hungry enough to do that, and yet he never gained or lost weight, no matter if he cooked himself up some ridiculous amount of chicken parmesan or if he went weeks or months without eating anything at all. It was very peculiar, he thought to himself. He could go online and buy books, he supposed, but he had nowhere to put them. His room was already full of books and if he added anymore, he would have to start putting them under his bed. There was nowhere else to put him. He thought of the small box on his desk and realized he didn’t want to move that anywhere else. He wondered if he could persuade the hotel management to turn one of the empty rooms into a library, at least so that he could get enough books to read something new for a change. How long had it been since he had read a book that wasn’t in his small library or a book that he downloaded from online? He couldn’t remember.
That was another thing. It had been forever since he had interacted with anyone else. It had been many years since anyone from hotel management had come by to the hotel to see that everything was alright, and once they were convinced that he knew what he was doing, they left and had never found any reason to return. They sent no e-mails or no telephone calls. The only reason he knew he was still employed is that he still got his wages paid daily. That was one of the quirks of the hotel that he worked for, in that they were some of the few employers to take the Bible seriously enough when it prohibited employers from stealing from their employees by keeping their pay in arrears rather than paying at the end of every day. Nowhere he had ever worked had paid him in a timely fashion as the scriptures commanded, and yet here where there was nothing to spend his money on and nowhere to go he was paid promptly. From time to time he had ideas on how the hotel could be improved, but his messages went into a black hole of silence and no one ever replied to them or acknowledged them even. It was the weirdest thing. It was as if he had been entirely forgotten and that no one knew or even cared he existed. He just lived from day to day, performing the same mundane tasks, taking every Sabbath off as commanded, as well as the Holy Days which were always programmed on his calendar, remembering to look up twice the number of floors every preparation day so that no floor would ever be missed even if nothing ever happened and there was no one there.
He tried to keep his thoughts to himself as he looked through all of the rooms first on one wing and then on another. He caught a glance of himself in the mirror, and thought he looked particularly plain. Somehow even though he got no sunlight his freckles had not entirely faded, and he had never had to change his prescription for glasses, which was good as he had no idea how he would have done so in his position. His shoes had not worn out, just like the Israelites who wandered through the wilderness for forty years, and he had enough uniforms for an entire week so that he only had to do laundry once a week on Friday afternoons and then he could rest on the Sabbath as God had commanded. Yet there was no one for him to assemble with, and that thought depressed him greatly. He tried to keep himself from talking, as he knew that talking to himself would likely be the first sign of madness. Maybe there were other signs of madness that he had, he wondered, but there was no one to tell him whether he was mad or whether he was just odd as a result of spending his entire existence alone. Perhaps he had been an odd fellow even before any of this had happened to him. He could not remember what he had been like before. Had he always been this strange, always been this intensely focused on things, always this frustrated with solitude and loneliness and the absence of friendly company to talk to, or someone to hug? He did not ask for much.
He returned to the lobby after verifying for the umpteenth time that the rooms were as they had been before, and as he approached his desk he heard a beep. What did that mean? He had never heard that beep as long as he had worked at the hotel, and so his interest was piqued. Something that was new and unusual was rare in his world, and so he was starved for novelty as much as he was starved for friendly conversation and gentle affection. He tried not to think of these things, as that would only depress him further, and so he with his head slightly tilted to the left as he did when he was puzzled by something, he walked behind the desk and looked at his computer and when he looked at the screen he could not believe it. His hotel’s reservation system had let him know that he had two guests to expect today. He looked at the massive book next to him, and realized that he had never checked anyone in and should probably catch up on his reading so that he had some idea of what to do in the system when his guests arrived, as they were scheduled to that day. With a renewed sense of purpose he opened the book and looked at the procedures for checking guests into the hotel. Perhaps he was not all alone in the universe after all? The thought brightened his mood.