you are, we know
what you’re doing.
The purring air-conditioning is breathing on my neck as I’m reading the text message. My eyes sting, a shiver tiptoes up my spine. It’s bloody freezing in here. With a sigh I slip my mobile into the breast pocket of my black jacket and try to concentrate on the next task. “I’m Marc Laforge”, I say in English. “Someone must have booked a room for me.”
The receptionist is a thickset guy, almost bald but for some oily, shiny strands of hair he has combed over the top of his head. He looks me up and down, then his face curls into a slimy smile. “Yes, I’ve been informed of your arrival. Let me show you to your room.” The man’s English is faultless, his facial expression sleek and polite, his words remain neutral. And yet, something bothers me. The suggestive tone perhaps? Even if “suggestive” might be an over-reaction of my imagination. I’m very tired, so everything is possible.
The receptionist leaves the reception desk and places a dank hand on my elbow. “I hope you will enjoy your stay in Hiçbiryerde”, he says, lightly pressing upon my arm. He insists a second too long, which makes me understand that, tired or not, I haven’t imagined anything. He thinks he’s subtle, but his demeanour, full of insinuations, affects me the same way it would if he was permanently winking at me.
I don’t like it. My stare turns black.
The man doesn’t even notice. He lets go of my arm and turns toward a door behind the reception desk. “Erkan!” he shouts, his voice commanding. “Erkan!”
A young boy in red livery and with very black hair slips out.
Barely looking at him, the receptionist lifts his chin, snaps his fingers and points at my luggage with a disdainful twist of his hand.
The youngster bows, joins us, lifts up my suitcases. His face remains blank, his gaze fixed on his shoes. The air-conditioning in my back is still huffing and murmuring ominous, cold messages.
With an unctuous smile, the receptionist turns back to me. “Follow me, please, sir.”
Our little group proceeds toward the bay windows. We step out onto the huge and empty terrace of a restaurant, the muggy heat immediately coating us like a film. I expected bright sunshine before coming here; but apparently, I don’t deserve sunshine. An ashen haze veils the sky and stretches like cellophane over the country. Only some diffuse, strange and wadded light filters through, bedimming all colours. Lush plants grow around the terrace, but in these conditions, they look grey and dull. Palm-trees, pines, plane-trees, rose bushes, rhododendrons, bougainvillea, all sad and motionless, waiting for something to come about, waiting for a booming event to happen, waiting for rain to cool down the atmosphere. Or maybe for the world to die in a sigh of relief.
We’ve only made three steps, and I feel like a jugged piece of meat. My clothes stick to my skin. Fortunately, I haven’t taken off my jacket. Therefore my transpiration remains an unpleasant reaction, but an invisible one. The receptionist, who’s wiggling his broad ass in front of me, is less fortunate; little by little, dark patches appear on his blue shirt.
Behind a rose-bush, a man in his fifties or sixties wearing an expensive suit and tie is sitting at one of the empty tables, holding a cigarillo as thin as his moustache in one hand. He gazes at us, deems us unworthy of his curiosity, and goes back to leafing through the latest edition of the “Hürriyet”.
On the other side of the terrace, I glimpse a swimming pool and a bar. On first sight, everything looks empty, too. Yet when we turn around a bush, I discover a couple lying on two deckchairs. A woman, a man. They’re so obviously German that I reckon no one ever asks them to show their passports when they travel abroad. I guess they are retired. They both have blondish-greyish hair and wear serious clothes—shorts and polo-shirts—as well as serious faces. All in all, they seem tidy, clean, almost statutory. The missus is reading “Brigitte”; her hubby, the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. Although they don’t lift their heads from their paragraphs, I can’t shake off the impression that they’ve been observing me.
We step down from the terrace onto a concrete path that runs in odd curves through the perfectly kept garden. “We will have to walk a bit”, the receptionist explains. “Whenever he sojourns here, Mister Zenkin asks for the dependency. You won’t be interrupted there during your—”, he turns around and puts a lewd stress on his next words, “— your working sessions.”
I don’t react. I’m hot, terribly hot, and I’m tired. I’ve been kicking my heels at the airport a whole night long. Murat has informed me at the last minute; therefore, I haven’t been able to get a direct flight. Which explains why I had to accept a stopover in Rome. I got there at eleven p.m., yesterday. A young Alitalia chick told me they had problems with the connecting flights and had re-scheduled mine for this morning. She apologized, handed me a couple of vouchers for food and beverages, and led me to the VIP-Lounge, where she left me to my own, sad devices. I tried to read, I tried to sleep. But I spent most of my time staring out of the huge bay windows, observing the star-spangled night sky above Fiumicino, which I found abominably boring. Again and again, I paced up and down the muffled, soulless containment, turning around and around like the proverbial tiger in its cage.
My thoughts were turning around and around, too. Turning, turning, turning, a real washing machine.
No surprise that I’m so weary now. I never wanted to mull over things so much. It’s that Jane has provided serious ground for thought; that’s why I’ve accepted Murat’s invitation without hesitating a moment. I wanted, I needed some days to breathe. In order to not go bonkers. I shouldn’t have counted on Alitalia, though, to help.
We leave the concrete path and reach a low building. “Has Mister Zenkin arrived yet?” I want to know.
“Not yet”, the receptionist says. “We expect him to arrive this evening. He has asked me to tell you that he’ll… summon you as soon as he needs you.” This choice of phrasing seems to please him a lot; he can’t help but express his satisfaction that someone he must consider as socially superior is treated like an underdog by someone else, who’s even higher up the social ladder. “In the meantime—do you need something?” he asks, his voice still smug, satisfied, almost complicit.
“No,” I answer in a dry tone. “Just, you know, do what you’re paid for. Show me to my room, for a starter. That’s all I ask.” This is so not me! But that guy needs to understand that as a client, I remain superior to him. We’ll never be best mates.
I notice that my attitude hits home. The man’s sleek obsequiousness cracks and lets me catch a glimpse of irritation as he says, “This way, sir. Your room is upstairs. Follow me.”