(This piece comes from Matthew Salt, a writer from the U.K. He has travelled widely and lived in the US, various parts of Europe, and the Falkland Islands. Matthew currently lives in Hat Yai in southern Thailand, where he works as a teacher. He has had many bizarre experiences along the way and would like to share them.)
Recently I journeyed to London for a visit to the British Library. Being but a poor postgraduate student I opted for the low-budget easyHotel near to Victoria station.
The room was clean, bright, cheap (my main concern), and small and orange enough to perhaps constitute a human-rights violation. But it had what I needed: a bed, a bathroom and walls and a door that locked. It had a TV too, but I hadn’t paid the extra to use it.
That evening I went out for a lonely pint or several at a pub just across the road from the hotel entrance. Back in my room considerably later I lay on the bed in the windowless pitch dark, naked, as is my usual sleeping preference.
At some unknowable point in the middle of the night I woke up confused in the darkness, entirely unable to comprehend my surroundings and urgently needing a wee. Following a brief claustrophobic panic as I seemed only to find walls and things to stub my toes and fingers on, I finally got into the narrow gulley between the end of the bed and the desk. From there I stumbled the two steps to the bathroom door.
To my considerable consternation a bright light burned into my eyeballs as soon as I opened the door. Drawn forth nonetheless, I stepped into the light and the door made a soft and smugly definite click behind me.
Something was gravely wrong. What was going on? Where were the expected Houdini-tight facilities of shower, toilet and sink? The bathroom was a long row of doors? Had I gone totally insane? Was I dead? Was I staying in the easyTardis by mistake?
Oh, I thought. Oh dear. Not the bathroom. The hallway. I am not in the bathroom. I am in the hallway. And I am stark naked. And I need a wee. And the door is shut and cannot be opened without the plastic key card which, unsurprisingly, I do not currently have currently concealed about, or in, my person.
My calm and reasoned response to this catastrophe, as its true inexorable horror dawned on me, was first to deny it altogether and then to breakdown like a lost child. I leant my head on the implacable door and made strange moaning noises. “Oh my god, oh my god, this can’t be happening. This is a dream. it must be a dream. It’s not a dream. This is real. No it’s not. Help. I need a wee.”
What does one do in such a situation? How inadequate is our education, our upbringing, that it does not prepare one, provide one with an obvious contingency plan and set of steps to be taken when stuck in a hotel corridor stark naked in the middle of the night! Wait for the maid? Tear down a curtain and wear it like a toga? Hide behind a plant pot? Commit suicide?
There is being naked, which let’s admit we all experience from time to time, and there is being naked, a terrible sense of exposed vulnerability and wrongness. It felt that not merely my body was exposed but me, the real weak and pathetic me, slave to bodily demands and semi-conscious impulses.
I stared down the hall as it shimmered back and forth in the glare from an orange version of Alice in Wonderland to something out of The Shining. Any one of those innumerable doors could open at any moment. Hell, they could all open at once, disgorging families with children, vulnerable people with weak hearts, angry men who find it necessary to punish apparent deviance. They would see me, all the people who did things properly in hotels with their keys and sleeping attire.
I shivered to think what crimes I was simultaneously committing standing there like that.
The sudden thought that there were probably cameras in the hallways and that I was already on YouTube fired me into taking action. I had to do something. It was that simple.
I had a brilliant idea, formed from a cold assessment of the facts: “I don’t have a key. I need a key. I will go the front desk, three floors down, and get a new one.” There, solved.
I set off down the hall, bold as brass. The lift I dismissed at once for obvious reasons. The English may have an acute ability to look the other way in embarrassing situations, to empathise with the shame of others, to assume that if something is ignored it will go away and be forgotten over a cup of tea, but I think encountering me nude in the lift might have pushed that somewhat.
So I took the stairs (for use in emergencies) padding down the floors cold step by cold step. To my great relief (and disbelief) no one came up the stairs and I reached the lobby unobserved. I cautiously pushed open the door, not wanting to give prospective visitors to the hotel the wrong idea about where they were staying. But the lobby appeared mercifully empty. The front desk was on the far side and there was a sort of pillar in the middle. This I headed for and hid behind. I called to the young, bored-looking man behind the desk and attempted to explain my situation, painfully aware all the time of the glass doors to the street.
And here is where I must give all praise to the cool professionalism and world experience of the easyHotel staff, at least as embodied in this man. I had expected a smirk or a look of shock or even fear, but got no expression at all. He just asked for the room number and my name, checked it, and then tiredly reached for a new key. Even as I approached the desk to take the key from him, mumbling a laughing, embarrassed apology, one hand outstretched, the other doing its best to cover my necessaries, his face remained blank.
“Happens all the time mate,” he said.
This happens all the time? I would’ve loved to have pursued that assertion but the sanctuary of my room and the urgency of my bladder called me away. I mumbled a sincere thanks and went back to the stairs, conscious of my exposed retreating buttocks, not a sight anyone deserves in the middle of the night, least of all that excellent person. I wondered if he observed this retreat at all or had already lost interest in this evidently common occurrence.
Incredibly, I managed to get back up the stairs and down the hall to my room without being caught or arrested.
No tiny orange room was ever more beautiful, more welcoming, than the one I returned to. If I’d been told at that moment that I’d died and that this was where I’d spend eternity, I’d have been happy.
And by god, what a wee to remember that was.