Posted by: Corri van de Stege | October 1, 2008

Write on Wednesday – Slow down: He does not know what I’m saying


It’s Wednesday again, this time I slowed down the day before and wrote a story:


Slow down – He does not know what I’m saying.


The hotel is modern and newly refurbished, the secretary at the company says.  She sighs, ‘It’s lovely. It even has an Asda right opposite and there are two good Indian restaurants nearby and an Italian.  I know, I live in the area.  I’ll call you a taxi.  It’s quite a long way from here, mind.’ 

            ‘How far is it?’ I ask

            ‘Oh, at least 6 miles.  Will cost you a good sixteen quid, easily.’  She looks at me as if she wonders whether I’ll be able to afford that. She certainly is not. 

            ‘Well, I’ll have to get there somehow,’  I say.

            She wrinkles her eyebrows, starts as if she’s going to offer me to take me when she goes home but then thinks the better of it.  I go down in the lift and go outside through the large glass swing doors to wait outside for the taxi.  It’s a dead end street, just outside the city shopping centre, most fronts are boarded up and then there’s this glass covered brand new building which seems unsure whether it wants to be there. The taxi pulls up after ten minutes, while I stand there and gulp in the fresh air after the daily stale ration.  The driver comes out round the back of the taxi to peer at the address on my confirmation print-out and then says he knows probably where it is but he’ll check with his office.  He’s dressed in the brown long Indian tunic over the long loose skirt and he is at ease with himself.  His grey thin beard flops underneath a thin brown face which has a look of amusement, as if he’s just decided that I’m actually quite funny.  He hands me back the printed hotel confirmation and says ‘Do not worry, I will know.  They will find out for me,’ mixing his brummi and Indian accent in a pleasant and expressive drawl. 

He rings his centre and is given the directions, I hear the girl over the tannoy confirming the details with him as he sets off into the traffic that grinds to a halt in the busy evening rush hour.  The secretary was right, it costs twenty quid to get there.  I’ll need a hole in the wall, at this rate.  The hotel receptionist tells me that Asda, opposite the road, will have holes in the wall.  Asda is clearly indispensible in this part of the town and when I walk across a little later, after  I have left my suitcase, checked the room, the bathroom and the bed,  I am tempted by one of those little cheese cakes in the big store even though I will eat in the hotel later and have booked a table and don’t need these additional calories.  I cross the road amidst traffic cones around repairs and cannot see either an Indian restaurant or an Italian along the fast thoroughfare outside the hotel and the construction and building that is going on just to the left of it. 

            The hotel room has a faint smell of building repairs, of fresh paint, glued carpets that have only recently come off their heavy rolls and been fitted, new furniture, tightly packed into a small but comfortable space.  The flat screen television on the wall contrasts sharply with the huge and old-fashioned apparatus that was positioned in the corner of the very large room in Wales that I slept in only a few days ago.  In Wales, in that hotel room, when I tried to switch off the television at night the batteries fell out of the back of the remote control and I would have to cross the vast space from bed to television, with the wine coloured imitation leather sofa, the low coffee table, the sideboard with real old fashioned china, a water jug and washing bowl decorated with large red and green flowers, the large oak linnen cupboard with a door that would open with a creak unless securely locked with a copper key, another side table with the water kettle, cups, sachets of coffee, tea, sugar and cocoa.  The last time I stayed in that room I brought a 60 watt bulb for the bedside light to be able to read without my eyes watering in the yellowness of the glare that would make the letters dance across the page.

The room I’m staying in tonight has lights that work and the remote control is slender, new and perfect.  There are  pictures on the wall to remind me that outside the room the hotel has all the hospitality of an Indian luxury rest house, with handsome staff dressed in smart black shirts and skirts and trousers, dark red vests that fit snugly across slim bodies, and who politely open doors, stand in attention in the reception area and the restaurant.  They smile a lot, these young boys and girls, newly taken on in this restored hotel,  as if to emphasise the pleasantness of this little eastern recluse in the middle of a cosmopolitan city and to convince me and other guests that they are our true hosts.  The paintings on the wall in my room show a male sitting on a mat, dressed in the long deep red coloured robe with little yellow dots,  a sash around the waist and the man has a rose in one of his hands and he has a flat and moustachioed face like an apple that has dropped off the branch too early, before it was ripe, as he stares at the female in the picture opposite.  She wears a similar robe but she looks younger, maidenly and with wide charcoaled eyes that are full of expectation.  

Then you send me a text message but I ignore it, I do not want the outside world to intrude on my retreat, my enjoyment of this make-belief world. 

            I eat my dinner facing the reception area.  I cannot see any of the other diners, as I have been placed at the front most table and with my back to the body of the restaurant and while I wait for my food I start reading a story in Tobias Wolff’s collection that I have brought with me.  Jean in the story  ‘Coming attractions’ could be living here in this city, as alienated from the world around her as I am, living her own small existence that is as unsure of what normal is as I am when I move from one hotel to another.  There are only a handful of other hotel guests eating here at this early time of the evening.  As I am served my mild chicken dish with plain basmati rice, one or two more guests trickle in, business people on their own, clutching a book in one hand and their room key in the other.  I am not in the mood for a spicy tandoori, a prawn biryani or a chicken tikka massala.  As the evening draws in earlier now that the summer is at an end it becomes dark outside, while taxis come and go to drop off more hotel guests, men in suits or shirt sleeves, pleasantly joking with the girls behind the desk,  dropping their bags on the floor to sign their names and search for their credit cards.  Some hold suits in black or dark blue covers.  A few people come sauntering in without any luggage as if they are at home in this place and will be staying for days on end.   A woman, smartly dressed in skirt suit, moves from the reception area into the restaurant, peers at the menu on one of the tables and talks with the female supervisor who shakes her head when the woman peers under the gleaming silver-coloured lids on the row of large pots that are lined up for the next day breakfast  just outside the open hatch to the kitchen.  She shows her the menu and they both have a brief conversation with the cook behind the hatch.  A little later she carries a tray of food away from the restaurant, her bag dangling from her right arm, and disappears into the corridor off the reception.  When I have finished eating, the waiter carefully puts a hot and steaming white flannel, wrapped in thin plastic, on a small plate on my table and I smile at him.

            ‘Can I have a decaffeinated coffee?’ I ask.

            ‘Tea, madam?’ he says with a heavy accent, looks at me with uncomprehending large brown eyes and a mouth in a question mark as his dark face beams at me full of promise.  He does not know what I am asking for.  Then, shyly, he says ‘No.’  

            Back in my room I make myself a coffee from one of the little sachets.  That night I dream and you and I are laid like naked Buddha’s straightened on a large black and white charcoal painted bed, our hands are folded across our stomachs and there is a thin space between us.  A boy with black glossy hair shows me the picture that he has drawn, the picture that shows us as sleeping Buddha’s, round and satisfied.  He does not know that we made love before he drew our picture, and we dream.




  1. Wonderful! I was with you the entire journey and I just love the end.

    Two yank questions:

    1. What is an Asda?
    2. Is a “brummy” accent, that long Biiiiirmingham one?

  2. Marvelous story – I could feel you slowing down from your busy day and taking in all the details of the hotel and the surroundings, observing and processing it all.

    And I have to echo lisa’s questions – what’s an Asda and a “brummy” accent, please?

  3. I like your story. You painted a great picture of your protag’s state of mind during the course of the story.

  4. Beautiful story…

    How groovy can you get?

  5. Thank you all for reading this story – I’m still working on it!
    Asda is a chain of supermarkets, at the cheaper end. And yes, a brummi accent is a Birmingham accent (clipped and at the same time loooong)
    Now you know two more English secrets…

  6. I won’t tell any of my yank friends 🙂

  7. Loved this. Read every detail. Did not hurry. Loved the ending. This was a treat.

  8. LIsa: good.
    Oh: glad you enjoyed this little escapade

  9. It is wonderful you wrote a story. I loved reading it.

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