This post is a true story and contains some swearing and drug use.
I slouch into work, clutching a pack of cigarettes in one hand, and a bag of takeaway Chinese in the other. The receptionist I am taking over from grins at me altogether too cheerfully, and I grunt at him.
“Aww, don’t be like that!” he smirks.
“It’s all very well for you,” I snap back. “It’s Friday night and you’re probably off to get totally hammered before crawling back here tomorrow.”
He grins even more cheerfully. “I sure am!”
“Yeah, yeah, fuck you,” I mutter, shoulder barging the office door and dumping my things on the counter.
“There’s nothing much happening tonight,” he says, while signing off his check-in sheet for the day. We run a very, very dodgy hotel here, at the very bottom end of the market, but we still have something that sort of passes for records, and things must be signed before we can flee back to our lives. “You might get that old hooker wandering in later, but it’s not like she’s any bother.”
“Sandy? Nah, she’s great. We watch the X-Files together” I reply.
The other receptionist raises an eyebrow, but I just shrug. “Hey, it’s better than that fucking six foot speed junkie that tried to have a go at me last week.” The other eyebrow joins the first, and he smirks. “Yeah, that’s a fair call.” He grabs his bag from under the counter, and swings it on his back as he moves towards the door.
“It was nice of them to get the door fixed so quickly after that dickhead kicked it in,” he remarks, rapping his knuckles on it as he scoots through the doorway. I just grunt in return.
“And on that DELIGHTFULLY cheery note, I’m outta here. Good luck kiddo! And try and remember to eat dinner at some stage, okay?”
I roll my eyes and wave him off dismissively. “Yes MUM. Go, have fun, get shitfaced.”
Opening my book, I settle onto the stool and prepare to wait out the night.
About three AM, one of the guests comes down to the reception desk. Usually this signals trouble, but tonight the guest in question seems to just want to talk. She looks young, maybe nineteen, and incredibly tired. Her arms are dotted with track marks, and she paces as she talks, scratching at her arms and compulsively running her hands through her hair. She doesn’t seem to be too fussed if I am actually listening, but the muddle of words tumbling out of her mouth draws me in, and I put my book aside. I seem to have come in at the middle of her story, but I’m not so sure she actually started at the start anyway. She looks like things probably haven’t been too straight in her head for a long time now.
“You’re probably not going to believe this, but I grew up in a really religious family,” she says, still pacing so I have to crane my neck like I’m watching tennis to hear her properly. She’s right though. I probably wouldn’t have believed it to look at her. She is running around barefoot in the lobby of a skanky King’s Cross hotel, after all. But hey, so I am, right?
“My father was a pastor, and he was so into religion, and I was too, I mean I really, really believed it. Well, I still do, but my father doesn’t talk to me anymore. I know God still loves me though. God never stops loving you, no matter what. You know that, right?” She pauses, frozen, pinning me with her wide eyed gaze. I’m stuck for a moment, wondering how I’m supposed to respond to that, or if it even matters. Eventually I nod and smile, and she resumes her pacing like a clockwork toy that’s been wound up again.
“So I was in this really religious family, and I would go to church all the time, and my father loved me, he loved me so much, but then I met this boy, and we got together, and I loved him, but my father hated him and told me I couldn’t see him any more. So I had to decide what to do, you know, and I was in love with this boy, so I ran away from home with him, because I loved him, right?” She pauses again, and once more a nod and smile gets her and the story moving again.
“I haven’t spoken to my father since then, but God still loves me, and I love that boy so much. We ran away together, and I’m not sure if he really loves me, but I love him, and where would I go, you know?”
She reminds me of someone I can’t place for a while, the way her tiny, bony body is swamped by the dress she’s wearing, the way her eyes seem about three sizes too big for her face. Then I remember a night years before, when I had run away from home myself, and wandered around the small town I grew up in, alone in the middle of the night. There had been a woman walking down the footpath towards me, and I’d heard her sobbing before I saw her in the dark. She was pale and thin, just like this girl, and had been wandering down the street in a lace edged slip, barefoot, crying, tousled black hair straggling over her eyes. Alone in the middle of the night. I remember wondering why she was crying, but I didn’t have the courage to ask. Maybe she wouldn’t have answered. The girl in front of me hasn’t even noticed my attention wander, and is still rambling.
“I’ve got nowhere to go anymore, and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere, because I love him. I mean, I did hear him say that if you get a girl hooked on heroin she will do anything you want, and he did get me started on smack, but it’s not like that with us, I know it’s not. You’ve met him, right?”
Again, that wide eyed stare, and I wrack my brains trying to think who she could mean. Then I remember the total fucking arsehole I had an argument with last weekend because we had to charge him an extra cleaning fee because his room had been covered in blood. And by covered, I mean it was on the roof, soaked into the mattress, and all over the walls. He claimed it had been a shaving accident, and he shouldn’t be charged. The cleaner told me it looked like he had had an injecting accident, hit a vein or an artery or something, and the blood had sprayed. We usually made a special effort NOT to know if any of our guests were injecting drugs in our rooms, but when they spray blood all over the place as a result it becomes our problem. But god, what was his name…
“You mean Mark?” I venture. “The guy who got blood all over his room?”
She giggles for a second, then her hands fly to her face to stifle the noise and the smile, like she has done something wrong. “Yeah, that’s Mark,” she says. “He was soooo mad about that. He thought you were being a total bitch. But I know you were just doing your job, right? I mean, fuck, that blood was eeeeeevverrrrywhere.”
She leans in and whispers conspiratorially, “He had an accident.”
I lean in too, and whisper, “I figured as much.”
Again she bursts into giggles, tiny, bony bird like hands over her mouth, but failing to stop the smile this time.
“That’s your boyfriend?” I ask. “I mean, really? He seems like kind of a dick.”
She shrugs. “I love him, you know?”
She starts her clockwork pacing again, and the monologue continues.
“I mean, I do. I really love him. And that’s what matters. And where would I go, anyway? He’s everything to me. And I have a habit now. My cousin offered to put me in detox, but I would have to leave him, and I don’t want to do that. I’m sure it will work out. It’s all going to be worth it. You’ll see. I know.”
Her clockwork sticks, and she freezes. Suddenly she turns on me and demands, “How old are you?”
“23,” I reply. “Why?”
That little giggle escapes again, and she smiles. “Just like me.”
“Yeah,” I reply, a little stunned. “Just like you.”
She continues pacing and mumbling for a while, but to be honest I’m not really listening any more. I’m not in any shape to hear any one’s confession at the best of times, let alone anything like this, and this is far from the best of times. Eventually she winds down and wanders off to bed. I glance at the time, and note there is only another hour before it’s time for me to go up on the roof and hang up the washing. I like doing that – I get to watch the sun come up over King’s Cross, and all the tiny little night people scurrying back to their hidey holes while the day people take over. I open up my book again, settle back into my chair, and try and shake the girl’s tiny bony hands from my mind.