“Dear passengers, we just initiated our descent to the airport…”
His eyes snapped open. Finally there. Why did he felt so depressed? He checked the window in time to see the last sunbeams licking the beautiful skyline of the city.
This is a special place indeed he thought. Then, why did he felt so frustrated? Deep down he knew. That looming loneliness again. Growing wider under the surface. It felt like a massive void threatening to crush his soul.
“Hello Mr. Page, welcome back,” said the coffer while he picked his suitcase.
“I have instructions from the embassy to take you to your new hotel. So please follow me.”
James followed the man without a second thought. His mind was still hooked on that feeling of emptiness.
The car rolled down the busy streets of the city. Life. Pure and raw life. That’s what the city smelled of. The flavors of busyness. There was no other city like this one on Earth.
The car stopped in front of the hotel. James paused. That wasn’t his hotel. What did the man had said, something about a change of hotel, right? Yes, that was it.
He pulled out of the car and sat down at the reception desk, hesitation creeping. Was this really his hotel?
“Hello, sir. What can I do for you?”
“I believe I have a reservation under my name? Page, James Page.”
The receptionist sat down and checked her screen. She smiled. That was good, right?
“Ah, here you are Mr. Page. Welcome to the City Hotel. It’s a pleasure having you staying with us. Please, do you mind following me to your room?”
Wait, what? Follow? He stood up and tentatively followed the receptionist. This wasn’t the usual. Where was he staying at?
She walked with military grace, all business, no nonsense.
“Is it your first time in the city?” she asked with enthusiasm, though.
“No, the second time.” He smiled.
“Ah, how do you like it then?”
“It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. The vibrancy of this town is like no other.” he conceded.
She gave him a big smile and nodded.
He believed every single word. He was already cheering up. There was something in the air that was electric and contagious.
She walked him to the room and gave him a tour. Impressive he thought. Due to embassy matters, he visited many hotels. This was probably one of the best ones he had ever seen. That was no small feat.
He thanked her, closed the door and dropped dead on the bed. He still felt tired but nothing that a shower wouldn’t fix.
Still wet he walked to the window. The views were arresting. The soul of the city at his feet. He could feel the beating of the city’s heart. This was going to be a good night he thought. The ringing of the phone broke his trance.
“Hello Mr. Page, it’s the embassy calling. It’s to inform you that we’re expecting you at the embassy’s premises for an informal cocktail tonight.”
“Ah, ok, sounds good. Do you mind if I take a walk instead of a car? I’ve had a long flight, and I would love some fresh air” he replied.
“Sure Mr. Page, the cocktail starts at 8:30 pm so feel free to drop by whenever you want. We’ll be expecting you.”
“Ok, thank you, see you later then.”
“Oh, by the way, other guests are also invited to the cocktail. I believe they also want to walk there. Do you mind if I put you in touch with them?”
“Not at all, I’ll be happy to have company.”
“Ok, will do. See you later Mr. Page”.
He hanged the phone and went back to the window. Good night indeed. He was already feeling it. It was a stupid feeling, but one he had learned not to ignore. It came from time to time, and it always preceded a good night.
The hotel lobby was weird he decided. There was no lobby you could speak of, so he sat down on the first bench he found. It seemed he was the first to arrive. What a strange hotel it was, but then again, everything in this city was strange and mysterious. You just accepted it as part of the city’s gloss and moved on.
He was still thinking about the uniqueness of the surroundings when someone stopped in front of him. He raised his head and met an unknown and inquisitive face.
“Hello? Are you James?” She asked hesitantly.
“Yes, that’s me. I guess you’re Alicia? A pleasure meeting you.”
She extended her hand and shook his.
“I believe we’ve never met before haven’t we?”
She cocked her head, smiled and stared.
“No, I don’t believe we’ve met before. I would definitely remember it, Mr. Page.”
Her smiled took a mischievous look. Was she toying with him? James struggled to answer. He took a deeper look. It was undeniable that she was beautiful. He knew plenty of beautiful women. It wasn’t that.
Just a fluke, he told himself. He was seeing ghosts. Something strange surrounded that girl, though. He decided to ignore the nagging feeling and move on.
“James! My man! Long time not seen.” a familiar voiced exclaimed from behind him.
“Hey Hey, Robert, it’s been a long time indeed. Ah and you brought company, how are you doing Martin? Haven’t seen you in a while too.”
The four of them took off for a night stroll towards the embassy’s building, 20 minutes away from the hotel. The night was young and vibrant. It had rained some hours before, so it felt refreshing.
The streets were alive with life. The cars, the noise, people eating, people discussing, tourists. The old city’s scars were clearly visible still. There was blood and suffering written all over it. But from the still open wounds, life grew.
Watching the buildings was like looking at a snake peel its skin. The old crumbled and gave birth to new and modern apartment blocks, malls, hotels. The transfiguration of the city was impressive. It showed how remarkable were its inhabitants. We never give up. That was the message. It was written in every corner, in every business, in every face they passed.
They finally arrived at the embassy. It felt good to get together with so many colleagues again. They found a quiet table and engage in lively conversation.
Time flew, but there it was again, that feeling, and her. Why was he feeling that way? It made no sense. She was behaving completely normal. But still, within that normality, something deeper was seeping. Warmth? Fear?
It felt as if she was drowning and was trying to find a lifeline to someone that could anchor her. But that made no sense. There were no words spoken; there was no reason to feel that. But still, something radiated from her, like a pulsing torch that flickered in the night. Sometimes visible, others times hidden behind the walls.
Was it the city? How could he pick up such things within the silence of the conversation? This city did strange things to people he decided.
It didn’t matter. He had just arrived in the city and was already struggling with his loneliness. Did that make him more receptive to other people’s lone cry?
He walked away; it was all in his mind.
“Are you heading back to the hotel?” She asked at his back.
“Yes. You want to join?”
They rode in silence. The conversation raged on the inside.
He switched the lights off and stared at the ceiling. Was he going insane? That had to be. He closed his eyes and decided it had all been a nightmare, a stupid glitch of his brain. Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow it will all go away.