Farewell to the Hotel
© Barry Kavanagh 2000
The announcement was made. Immediately the townspeople were running around in delight, waving flags and cheering. As the sun began to set, and bonfires were lit, we in the hotel realized that we'd have to leave. We had no relevance here.
It was still bright when all of us were marching through the lobby with our suitcases. The twilight seems to last for hours on these long summer days. The manager had his shirtsleeves rolled up as if he'd been working. He leaned idly on the reception desk and did not say a word as all his guests went past - men, women, children, coats, hats, suitcases. I stood there with my single suitcase looking at him, so fat and bald, and his silly moustache. How many times had he forced me out of this hotel and how many times had he taken me back in? I had no respect for him.
I didn't want to leave by the main entrance, as the others were doing. The streets outside were too full of people, dancing around in carnival spirit. It made me uneasy. So I left through the gardens. They were walled but there was an old gate. Through here was no man's land, the woods. But it was landscaped by someone, maybe the local council. The grass was kept freshly cut and the luscious green trees were organized into orderly groves. The hotel was at the foot of a hill, so I found myself looking down on it. I'd never seen its roof before. I could hear shouting. More celebrating. It really seemed as though everything had come to an end. I knew in my bones that this was all over. This town had come to mean so many different things to me - the girl I'd come here to see, my encounter with the collector in the big house, the old schoolmates I'd met by the rocks, the old campervans by the railway tracks - and now all events had come to a close. I made my first steps downhill but soon stopped in a grove where the trees had large, thick, glossy leaves of a deep, dark green. At the foot of a tree I placed my suitcase, and I sat upon its low-leaning trunk. The trees next to me had low branches and elaborate vines. It was so quiet - and I could see the sea in the distance. Feeling kind of contented, I closed my eyes.
After a while I began to hear buzzing around my head. Those damn insects. I'd heard that the colour white reflects too much light for them and makes them go away. I had a white sheet in my suitcase. I took it out and tore a piece off, which I tied around my forehead. It was tight and warm. It felt both restricting and protecting. The long strips drooped down the sides of my head. I glanced at the hotel below, then closed my eyes again. The night did not become cold. Big celebrations could be heard from the town. An orchestra was playing. It was some of the most beautiful music I ever heard. It was not complex, it was not given to sudden changes, it just drifted along in a sway, a paradise of strings and harps. I slept in that position, my back stretched along the tree trunk, amongst the foliage.
The morning sun woke me. All throughout my dreams the music had continued. now I was aware of its absence for the first time. I patted my suitcase and thought to myself that it's time to go. I walked downhill, through the woods. I was avoiding the hotel grounds but as I got nearer the road I became aware of the outer wall to its grounds on my right. In a clearing that hugged part of this wall, there stood a huge beige tent. Its door - huge flaps on twin poles - was open to the world. Steve Walshe stood there, taking in the air. He was wearing a floppy hat and was all rigged out in camping clothes. How like him to have thought of a tent! And I had slept out in the trees like Adam, in a reverie. I realized I was all dressed in white, not only my makeshift headdress. Of course, I remembered, I had put on a white shirt and trousers on the morning of the previous day, expecting extremely high temperatures when instead it had merely been a beautiful day, that last day. I told Steve that I'd slept outside.
"You could have slept here, I have plenty of room," he said, with quiet surprise.
It's true, I could have spoken to him before I left the hotel but I had not been in that frame of mind. Often I have a blind innocence of practical considerations. Earthy people, and younger men, often talk at me as if they know better. What can I do except charmingly assent to their apparently all-important ritual of opinion-giving? But they don't see things as I see them, or know the world as I know it. Their advice I instantly forget. Steve is not the kind to tell me what I should or should not do, however. He simply shrugged his shoulders, because the night was over. I appreciated his wisdom. Leaving him at his palace, I went through the trees. Perhaps we will meet again in the city. I made my way down the tree-covered hill until I reached the road, which I crossed and followed the old railway tracks to the docks. In the distance I could see the last remaining campervan and I briefly thought about its occupant. I leaped off the pier, clambering up the side of one of the old boats. My suitcase clanged against the metal railing. Two men working on the deck asked me who I was. I showed them my papers, even though I recognized one of them, the lean, dark fellow with the thin moustache and the belt-knife and bandana, who looked like he should have been in Treasure Island.
"I dunno if this boat's goin' to be goin' anywhere," he said and got back to what was evidently a repair job. I took his words to be the usual ridiculous exaggeration. There were grease stains on my white shirt from the climb onto the boat. My hands were dirty. I took off the headdress and rubbed the grease off them.
That was a few minutes ago. I'm looking at the sun, still low in the eastern sky. There are some clouds around it but they're no threat. It's going to be a sunny day. The sailor I recognized is climbing the mast. The other one - the small, stocky man who I think I've seen before at a drinking contest in a den of thieves - is in the engine room. They're no longer behaving as if everything's broken, and the weather looks right for sailing. The breeze must have whetted their appetite for the sea. Soon we'll be on our way and I'll feel the fullness of that seabreeze on my face. I'm thinking of the emotion I had when I first arrived here. And as I recall it, I'm experiencing it once more. Time for a change.