I can hear the man behind the front desk turning the page of the large guest book as he taps a biro against the edge of the counter. It’s hard to sleep sitting up, especially when all I want is to curl up on a soft bed and feel safe enough to fall into a deep sleep. My eyes began to feel as if they were burning in the sockets as I sat beneath the rows of fluorescent tubes in the foyer. They’ve been closed for an hour now, I know the man behind the counter walked by me a couple of times, the soles of his rubber boots squeaked against the white porcelain tiles. I don’t know if he was checking up on me, but I’m glad my eyes were closed.
I press my fingertips into the black leather sofa before I let them drop onto the peanut coloured bag tucked in between my thigh and armrest. I didn’t take much when I ran away from home and flew to Crete, the bag wasn’t big enough, and I didn’t know what I would need. I have my towel, toothpaste, brush, soap, shampoo, and jeans, t-shirts, underwear, sanitary towels, Zenit camera and a stuffed pink rabbit to keep me company.
The bag has been useful though, last night it was my pillow and my brown towel a blanket as I tried to rest in between the beige arch on the cold concrete ground by the harbour. The boat lights shone like stars, and I watched the strangers on the boats, they were laughing and drinking out of bottles. They couldn’t see me; the boat lights didn’t reach me, leaving me safely in the dark.
The rubber soles are squeaking again, moving closer to me. I hear something placed on the glass top coffee table followed up with a cough. I open my eyes, the light stinging them as I look up at the dark-haired man, he points at the blue bowl and then me. I smile and mouth, “Thank you.”
It’s not much, but the cubes of cheese the size of dices looked delicious. I pop one in between my teeth before I drop it onto my dry tongue and bit it in half, the edges hard and stale but it was food, and I hadn’t eaten since earlier that morning.
I had some money, but I had to be careful what I spent it on, it wasn’t going to last forever, and I didn’t know what I was going to do when it ran out. I didn’t want to go back home. I didn’t know how to tell anyone I was gay and I didn’t want to have an arranged marriage. I try not to think about it anymore.
I don’t know what possessed me to go to the hotel, but I had walked by the glass double doors a few times. Up and down the sidewalk, not knowing where to go or what to do before I crossed the quiet road and sat on the wall and stared at the building. Before I could come to my senses, I picked up my bag and crossed the street and pushed open the door without even knowing what I was going to say.
A man behind the counter had his back to me. “Excuse me.”
He turned around and smiled, “How can I help?” he said as he opened up a black book on the counter with straight, faint lines on the white pages.
“I got robbed, and they stole my passport and money.” I was as surprised at my words as he was. “Can I stay at your hotel?” I could hear the beating drum of my heart in my ears.
“I – I don’t want a free room,” I said quickly, “Can I sit in the foyer? I won’t be any trouble.”
“I have to ask the night manager.”
As I pop another cheese cube in my mouth and slowly chew it, the man behind the counter returns.
“The night manager says you can stay in a room.”
“Thank you, but I don’t have any money.”
“It’s ok, it’s free,” he says as he hands me a room key, “Go through that door.” He points down a corridor, “Through the doors and into the courtyard, room number four.”
“Thank you,” I say as I take the key from him.
As I get up and sling my bag over my shoulder, he turns towards the counter, and I bend down and grab all the cheese cubes from the bowl and stuff them in my jacket for later.
The crisp white sheets are cold against my skin; the knots in my muscles begin to loosen as I pull myself deeper into the covers. The mattress feels as if I’m lying on a queen size marshmallow. I shift my weight just so I can feel myself sinking in. I glance at the two wooden chairs, the backs covered with my wet underwear I washed using the block of hand soap on the side of the sink. I hope they dry enough by the morning; I think to myself as I close my eyes and drift away.
I wake up from pain creeping up my body, I press my palm on my warm skin and try to massage it away from my belly. The morning light sneaks in through the gaps in the curtains, and I know it’s time. I let myself daydream and imagine the man behind the desk counter telling me the room was mine and I could stay forever.
I force myself to pull the covers off, and goosebumps spread along my body from the cold air as I get up and head towards the shower. I sit in the bathtub the hot water from the showerhead heating my skin. I take my time in the shower, enjoying the luxury of water wiping away the grime.
I flap the damp brown towel a few times and roll it up and stuff it in my bag with the damp underwear. I pull on my jacket and collect the passport and money from the side table and hide the items in my inside jacket pocket. I want to stay sitting on the bed for a few minutes, but I tell myself I have to leave before someone comes knocking on the door.
I sling my bag over my shoulder and take a look at the bed sheet; my cheeks flush as I stare at one big red stain. Maybe the housekeeper will think it was a nosebleed even though the blood is in the wrong place.
I breathe in the fresh morning air as I close the door behind me and pull out a cube of cheese and pop it into my mouth.
* * * * * * *
When I started to write CNF, it was because I wanted to share my stories with my writer friends and strangers, but my reason for writing has evolved. I have found that writing has become my tool to heal and let go of decades of shame my body has been holding onto. I write in the present tense because I want to go back to the moment I’ve chosen and be that version of me, to experience everything again but this time safely behind the computer screen and by using my techniques, I’m giving all the versions of me in the past a voice.
I had intentions to write another piece, and as I tried to force the story out, I couldn’t write past four hundred words, and I just kept re-writing what I had written. One night, lying in bed, I was trying to understand why I was struggling to tell the story and it occurred to me; the story wasn’t ready to be told. So, I began to write “Soft Bed,” which wrote itself. The story has come at the right time, a time when my savings are dwindling, and I’m worried that I will get to a point where I won’t be able to keep a roof over my head. I guess you could say the younger version of me is sending me a message, “Don’t worry you’re going to be ok, just hang in there and have faith.”