It’s three in the morning. The deep-pile hotel carpet presses into my cheek, and my satin top crackles with static when I turn over. I’ve finally discovered what is keeping me awake: a smooth white box, too square to be a shoe box, too shiny and dust free to have been there for very long. It buzzes and seems to glow in the dimness around the bed.
What’s great about an expensive hotel is the illusion that it was built for you, that the room was furnished with you in mind, that its staff have longed for your arrival. No cost or effort have been spared to welcome you, the hotel room a secret place holding its breath until you enter. A burrow, hidden to the world, waiting for you. You are the only one who can breathe life into this space, make it come alive. There’s no greater love than falling asleep in someone else’s arms. As I’m doing this place the honour of my abandon, I don’t want to see it smudged or tainted by a hint of mildew in the grout of the shower cabin, a white stain on a black armrest, or a box that some guest left behind. It’s nothing less than treason, that’s how I see it. I’m not the first to come here, someone has forgotten to take it with them. The place is tarnished. Enraged, I call the reception, but the girl answering the phone doesn’t seem to understand.
Stretching my arm, I can touch a smooth corner, but I can’t get a grip on it. So much for choosing the room with the king-size bed. I hope it’s some kind of device, a Wi-Fi booster or vaporizer. Hopefully it’s not a box filled with sex toys, designer toys in Montessori shapes with strange ribs. The last thing I need right now is other people’s filth. I pull the magnetic rod from the curtain and reach out once more. Slowly, the box moves my way but when I’m finally holding it in my hands, there’s a knock on the door.
‘Is there a problem, madam?’
The girl from the reception speaks in a soft but clear voice, her manner friendly and alert. As if I wasn’t at all snappy with her just a short while ago. As if we had a regular conversation in a less intimate place, like two good-natured strangers attending a lunch buffet or sharing a train compartment. Not like this, facing each other in an empty corridor in the middle of the night, and me in my underwear.
Big brown eyes, short hair that, were it allowed to grow, would become a cascade of curls, she is the picture of restrained exuberance. Her lips, painted a transparent red, break into a tense little smile. While I’m holding the box against my stomach, it’s still buzzing, vibrating a little, heavier than I expected. It seems solid almost, when I shake it for a second.
‘This thing’s keeping me awake,’ I say.
As she kneels down, lifting an inch of her figure-hugging skirt, I catch a glimpse of an old-fashioned garter. Salmon pink with a metal clasp. Her skin looks healthy, soft and unblemished. The girl takes a closer look at the box, and I shift my gaze to the top of her head.
‘Is it yours?’
I shake my head, while her hands fold around the box, her nails clicking against its hard, shiny shell, her fingers sliding down its even edges. She can’t find a lid either. As she gently attempts to take it off me, she questioningly looks me in the eye when I don’t let go. It’s like a trial of strength for a minute. I try to keep hold of the box, though I don’t know why. It isn’t mine, after all. When I do let go, she is taken aback by the sudden weight of it.
She turns it over, inspecting it. The buzzing becomes louder. Surprised, she looks up at me. I shrug and as if it’s a perfectly regular thing to do, I put my hands on her shaven neck. Her eyes grow larger, rounder. Slowly moving upwards, caressing the bristles in her neck, I touch her ears. My courage surprises me. I thought I just wanted to sleep, to disappear, but here I am with her, and I’m buzzing. It seems anything can happen in the still night air, surrounded by cream-coloured walls and hotel art. As if that’s what this anonymity was intended for. As if it doesn’t matter what we do. She gets up abruptly. Pulling her sensuous mouth towards me, I breathe on her lips. How many men have slipped up this way, mistaking lust for intimacy? Strauss-Kahn, I think. Don’t be like Strauss-Kahn.
‘I shouldn’t be doing this,’ she says.‘I’m a woman,’ I say. ‘Harmless.’
I calmly let go of her ears, waiting until she’ll turn around and walk away, pretending this never happened. I’ll give her an extra tip tomorrow. She won’t look me in the eye, take the money. I’ll leave the hotel and disappear from her thoughts. But she remains standing, motionless, the box buzzing between us, its edges pressed hard against our abdomen. Its walls getting warmer, or so it seems.
The strap of my top sliding down seems to be the cue. She kisses me. Softly, at first, her lips trembling, but soon she’s eager, hungrily probing me with her tongue. She tastes of the powdery mints in the glass bowl on the counter. Our teeth touch, her spit trickling down my chin. She bites my neck, sucks it. My insides are magnetically drawn to the bruise she leaves.
Next, she disentangles herself, closes the door behind her and puts the box at our feet. After stepping on top of it, she is slightly taller than me. I push up her skirt and pressing my thumbs into her thighs, I feel the supple layer of fat and smooth skin covering tight round muscles ready to kick out at me. Grabbing her hips, my fingers sink into her buttocks. I pinch her, pinch to get a grip, but also to hurt her. A dark, rolling sound emerges from her throat. Then I feel her pubic hair curling against my navel. She has no knickers on. My God, she hasn’t been wearing any all day. So this is how she looks after her clients, like a beast of lust in disguise. I kneel down, tilting my head and pressing my nose against her clit. She stands before me like a sculpture of ecstasy. Rolling her eyes and lower body, she’s gripped by the bliss that inch of flesh can give. Underneath her, the box begins to radiate more and more light. The strange object seems to understand, to stimulate our human desire. I switch off my understanding, close my eyes and slide my fingers inside.