It was already 11 pm. It was the only hotel in that small town. There was a No Vacancy board on reception table. I woke up the snoozing clerk at the reception counter. It was clear he was upset at being disturbed from the frown in his face .
“I need a room for the night” I said
“Sorry sir,all rooms are occupied. Haven’t you seen the no vacancy board?” he said
“True, I have no place to go. I see in the board behind you agaisnt room 15 the keys are hanging. Please help. Just for one night.”
“That is not for letting out, Sir. It is vacant for six months . You won’t be comfortable there”
“Please do not refuse. My body is aching. I need to sleep. I don’t mind any discomfort so long there is a bed and a fan”
“Sir, er….. there was a problem and for six months it is locked. But we clean it daily in the day time”
“I don’t mind whether it was occupied or not. I need a bed. Please give me the room” I insisted
“Ok Sir, you should not shout at me in the morning. Here is the key. You can open.” he said
When I turned to leave for the room with the key, he said "Here is a bottle of water. Keep the lights on in the night"
I switched on the lights. There was a stale smell. I opened the windows and put the fan at high speed. I sat down on a reclining chair and started smoking a cigarette. I kept the door open as it was sultry and fresh air was blowing from the door side. I heard the clock strike 12 somewhere. I decided to hit the bed when I saw a young man in lungi and vest in his thirties enter the room. I was startled.
“I saw the light after a long time. So I thought fit to have a peep and say hello” he said
I showed him the chair opposite to me and asked him to be seated. When he sat down I offered him a cigarette. He didn’t light it though he accepted.
“Do you stay in the hotel?” I asked
“Yes, I live here”
“Since how long?” I persisted
“For more than six months” he said
“Do you work in this town?” I asked
“Actually I came here to work some months ago. But something unexpected happened I could not get the job” he replied
“I am sorry. Are you still trying for some job? May be I can help you in finding one” I said
“That is nice of you. But I don’t think I can work any more” he said with some exasperation
“Why, you look healthy and strong? By the way in which room you are staying?” I asked
He said "I am staying in room number 15 only” as he put the cigarette in his mouth. "Can you light the cigarette?" he asked
I was puzzled. "You seem to make a mistake about the number. We are in room number 15. It must be some other room” I said
“No, I am certain. I have been staying in this room for several months. I have not vacated. You have actually encroached into my room”
I was taken aback. "How come? The reception clerk told me the room was empty for six months and gave it only after lot of persuasion”
“So you believe him and would not trust me. I will explain. Please light the cigarette with your lighter”
I gave him the lighter. I could hear the click of the lighter and the flame come up. What I beheld gave me creeps. The lighter was burning in the middle of the room with the dull fire at the extremity of the cigarette hanging mid air. I ran into the verandah screaming like a mad man. All doors opened with lights on and men came out with their angry eyes glaring at the clerk who had also come. "I warned him sir, He only insisted” he said amidst sobs.