You stare at the wall clock. And hot tears well up in your eyes. The hour hand is short and thick. Its movement is a mystery you can’t uncover. It is gentle, sly and elusive. The minute hand is long and sharp as if made to pierce your fears. You can comprehend its movement but can you relate with it?
Then the second hand drifts by. Its clicks echoing in your head like it is an empty hall making you dizzy. You can’t stand it but at the same time you want it to move faster than it has always done. It has become your nightmare. A brutal reminder of how fast time is running out. Unable to contain its taunting movement, you shift your gaze to the frame of the clock; dark and round.
Your primary teacher once taught you about eternity. You were in standard three back then and she’d used a ring to demonstrate the tricky concept. The point was to use anything round to explain how eternity works, how it starts anywhere and ends nowhere. The clock frame now with its dark edges is taking you back into that classroom. It is forcing you to consider what you would rather avoid. Something you had forgotten. Something clearly out of your reach.
The couch is fast giving up its comfort. It is becoming hard and uncomfortably hot. You do not know how to shift your position. Your memory can neither remind you the same. It is busy taking you places you never wish to be.
The clock gradually drifts away until you lose its clear focus. It becomes a part of some fog. Or rather the fog swallows it. Your surrounding suddenly melts into nothingness. As if you only exist in a dream.
The high end hotel is where it all started. You had been invited for dinner. Lowly as you were, you could not refuse such a rare offer. You knew well how easy for a youth to become president than a man to be invited for free dinner. Excitement took the better of you. As you entered, you were thankful for not having turned down the invitation.
You were awed by the strange elegance of the interior of the hotel. You were only familiar with reflections of the city on the huge windows outside. It had never occurred to you that such a place ever existed. The red carpet running along the lounge and spreading in the restaurant, the white walls decorated with black and white photographs of people you did not recognize, the chandeliers flooding the room with neon light, the attendants dressed better than you and the potted plants.
You walked cautiously behind the pretty attendant who had introduced herself as Helen. Her gleaming hair was superstitiously dark and long. Her high stilettos elevated her a few inches high. She had thoroughly confused you in the way she spoke tenderly as if she knew you and wanted to be your girlfriend.
People sunk deep into their leather chairs. They conversed in low tones and jointly produced a fine hum. None of them shouted at the waiters. You saw a man with a potbelly snap his fingers and the waiter materialized to his service. Tall bottles stood on low round glass tables.
At the balcony, some other people dressed in suits and ties stood around tall tables covered with pure white cloth while they held their glasses. Most men inserted one hand in their trouser pocket. They did not laugh, they chuckled.
Then time came for you to join in the feast of classical music, wine, hushed talks and chuckles. You were intimidated by the environment. You felt out of place like a sheep amidst the wolves. You quickly sunk into your chair and fumbled around. It was hope that you were not going to embarrass yourself but most importantly, your guest.
A gentleman brought you a booklet written on the maroon cover ‘Hotel Florence’. You were confused. Nervously, you opened it and realized that it was a menu. You could not recognize a single thing in it. For the first time, you realized that there were so many types of tea. Even coffee. Your heart pounded. A time for embarrassment had come and you almost froze with fear.
Your partner read the trouble written on your face and offered to help. You were thankful for his kindness. You almost embraced him but then you had exposed you shortcomings to the person you always struggled to impress. Words departed from your lips. You conversed in ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
“Stefan, do you know why you are here?”
“God! You damn hot.”
You went dumb. There was no response to that remark. To you, it did not even qualify to be a complement. You did not fancy the way he was looking at you.
“You are hot Stefan. I like you.”
You had to notice the emphasis placed on ‘I’ and ‘you’. You stared blankly, unable to comprehend the words. You did not want to believe what you thought the boss meant. You just could not.
“Stefan, do you like me?”
The answer was firm. When you had left your house, you had not expected such a wayward twist in events. You felt conned. Your gaze swept across the room, the intricate tables, the whispering people and your gaze fell on a man leaning onto a fellow man for a kiss. You withdrew immediately in disbelief.
“Answer me Stefan. I know you do but I would love to hear it from your sweet lips.”
“Why are you doing this?”
Your voice was crispy. It was hollow and empty. It portrayed your fears and aired your dilemma.
You mumbled a prayer in your heart. The possibility of you losing your job was becoming as clear as the windows of Hotel Florence; so clear that it practically vanished. The blackmail as well was as real. You were clearly on the losing end. Each and every card you had did not matter. You threw it and you lost, you kept it and you would still lose.
The boss looked at you and you looked down like a girl. His gaze was heavy on you. You felt that he could see through you. Cold beads of perspiration collected on your brow and you prayed that he did not notice them.
… to be continued.