The Inaugural Issue

Chapter 21. Hotel

John H. McGlynn

 

(A translation of Nuril Basri's fiction)

 

I looked at Paris anxiously. All of a sudden, my throat felt dry and my muscles stiff. “A hotel?” I repeated, as if not sure what I’d heard. Paris nodded in reply. Why, I don’t know, but the tension I was feeling seemed to suddenly spread to the hairs on my thighs, causing them to tingle. But Paris looked even more forlorn than I. His facial muscles twitched and he began to nibble his lips. His eyes looked moist. I felt sorry for him and it was that feeling which finally shooed away my hesitation. I came to a decision: to act like more of a man for him.

 

“Come on,” I said between heavy intakes of breath.

 

Paris looked at me, afraid. I was nervous, too, but could sense that he was in a far greater quandary. I moved closer to him, put my arm around his shoulders, and again suggested that we leave.

 

Our steps were heavy but we finally reached the car. He was silent. I said nothing either. I didn’t want to look at him because I was afraid that would make him more nervous.

 

“Do you already know the hotel?” I asked.

 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Paris nod. He started the engine and the two of us left. The car smelled of apples—an air freshener, I suppose—and the sense of Oskar’s presence became sharper: the seats were worn and there were coffee stains and cigarette burns everywhere.

 

We turned back in the direction we had come from earlier and headed towards Karawaci, traversing the same traffic jam we had confronted earlier. After about half an hour, we got out of the car at Aryaduta, a “four-and-a-half star” hotel, located not far from the Supermall. Unless you count the time I went to Pronto on my first night of clubbing, I had never been in a hotel before and, for a moment, the feeling of worry in my chest was replaced by the astonishment of a kid from the kampung. I gazed up in wonder at the place before me. After I removed a large suitcase from the truck of the car, we entered the hotel and registered at the front desk.

 

“Room 219…” said the attractive receptionist when handing over the key. A man in livery then took the key from us and led us to our room. I lagged behind, studying the hotel’s architecture and its furnishings with a look of awe. The walls and floors were all of shining marble. Small trees in oversized decorative pots dotted the room. A grand and winding staircase led to the second floor. Sculptural objects made from large chunks of alabaster looked very expensive. And the people there, walking leisurely through the lobby, seemed to exude a special aroma: the scent of wealth.

 

In short time, we arrived at our room—a “Deluxe” room with a king-size double bed, walls that were dominated by soothing cream and beige colors, and coffee-colored curtains and furniture. The porter motioned for us to enter and then placed the suitcase on a low table. His ever present smile looked forced to me; I guessed he was hoping for a tip. I looked around the room not knowing what I was feeling. I had never imagined myself being in such a place. I stood silently in place, like a statue, until I heard Paris thank the porter and close the door. I heard the lock click loudly in place.

 

I walked to the farther side of the room with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows. After surveying the scene outside, I turned and looked at Paris, who was standing on the other side of the bed from me, but he avoided my eyes.

 

I felt a rattle in my chest like the sound of a tin can being kicked down the street. My fingertips began to strum against my outer thigh of their own volition. Paris moved slowly from where he had been standing and then sat down on the edge of the bed. I moved towards him uncertainly. My feet felt heavy. I looked at my shoes. My new shoes. Finally, I reached the bed and sat down beside Paris.

 

Paris’ fingers played with the hem of his shirt. I leaned back on my el-bows, and stretched my legs widely. It felt like a bomb was ready to explode in my heart. Even though the room was cold from air-conditioning, I had be-gun to sweat. My whole body felt damp.

 

I’d never thought our relationship might reach this stage—though I shouldn’t have been surprised. Paris was keeping me, after all, wasn’t he? He bought me clothes, treated me to meals, and gave me pocket money regularly. And he had just bought me a very expensive pair of shoes. He had the right to touch me. Though I silently objected, I did realize, deep in my heart at least, that this day would come. I just didn’t know that today would be that day.

 

I would surrender and let it happen. He could touch my thighs. He could grope my crotch. He could kiss my cheeks, forehead, neck, and lips—whatever he wanted. I didn’t have to enjoy it. But I knew that afterwards, our relationship would never be the same and that I would leave him.

 

Secretly, I was disappointed that Paris wanted to have sex with me. We had become friends and I thought that was how he, too, wanted our relationship to be: as friends. For that, I respected him.

 

The two of us just sat there, on the edge of the bed, like a pair of herons waiting for fish to pass. Silently, observing each other. I didn’t know whether I should make the first move or to wait for him to touch me first. I coughed.

 

“I hope…” he started to say but stopped momentarily, his voice catching. “I hope you won’t think bad of me.”

 

The sentence had been very difficult for him to say.

 

I shook my head. OK, I got it. I understood. I thought of Yusuf who had been right about me after all: I was no different from him. I was a sex worker, even if only an amateur one, and Paris had the right to me. It was I who had wanted for him to keep me and now if he was asking for payback, that was his right. Again, I thought of Yusuf who had accused me of selling myself and how angry I had become, maybe because I knew he was right and just too ashamed or too embarrassed to admit it.

 

“I’ve brought you here because this is something I wanted to do for a long time…” he said in sad explanation.

 

I nodded my head, still unable to speak.

 

“I just never had the nerve to do it before…”

 

I trembled in my silence.

 

“It’s only you, you see…. It’s only you that I can trust…”

 

Only for me that he had feelings? Sexual feelings? The entire time I’d known him, he’d never shown any desire for me.

 

“You can think what you will… And afterwards, you can leave me if that’s your choice… I know that’s the risk of doing this. But I want you to understand that this desire I feel is not something new; I’ve always wanted to do this… I just never knew with whom…. It’s only you,” he said again. He paused, then began again: “I don’t want you to hate me. I just want to be myself…”

 

I could take the melodrama no longer. It was only sex, after all. I wanted to get it over with quickly and then get beyond it—without the prolonged preliminaries. Whether I hated him or not afterwards would be a different story. It would be my story.

 

“You don’t know how hard this decision was for me to make…”

 

Paris, with his feminine alter-ego didn’t want to be ashamed when losing his virginity. Maybe that was the dillema!

 

“Ok, do it!” Those were the only words that came out from my mouth—a sign of my agreement that he could do whatever he wanted to do.

 

“Are you sure?” he asked, still afraid.

 

“Yes, do whatever you want to do,” I said in as manly a voice as possible.

 

Rather than wait for this preliminary act to take forever, I decided to make the first move. I wanted this nightmare to be over. But when I moved closer next to him, ready to embrace him, Paris suddenly rose from where he was sitting.

 

I looked at him surprised.

 

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” he asked.

 

I nodded, but before I could do anything he stepped away from me and grabbed his suitcase.

 

“I’m going to the bathroom…” he said while lugging the large suitcase with him.

 

As in a soap opera, I imagined a crying session taking place in there.

 

I tried to relax as much as possible. Maybe you won’t believe me, but in this situation, as weird as it was, I sniffed my armpits for body odor and tested the smell of my breath. Then out of the blue a strange thought occurred to me: I didn’t want Paris to be disappointed in me.

 

I waited five minutes, then ten. I tapped my new shoes on the brown-colored carpet and felt it with my fingers. I’d never seen a floor completely covered with carpeting. I took off my new shoes and then my socks.   Fifteen minutes passed… Feeling stiff in the shoulders, I got up and walked around room, absorbing the hotel room’s atmosphere. I sniffed the air, I felt the walls, I opened the curtain to view the cityscape outside. I lowered the temperature of the air-conditioning and played with the lights. I was like a spinning top. Twenty five minutes must have passed before I finally laid down on the mattress. Wow, I had never slept on a mattress as nice as this one: soft, nice-smelling, and clean… I resisted the thought of rolling around with Paris on top of it.

 

After thirty minutes had passed, I began to get worried. What was Paris doing in the bathroom? God forbid he wanted to kill himself. Or maybe he was already dead. I jumped up and went to the bathroom door.

 

I knocked on the door. “Paris…” I called.

 

I heard the sound of rustling inside. “Just a second. I’m not ready yet.”

 

My heartbeat slowed. At least he wasn’t dead. Though I did ask myself, what kind of preparations for making love took thirty minutes of time alone in the bathroom? I hoped he didn’t want to do anything too weird.

 

I took the remote control for the television from off the bedside table and turned on the flat plasma TV attached to the wall opposite the end of the bed. Cable TV. I skimmed through the listings but didn’t find anything of interest until finally deciding to watch a SpongeBob cartoon in English. I didn’t understand much of what was being said, but I laughed to see the characters’ expression.

 

And then the door to the bathroom cracked open….

________

Reference:

John McGlynn, translator. ‘Hotel’ by Nuril Basri. Queer Southeast Asia: a literary journal of transgressive art Vol. 1. no. 1, October 2016.

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