I was woken by the telephone at half-past-eleven, a high-pitched female voice informing me that I was staying another day. I replied to the contrary and put down the receiver, quickly raising myself from the hard bed before she could be proven correct beyond dispute. I immediately felt consumed by anger, hate; pity and its self-indulgence as I trampled across soiled clothes, beer cans and a smashed ashtray to get to the toilet where I wretched, vomited, convulsed, over and over until even the taste of bile and poison had drifted into resigned, painless submission. My eyes sobbed without emotion and my tongue hung loose, dripping phlegm, yet for all this I felt an unusual sense of urgency to accomplish my daily goal of checking out of the Suriya Hotel. I had intended to stay only one night and it was, what? nine, ten? eleven? I glanced towards a ghastly caricature of myself in the mirror: malnurished and pot-bellied, half-pale half-sunburnt thin arms, unshaven between beard and stubble, a dark nose seemingly inflamed from the deep redness of whisky and sunshine, once- sparkling deep blue eyes reflecting as mirrors of death itself. My lips were chapped and my mousey hair a mesh of wool, my penis limp, wrinkled and dehydrated, my scrotum taut in resignation, or perhaps disgust. I walked back into the bedroom and lit a cigarette.
The heat of the vacant dull foyer was marginally better, in a wholly negative sense, to that of the lift. The air felt as if it were dragging on the weight of my jeans and t-shirt, adding kilos to my rucksack, punctuating gravity. I dropped the bag to the floor aware of the ooze of sweat pouring down my forehead and smearing my grey t-shirt front and back as a small, also grey-t-shirt-clad, irate-looking Thai receptionist appeared from an adjoining office, her sulk a slide show of my prolonged unwelcomed stay there: the lost room keys, the high-heeled tattooed prostitutes, the complaints from maids and fellow guests, the shame of it all. ‘You check out,’ she chirped hopefully and I half nodded and averted my gaze from hers. I was paranoid, embarrassed, desperate to be alone. She lifted a handset and called upstairs for a maid to check my room. I walked over to a plastic brown sofa beside a circular glass coffee table where a newspaper had a large blurred picture of a man who appeared to have been murdered in his car. My patience, my nerve, my ability to withstand the smallest of human interactions had faded to nothing in the two minutes since I had left the air-conditioning of Room 301. I sat down, stood back up, the sweat now drenching my t-shirt from top to bottom as the receptionsist calmly waited on word from upstairs, her demeanour my nemisis, her fresh cotton and soft, lightly moisturised skin my drooling desire. I gazed side-on at her small, childlike breasts to which the grey cotton clung, suddenly feeling a heartwrenching need for love, for unattainable love, as if punishment was what I craved, guilt and punishment, the promise of impossibility. I stared harder at her, admiring the way she carried her lack of height, her bottom lip which hooked slightly upwards, her squashed nose and inert glamour, the girl on the phone who cared not in the slightest for me and perhaps wished me harm, at that moment promised everything which my instinct manifested as delusion. Within that, she was love.
‘You have problem,’ she said, unaware of her connotation, after a succinct, eyebrow-raising conversation with the handset. ‘What?’ was the best I could muster as a reply, my voice now sharp and layered with condescension, the onset of a panic attack beginning to clamp at my temples. I needed to leave, to be in the cold air of a taxi, to be stuck in hours of Bangkok traffic, to suspend this calamitous journey before the next inevitable mess, the next chapter of … ‘You have fire in room.’