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Literature & Narrative

An Ideal Guest (Short Fiction) – Gaurav Monga

The hotel was new, offering things the city had never seen before. The staff was not only polite but went out of their way to be so friendly that often they decided to not charge guests for a meal, or for using the swimming pool. It was in this spirit that they approached me with the offer of being their ideal guest.

As an ideal guest, I had to spend some time every week in the coffee shop and had to appear conspicuous while interacting with the hotel staff and other guests, something I enjoyed doing, anyway. They did not choose my clothes but urged me to dress not too fashionably but also not dull and dreary. They told me to keep my flirtations with the waitresses healthy, to not appear overwhelmingly forthright but also not devoid of sexual overtones, especially in reference to compliments made about their dress.

As an ideal guest, I had to spend some time every week in the coffee shop and had to appear conspicuous while interacting with the hotel staff and other guests, something I enjoyed doing, anyway. They did not choose my clothes but urged me to dress not too fashionably but also not dull and dreary. They told me to keep my flirtations with the waitresses healthy, to not appear overwhelmingly forthright but also not devoid of sexual overtones, especially in reference to compliments made about their dress.

Naturally, I did not need to pay for my food or other services but I was recommended  not to order everything on the menu, for I had to appear sophisticated; they were far happier with an image of me slowly sipping an Americano than wolfing down a club sandwich. They encouraged turtle-necks, a light stubble, salt and pepper hair.

On days when the overall morale of the hotel was dwindling and when they had received far too many badly dressed, uncouth guests, the reception would call on me to make my presence felt. Not too much later, I was smiling at some of the guests in the coffee shop who appeared more sophisticated and would throw a condescending gaze at those who were unnecessarily loud, bumping into each other, speaking to their relatives on Skype while I was busy trying to read a novel. I often wore blue, for the cool tones were gentle on everyone’s eyes. An ideal guest, they said, should vanish into the environs of the hoteI.  I lived on the top floor and didn’t avail of room service, for I hated eating in the same room in which I slept. The ideal guest should make his appearance every morning for breakfast; he should first order a croissant and Lapsang tea with the papers. I do not like reading the papers, so instead read a novel or even a children’s book.

It was during this time that the Covid 19  virus suddenly broke out. In such circumstances how was the ideal guest to behave and appear?  Did they expect me to leave my room and even come down at all? What kind of ideal guest would I be, if I stayed cooped up in my room, completely quarantined? The hotel initially decided to circulate photographs of me– via their social media pages and television monitors located at different spots in the hotel– enjoying the comforts of my room, making coffee in the new Nespresso machine they had recently installed. The refrigerator was complete with food and drink that had a shelf life of at least a year; soon, however, these photographs failed to inspire, as other guests began to notice that no matter what pleasant activity the ideal guest was engaged in, he was always alone.

To remedy that the hotel began to romanticize and endorse loneliness as an essential characteristic of an ideal guest, that a degree of solitude allowed for the guest to appear pensive, sunken in deep thought. And thus, slowly images and videos of me drinking coffee, or looking out of the window of my hotel room grew viral, much like the virus, itself. Whether I served as the epitome of what a guest should be is perhaps questionable, a guest is no special being, but images of me slowly came to be associated with a degree of sophistication, whereas for the most part I spent my time alone in the room.

When the virus finally began to show signs of disappearing, I slowly began to come down to the coffee shop but I was no longer talkative or even conspicuous. Most of the staff in the hotel had changed, and so the possibility of rekindling an older relationship was ruled out. My time in quarantine had silenced me, and because everyone in the hotel had been watching me indulge —whether it was eating Belgian chocolates or drinking Perrier water—in the solitude of my room, looking at all times lonely and pensive, they probably thought that in order to keep the image of the ideal guest intact, it would serve them better to leave me alone.

When the virus finally began to show signs of disappearing, I slowly began to come down to the coffee shop but I was no longer talkative or even conspicuous. Most of the staff in the hotel had changed, and so the possibility of rekindling an older relationship was ruled out. My time in quarantine had silenced me, and because everyone in the hotel had been watching me indulge —whether it was eating Belgian chocolates or drinking Perrier water—in the solitude of my room, looking at all times lonely and pensive, they probably thought that in order to keep the image of the ideal guest intact, it would serve them better to leave me alone.

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