On a cold dark night

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - MARY SCHNEIDER

ON a re­cent busi­ness trip to Rome, I had the plea­sure of shar­ing an apart­ment in the city’s his­toric quar­ter with three col­leagues. Sit­ting on the sec­ond floor of a cen­turiesold build­ing, the cosy ac­com­mo­da­tion was within spit­ting dis­tance of the Pan­theon and barely 10 min­utes walk from the Coli­seum. What’s not to like about that?

One day, to­wards the end of my stay there, two of my col­leagues flew home, leav­ing me and Eve­lyn, a young woman from Kenya, to a half empty apart­ment. As Eve­lyn had an early morn­ing trip to the air­port the next day, she was fast asleep long be­fore the city’s nightlife be­gan stir­ring.

With no one to talk to, a dodgy In­ter­net con­nec­tion, a tele­vi­sion set that didn’t work, and a pair of over­worked eyes, I de­cided to have an early night too, and was tucked up in bed way be­fore mid­night.

The next thing I knew, I was be­ing jarred out of my sleep at four o’clock in the morn­ing by the in­ces­sant ring­ing of the door­bell. Eve­lyn was still fast asleep while her ride to the air­port waited im­pa­tiently down­stairs.

There fol­lowed a fran­tic flurry of ac­tiv­ity as Eve­lyn cursed her alarm clock and be­gan throw­ing things into a suit­case. Five min­utes later, I grabbed a set of apart­ment keys from the din­ing ta­ble and rushed down­stairs af­ter her, her travel bag in my hand.

When I passed through the outer door that opened onto the small cob­bled side street out­side, the cold Novem­ber air pen­e­trated my thin Malaysian py­ja­mas. I shiv­ered, rushed over to the wait­ing taxi at the bot­tom of the short walk­way, dumped Eve­lyn’s bag into the boot, said a hur­ried good­bye to her and watched as the ve­hi­cle’s tail lights dis­ap­peared down the road that cuts through the heart of the Jewish District.

A blast of cold air hur­ried me back to­wards the apart­ment build­ing. I quickly opened the huge creak­ing outer door and climbed up the two flights of cold stone stairs. As I stuck my key in the apart­ment door and turned it in the old brass lock, I was al­ready imag­in­ing my­self back in my warm bed. But the key re­fused to turn. I re­moved it from the lock, in­spected it and tried again. Noth­ing. I tried to force the key ever deeper into the lock. Still noth­ing. My heart be­gan to beat faster in my chest. In my rush to get out, I had in­ad­ver­tently left a set of keys in the lock on the in­side of the door, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for the door to be un­locked from the out­side.

I stood there in my flimsy py­ja­mas with no tele­phone, or money, and tried to come up with a plan. The hous­ing agent’s tele­phone num­ber was writ­ten in tiny “hi­ero­glyph­ics” on my key ring; but a fat lot of good that was at that hour. What’s more, I didn’t have my glasses, my tele­phone or money for a pub­lic tele­phone.

Af­ter a few min­utes on that cold stair out­side the apart­ment door, I be­gan to shiver. I de­cided to go out­side and see if I could find some­one to help me. Per­haps I could hang out in the friendly neigh­bour­hood po­lice sta­tion un­til it was a de­cent enough hour to con­tact the hous­ing agent.

I went back down to the cob­bled street and fol­lowed it to where it opened up into a small pi­azza (square) con­tain­ing a tin­kling foun­tain. There wasn’t a po­lice­man in sight, but the sound of all that run­ning wa­ter roused my blad­der into ac­tion. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about.

I made my way to­wards a lit­tle side street on the op­po­site side of the pi­azza but stopped abruptly when I heard foot­steps com­ing to­wards me.

My in­stincts told me that this wasn’t a good sit­u­a­tion to be in.

Then I heard the sound of some­one clear­ing his throat.

You can tell a lot about a per­son by the way they clear their throat. The per­son in the street op­po­site was prob­a­bly as rough as the noise he made – I sus­pect he had large hands, nico­tine stained fin­gers, stale al­co­hol on his breath and a coat that car­ried sev­eral years of un­savoury odours. But I didn’t stay there long enough to find out.

I ran back to the outer door of my apart­ment build­ing, un­locked it with shak­ing hands, and took the stairs two at a time, back to that un­yield­ing apart­ment door.

So much for that plan. At that point, I wished my­self ten thou­sand kilo­me­tres away in the warmth of my Malaysian home.

As I sat on the cold steps, my teeth be­gan to chat­ter un­con­trol­lably. I just had to come up with an­other plan.

To be con­tin­ued next week.

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