Here’s the first few pages of my novel, Reception.
If you’d like to read the rest of it, it can be purchased here:
The hotel towers. It gleams and it glowers, and it shimmers in multicoloured neon thrown up from the shops in the street below. Cars on the raised overpass roar unseen, the sounds of their engines amplified, funnelled by the concrete, while the skyway itself shudders on its precariously spindly legs. Spirit cars. Ghost engines. Oblivious to the hotel with its thirty-seven storeys of imagined corporate opulence. And those obligatory red flashing beacons, flashing, flashing, one on each corner on the very top floor of the building. Here I am. Try not to collide with me.
I pull my suitcase through the revolving door and into the foyer. It is a vast space, purposefully mesmerising and almost laughably opulent. Gold fittings, leather sofas and granite walls subsume all feeling beneath a level of numbness which must surely have been the intention of the architect. There is a waterfall in the middle of the room, a real waterfall with rocks and running water and a plunge pool, and plants and trees and goldfish. The floor is so polished as to appear like glass and it reflects back the light from crystal chandeliers which hang at an equal distance, like jellyfish suspended in the sea. I recognise immediately that certain needs and ideals have been mistranslated, designed into something quite advanced from any conception of comfort, or perhaps it is the aim of the hotel to be snooty enough to acknowledge those who might be put off by its overbearing demeanour. Or maybe I am too tired to take the place seriously.
Yukio smiles, politely. She hovers behind the reception desk, a desk so vast as to cover an entire wall. It dwarfs her. Her business suit also dwarfs her. And the night, and the city both seem to obliterate her entirely. She smiles as I approach and she seems to frown ever so slightly at my clothing before correcting herself. I have been travelling through the night and my trousers and shirt have not fared well either from a grabbed aircraft sleep or from mealtime turbulence. I give her my name and my passport and my booking confirmation details, at which point she taps the details into her computer, then frowns and apologises in broken English.
‘Perhaps’, she suggests, ‘You are on the other system’.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Sorry. But you must be on the other system. I will try the other system’.
I sense a problem, but I am tired and I can feel the night stretching out its hands towards me. Flying east has robbed me of a whole day’s sunlight and the resulting darkness when I landed had been unexpected as if I had been cheated by geography. She consults her computer again.
‘Am I on the other system?’
‘Sorry. You are not on the other system. Maybe I should try the first system again’.
‘How many systems have you got?’
‘We have one system’.
She apologises once again.
‘I check the first system a third time and now I check the second system. Sorry. But I must check’.
She does so. I step back from the reception desk. I recognise the song being played over the tannoy in the foyer, a rare pop ballad from the nineteen eighties that I have not heard for a very long time. Either the group is more popular in this country, I tell myself, or it is the most incredible coincidence that a song I once cherished and then forgot should be played at this moment, this exact, strange, odd moment.
‘You are not on the first system or the second system’, Yukio announces.
A sinking sensation deep inside. The singer of the pop ballad laments city weather in a mournful, slow voice which hints at something other than the usual decrepitude. The sparkle and the rain, eternal disappointment, the idea that things are never what they seem to be.
‘Are you saying that you have no record of my booking?’
‘Sorry. We will find your details. We will give you room now, you can pay for it when you book out’.
‘But I have already paid. That’s why I brought these papers with me, to show you that I have a booking’.
‘Maybe it is with another hotel’.
‘But this is the address of your hotel, yes?’
‘Then why would I be in another hotel?’
‘Sorry. There has been. Mistake. Perhaps we make mistake. Perhaps you make mistake’.
‘How many hotels in this city are called ‘Castle Hills’?’
‘Only this one. But sorry, perhaps there is mistake’.
‘Why would I fly to the other side of the world and come to this hotel if I were not staying here?’
‘I. Maybe. Check the system’.
Yukio seems to shrink even further inside her uniform. The onerous roar of the reception area fountain seems to echo television static, a technological breakdown, a heightened sense of alert where comfort should have been.
‘Maybe’, she says, ‘Maybe I let you stay here. But we sort out problem. We sort it out, and then perhaps you will pay for the room. That is the best decision. That you stay now and then pay in the morning if the problem is not sorted out. And perhaps doing this will sort out the problem’.
‘But I’ve already paid for the room’.
‘Our records. I’m sorry. The system is adamant’.
‘Why would I pay a second time?’
I start to feel a little bit angry. And yet I know that it is not her fault. It is quite possible that a mistake has occurred.
‘Our system seldom fails’.
‘Can you keep trying?’
She does so. She taps away on the computer for a very long time. I wonder if she is only doing it to satisfy me. I try to crane my neck to her side of the desk in case I am somehow able to aid her. Every now and then she stops typing and looks at the screen, her hand poised above the mouse as if unsure of what to do next.
‘Have you found me yet?’
‘On either of the systems?’
‘I have checked both systems. Two systems. And also the back-up system. No. You are not here’.
‘You are not here’.
‘So you have three systems?’
‘No, we have only the one system’.
‘What can I do?’
‘You can stay’, she says.
She taps again at the computer. The same song is still playing from the reception area speakers. I’d never realised how long it was.
‘I can stay?’
‘Yes. You stay. But you must pay. Because you are not here’.
It has been a long day and I feel tired. Yukio looks up from her keyboard, nervous, hardly able to look me in the eye. But then she steals herself, reaches down to a drawer underneath the counter and passes me a form.
‘Fill this in, Sir. And credit card details. Because you must pay for the room. You are not here at the moment. Fill in the form and then you will be here’.
I let out a sigh.
I fill out the form. It requires all kinds of information. Passport number, credit card details, information for which I have to fumble in my luggage to find. At last I hand them back to her. The song is still playing in the background. It must be an extended edition, I tell myself.
She taps into her computer.
‘You are here now. You are on the system. Maybe this is why you were not on the system. Because of the forms’.
‘But you will look for me, wont you? You’ll look for my original booking?’
‘Yes, I look, Sir’.
‘And if you don’t find it?’
‘Whatever happens, you are here. But if you are here twice, then you will not pay again’.
‘You will check all of the systems?’
‘There is only the one system’.
I sense a hard edge lurking beneath Yukio. Obstinately, she effects the will of the Castle Hills Hotel. She is a product of its methods, a functioning part of its mechanism and yet, faced with an error, she cannot help but resort to its baser corporate instincts, the procurement of cash. The city wants to spit her out. The city closes itself off, with its light and its dark and its motorway flyovers. Yukio is its only interface.
I am too tired to argue further. She issues me with a card key and asks if I might need a porter to help me with my luggage to a room on the twenty second floor. I sense that she is dealing with me, mechanically, logically, ridding herself of one part of the problem before dealing with whatever mistranslation has eradicated all of my booking details.