It’s the umbrella I notice first walking past the tiny open door below the stairs on my way up to the room to get my sun-glasses. A black Madame Bovary umbrella with a horn handle, the colour and texture of grated chocolate with a softly pleated brown rim. It is leaning comfortably – as umbrellas do, against a wooden book-case. That’s when I notice the hotel cleaning woman’s miniscule plastic sandals neatly placed below the bookshelf and realize that this space is her ‘room’. An open door with a child’s drawing stuck onto the inside with ‘Raphaela’ scrawled in felt-tip pen at the bottom of the page and a date that is illegible. From the colour of the paper I gather that Raphaela is probably a grown-up now. Marisa was her name, she had said with a broad smile that morning. She’s very small but I doubt if even she would ever be able to stand upright in this chamber.
I look at the umbrella in admiration – a proper solid structure… an example for me of fine engineering – a structure similar to that of a bicycle wheel, the same kind of honesty. Delicate spokes in a shiny metal that will never rust. Reliable. An umbrella which would be worth fixing should it ever break.
The room, if you could really call it a room, smells sweet – an old kind of sweetness. An alarm clock with ladys’ digits and cream enamelled hands, a selection of tiny perfume flacons from a time when perfume was sold in thumb-sized bottles to accentuate its value, an almost toy-like watch with a torn and faded elastic arm-band in mute green, little personal things, a hanger with a collection of varied aprons. A lonely pair of worn-out flip-flops.
I step back suddenly feeling like an intruder. I check the size of the ‘room’ again from a distance and walk away feeling strangely touched by the whole scene. This is Marisa’s world – a world of tiny treasures under the stairs of a hotel. Keep-sakes and memorabilia collected over the years from the big world outside.
Humble and full of self-respect.
An honest and light-less paradise garden.
* * *