On rooming in the red-light zone

‘You are very brave,’ he told me, worryingly. I accepted the compliment – without thinking it true. Danger may have been close on that long, winding road, but a phalanx of heavily-armed soldiers lay between us. Perhaps he meant the danger within the city.

Life was nearly snuffed out at this hour, bar for a few low-lit hotels in insalubrious-looking streets. The first we surveyed had cheap rooms at the top of a narrow staircase and prostitutes scattered idly about its foyer, their drinks low along with their expectations and heavy eyelids. For a few moments, I thought they were guests, but the late hour and heavy fug of boredom soon dispelled the idea. They broke off their desultory chatter momentarily, eyeing with a flicker of interest an unexpected early-morning customer. My exoticism waned as they weighed me up correctly as one who sought only sleep. Even now, it was humid and their flesh hung in large moist folds out of the skimpy flexible uniforms of their profession. Either way, the premises didn’t promise deep sleep without resort to powerful sedatives.

In the next hotel, reception lay behind a reinforced glass-screen. On it were written the rates – by the standard 24 hours, or 60 minutes a shot for those with more pressing business. My smile reflected back at me – saving the receptionist the effort. It was the graveyard shift, and it wasn’t the women on the front desk who gained customer loyalty. I took a Spartan room with a hot working shower. Roaches were conspicuous by their absence, and the door locked securely. While the TV was tuned only to hard-core porn, the sheets beneath the rubber coverlet looked clean. A sexed-up version of Noah’s Ark with guests entering two by two.

My escort was an exception to the rule, bidding me farewell before returning to his, no doubt, more welcoming home. I slept okay; the walls proving substantial enough to extinguish the sighs and groans of the passing trade.