I woke up with a dusty feeling in my throat and the light from the early morning sun filtering through the slats on the window shutters directly into my eyes.
The noises of a foreign city came into my room from the street below: the swish of car tyres on the wet streets, the clanging of a beer barrel being unloaded from a delivery truck, the continuous whirr of the mechanical sidewalk cleaning machines.
After a while my attention turned to a noise that was closer. Two people were arguing in the room next to mine. It sounded like they were speaking French, so I couldn’t understand all that they were saying. But from the tone of their voices, I could tell that it was a dispute of some sort. There is a rhythm in the voice when a man and a woman are shouting at each other which sounds the same in every language. The back and forth between the low voice and the high voice. The talking across each other. The outraged pauses when one side simply can’t believe what the other side is saying. The gradual escalation of the tone, like singers edging closer to the top C of their anger. And this couple in the hotel room next to mine were like highly-trained experts, specialists, divas of resentment.
After a few minutes, it was clear that they weren’t going to stop for a while. I got out of bed, pulled on some clothes, and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Suddenly there was the sound of a loud thump, accompanied by a scream. I dashed back into my room, picked up the phone, and dialed ‘0’. After two long sustained beeps, the concierge answered:
‘I’m calling about the people in room 312. There’s a lot of shouting, and I think someone might have got hurt—‘
‘We have already had four people complain about the noise, sir,’ said the concierge, interrupting me. ‘The police are on their way.’
In fact the police had already arrived. When I opened the door of my hotel room, two officers were standing in the hallway. One of the officers was standing next to a young woman with long hair, sheltering her by holding his arm across the front of her body. She was pressing both hands to one side of her face and sobbing loudly. The other officer went through the open door of room 312, from which came the sounds of the man’s voice, still shouting loudly. The young woman was wearing a grey t-shirt which only came down as far as her belly, exposing her white cotton underwear. From the end of the hallway, one of the other hotel guests who like me had come out to gawp at the commotion came up to the officer and handed him a blanket, which the officer carefully draped over the sobbing woman’s shoulders. A few moments later, the second officer led a handcuffed man out of the room by the elbow. He was dressed in t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. He was well built, with curly hair that came down to his shoulders, and a dark growth of beard. He was quiet now, but as he was led past the young woman, she began screaming at him and tried to punch him. He ducked to one side, and the blow landed clumsily against his shoulder. It was apparently enough to re-ignite the argument, so the officers led both of them away, the man to the elevator at the end of the hallway, the woman to the staircase.
When they had gone, I looked at the other guests, prepared to exchange an amused or annoyed roll of the eyes, or a shake of the head and a smile, some gesture that would indicate a response to the incident that we had all witnessed. But no-one met my gaze. There were perhaps seven or eight people in the hallway, and each one of them merely looked away, walked quietly back to their rooms, and shut their doors.