THE ORIGINAL DAHLIA
“You start tomorrow,” said the hotel manager. “In morning. 7am.”
“Tomorrow?” This was my fantasy… sort of… but I’d expected something of a holiday really.
“You will start outside around pool area then clean corridors inside. Then you will start on rooms.”
This was bewildering. On my extensive travels I’d seen hundreds of cleaning staff going about their business but I’d barely noticed them. Was I really going to allow myself to become one of them?
“Come,” said the manager. He led me to a set of cupboards in the staff area of the hotel and eyed my figure then removed a plastic-packed outfit in pale blue and white. “Here. Uniform. For you. Be dressed and ready here in the morning. The housekeeper will tell you what to do.”
“Uh, okay,” I said.
The manager went to leave.
“And I’m not to go outside?” I asked.
“Not at the front. No. At back.” He pointed toward the dirty little courtyard again.
“What about eating?” I asked. I was getting hungry already. “Should I eat with the other… with the guests, or…?”
“No,” he snapped as though I were being an idiot. “You will eat after each meal finished. In staff room. Eight o’clock tonight.”
“Eight o’clock?” That was hours away.
The manager walked off without another word and I stood looking after him, unsure what I should do now. Obviously the plans I’d had to enjoy the weather and rest weren’t going to work out.
With nothing better to do and feeling hemmed in by these sudden limitations I went back up to my room. On the way I passed a family of four English tourists who had been out by the pool when I got dressed down. When they saw me they twittered away at my misfortune and I blushed a bright red.
It was dingy and depressing in my room. I sat on the bed with my arms round my knees, playing back what had happened in my mind’s eye, feeling the discomfort and humiliation again. It had been horrible and embarrassing but also…
I manoeuvred on the bed, lowering my legs and spreading them slightly, then I scootched up the mattress and lay on my back, my eyes closed. I pictured myself again outside with my new brunette hairstyle and round glasses, my ordinary figure and dowdy swimming costume. I pictured the hotel manager coming angrily up to me again and telling me I had no right to be out there; saw the tourists watching the scene and smirking at the indignity. And I started to smile, biting my lower lip; started to feel a glow down inside me that I, Dahlia, wasn’t good enough anymore to use even this shabby hotel’s swimming pool. The poorest tourist was well above me on the social pecking order now when once I’d been like a princess.
When it had happened I’d felt a spike of anger toward Melissa – Dahlia now – for setting me up like this and not telling me, but now I suddenly felt really grateful. I would have fannyed around for a long time before I got to organising something like this. She had really taken my dark dream in hand and turned it into a darker reality. I had imagined spending the time abroad being a sort of servant to her, running around fetching drinks and such. This was much better. It was going to be far more immersive – and being separated from her, at least for now, would mean that everyone I interacted with would only know me as this person I now was. Melissa.
I sighed happily and settled deeper into the bed.
When I was done I cleaned myself up and went downstairs; found my way out to the little courtyard. It was just as claustrophobic and noisy as it had been before but was also an unpleasantly hot suntrap.
A skinny Greek man; a member of the cooking staff by the look of him; was leaning against the wall smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. He gave me a brief up and down look that made me feel deeply uncomfortable then flashed his eyes and offered a grin. Safe in my anonymity, it hadn’t occurred to me that I would have to contend with men in this new guise and the surprise of it put me off guard. I gave a curt smile back and looked away. He was far below my league – my former league – skinny and worn with curly black hair and a chipped front tooth. It was another reminder of how different I looked already.
It was remarkable; the difference the hair, glasses and clothes made, added to the weight I’d put on, which wasn’t that much. It was colouring my new self-image in more and more moment by moment.
I sat uncomfortably for a couple of minutes on a small plastic chair. The man showed no impulse to leave, starting up a second cigarette when he finished the first. He offered me one. I smiled and shook my head. I’d smoked a little in my earlier years but thought it was a stupid habit now that I’d stopped.
After a while, feeling out of place, I went inside and walked out of the front of the hotel. I needed to eat and I couldn’t get anything there. I decided to walk the streets until I found a shop of some kind. I needed something in my stomach.
This day hadn’t turned out how I had expected it to. Was it better?
I wasn’t sure yet.
I thought maybe it was.