About thirty years ago, I left the shores of India, for America, for higher education, and for possibly making my life and career in America. I was to attend a school, Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida. After spending a couple of days in Big Apple, the New York City, with my cousin, I arrived in Melbourne, Florida. 

A couple of East-Indian students, at the request of the school, had come to pick me up at the airport. I spent some time with them during the day, and I decided to go out and look for a place to stay for myself. I did not want to waste any time, and I wanted to settle down for the school.   

I set out on foot looking for places for rent. I carried with me Thomas Cook traveler’s cheques, purchased in Bombay, India for first spending money. I came across a 2 storey building. The sign read: weekly/monthly rooms for rent. The building looked old and dark, I still climbed up the stairs towards the Manager’s office. I did not see anybody on the stairs, or in the corridors. It was Friday evening, and the Manager was getting ready to wrap up the day’s activities.   

I introduced myself and said: ‘I am a student, new in town, and am looking for an economical place to stay.’ 

‘Sure. I have number of rooms available. You can rent by week or by month. As a matter of fact, I have this corner room available that could be just right for you. Rent is $50 per week.’ 

‘Can I see it?’  

Journey to the room was not that inviting. Either the carpets in the hallway were dirty or the dim lighting was playing the tricks. It was too late to run away. The room opened in front of my eyes. It sure was a corner room as I could see angular nature of it. There was a bed, a desk, a chair, and of course there was a window in the corner. 

‘Where is the bathroom?’ 

‘Oh! No room here has attached baths. They are all in the hallways.’ 

All right. This reminded me of my hostel days in Bombay. The thought of facing any kind of hardship at any kind of cost overpowered me, and I just wanted the room. I signed my first $50 travelers cheque. I got the key to the corner room with a corner window.   

I settled down in the room. It did not take me long as I did not have much with me. The classes were to begin on Monday. I had couple of maths books with me. I decided to refresh some math theories that I had learnt before. Around midnight, I decided to call it a night. I changed into my pyjamas, and decided to make a quick trip to the bathroom. 

  All my life, I had considered myself a very meticulous person. Should I take the room key with me? I checked the lock several times to see if room would let me in when I returned. I stepped out without the key. I immediately checked the door from outside. I was locked out!  

 

 
 

 

 

The thought of facing any kind of hardship at any kind of cost overpowered me, and I just wanted the room. I signed my first $50 travelers cheque.

The bathroom trip had to wait. I went straight to the Manager’s office. The Manager was gone for the night. Quiet corridors, dim lights, and a man without a key and only in his pyjamas! Panic started setting in. Mind still had to function. I decided to go downstairs and out to gauge the situation. The building looked even more ghostly this time from outside. I came back upstairs, and tried my door and Manager’s door again. Both doors remained adamant denying the entry. 

   During my second trip down, I saw a lady coming up. The lady must have been in her late 40’s. She was climbing up the stairs slowly, holding the rail on one side to control her swaying. There was a strange smell of perfume and alcohol in the air. I saw a soul. I needed to talk with somebody.  

‘Hello, would you know where I could find the Manager? His office is locked.’ 

‘The Manager would not be here at this hour. He would be long gone.’ The lady replied in a drowning voice, and looked at me through her half open eyes inquiring why one would want to find Manager of this joint at this hour. 

‘I rented the corner room this evening. I ventured out of the room, a while ago, and I find that I have locked myself out.’ I gave her the short description of my agony. 

 

‘Oh! You poor baby! Listen, I live here upstairs. I have enough space. If you have no place to go, you can stay with me.’ I felt stunned by the offer. I had read about the openness, and the friendliness, and the freedom of America. Was I to experience it the very first night? I felt my heart beating, and hands shaking. I knew that I was to decline the offer. 

‘Thank you very much. I think I know a friend’s place I can go to. Do you know when the Manager would be back?’ 

‘Hummm… What day is today? Friday? He would be gone fishing for the weekend. Try him Monday.' I thanked the lady again, and descended the stairs.

  I walked for about couple of kilometers. It felt like a monk walking with a bare minimum on. Amazingly, my desire to visit the bathroom had evaporated. I found the place where I had spent the afternoon. I found my shelter for the night. Next day, some more students arrived in town to resume their studies at the same school. I hooked up with two of them, and found a peaceful place to stay. Monday afternoon, I visited the Manager. I narrated my story, and inquired if I could get my $50 back. The Manager replied that he could not do that, besides he had already spent that money! I did not insist, I did not want to see that place again, and I, kind of, liked the idea of paying the price for the valuable lessons learned!   

 


‘Oh! You poor baby! Listen, I live here upstairs. I have enough space. If you have no place to go, you can stay with me.’ 

 

Many nights have passed since then,  but that first night in a new town remains memorable.

P.S. Later I found out that the building was a rundown hotel with the lowest rate in town. The building had a bar on the ground floor somewhere, frequented mostly by the hotel dwellers. To this day, I believe that, that lady, in spite of her swaying, was offering genuine help.

 

 

 

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