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.
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
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
‘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
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.