Bring on the empty houses
I stayed the last two nights in a guest house in Newport in South Wales (I am supposed to be in a chess tournament this week, but am not well enough to play). I have never been sure what the distinction is between a "guest house" and a "bed and breakfast" but this cannot have been the latter, as there was no breakfast this morning.
I thought there was something odd when my room went uncleaned on Sunday. The bed went unmade (except by me) and the rubbish bin unemptied. I was in nearly all day but I heard no knock on the door. How strange, I thought. But it didn't matter very much. I can make my own bed well enough and the rubbish wasn't overflowing. I was only there for two nights and I no more needed my room cleaned than I needed the plug that was missing from the basin.
Then, this morning, I got up on the alarm - the alarm of my mobile phone, having forgotten to bring an alarm clock - watched the news headlines, shaved and showered, left my room and walked across the lobby to the dining room. It was locked. It was definitely locked, as I tried the handle this way and that several times before giving up.
It was half-past eight, the same time I had eaten the day before. I had gathered that the place was less than packed. In all likelihood I was the only person staying, as the only other people at breakfast the previous morning had paid off the landlady while I was there. Still ,I might have been the only person staying, but I didn't expect to be, apparently, the only person in.
I once went, or tried to go, to a showing of Face at a cinema in Ilfracombe. But when I was the only one who showed up, they cancelled the showing on the ground that it wasn't worth it for an audience of one. I had not, however, ever expected breakfast at a guest house to be cancelled on the same grounds. Or if it was, you'd think they might let me know. Or allow me access to the kitchen.
I could have rung the bell, but to be honest I was tired and fed up - I have been monumentally tired and fed up of late - and I really didn't feel like an argument or even like waiting around for an apologetic breakfast. (I actually felt like cancelling my cheque for the two nights, but when I called the Nat West they told me it couldn't be done. Instead I left the keys on the front desk with a note saying WHAT HAPPENED TO BREAKFAST?)
What was more, when I peered through the darkened window into the office and kitchen area, I was sure I could see someone there - a figure standing in the kitchen. However, the lights were off and I couldn't make out more than an outline. I conjectured that it might actually be the landlady, who had presumably forgotten I was there and thought she had an empty house and that there was therefore no need to cook breakfast. She must have then heard me get up, seen me out in the lobby, saw me look at her and freeze, expecting me to say something, or ring the bell. So probably she looked back at me and hoped that I would decide (as I did) that she might well be an optical illusion, and go away.
Or perhaps I am an optical illusion. Perhaps I am invisible (or something like that) and I can pass unseen, not at my will but at the will of the rest of the world. I am not really here. It would explain a lot. It would explain more than I can possibly say.