It was 2am and my hotel door was locked. I was in Galway and it was pouring rain. I was coming from the bar of another hotel, where I had unexpectedly met some friends on vacation, who persuaded me to stay for refreshments.
So we stayed, refreshing ourselves, glad to have crawled after almost two years of a pandemic that challenged us all in different ways. It felt so good to be able to be really spontaneous again.
I finally left my friends and drove off in the rain to my own hotel. The wind shook me and the rain slapped me hard as I walked through the empty streets. Upon arriving at the hotel, the front door was naturally locked. It was, after all, 2 a.m. I rang the night bell and prepared to rush out into the lobby, out of the extremely persistent rain and strong wind.
I rang a few more times, expecting the absent human to return. Nothing happened
Nothing happened. I rang the night bell again. The bell chimed, rang, then a recorded message politely asked me to try later. I could see through the glass doors into the lobby, where there was a light on above the reception desk, and a black quilted jacket hung over the back of the chair. It was like the abandoned chrysalis of a human.
I rang the bell a few more times, expecting the absent human to return from the bathroom, or the smoking area, or the coffee station, or wherever they had gone. Nothing happened. Now the rain was unpleasantly heavy. I stabbed the bell once more, but it was unsuccessful.
It’s not the first time I’ve been kicked out of a hotel. I was in a hotel in the west of Ireland a few years ago on a mission. I had my dog with me. It was summer and I got up at 6am to take her for a walk before starting work. I was on a 10 a.m. deadline that morning for a story I had been reporting on for two days. I had started writing the play the night before, but I still had two-thirds to finish. I had timed everything: taking my dog for a good run, finishing writing the story, having breakfast and then checking out.
A door closes
The front door slammed softly behind me as I stepped out into the hotel’s quiet, rural garden. I knew immediately that I had locked myself away. No matter. Someone in the kitchens would let me in, or a doorman, or someone. The dog scampered away and sniffed cheerfully, as I worriedly registered that my car was the only one in the parking lot.
When I rang the doorbell, no one came. When I walked around the building, trying every door, I couldn’t find any open. There was no convenient ajar window. The dog was in even more of a hurry than I was to come in: it was time for her breakfast. I had left my phone in the bedroom. I watched the minutes, then the hours, tick by on my watch, and my deadline got closer and closer.
It appeared that I was not only the only guest, but the only occupant. An employee finally showed up at 9:45 to prepare me the late breakfast that I had requested on arrival. I told my editor that my dog didn’t quite eat my homework, but something like that.
Even as we toasted our aspirations for the year ahead, we knew that almost two million people had become refugees.
Outside the locked Galway hotel that night last week, the minutes started piling up. After more than 20 minutes of repeatedly knocking, buzzing, and phoning the hotel light switch, which I heard ringing on the other side of the glass doors, I pulled back, wondering what I was doing. was going to do next. It was the strangest and most disconcerting feeling of displacement; this state of shelter denial.
The one thing that my friends and I – three out of four reporters – deliberately didn’t talk about that evening while we were having refreshments, was the invasion of Ukraine. Even as we toasted our aspirations for the coming year, we knew that nearly two million people had become refugees. We knew there were doors they would never open again, homes that would never be their refuge.
As I stood outside the locked hotel in the rain, I felt the infinitesimal sensation of what it means to wonder where you will sleep that night. Of an everyday thing that you previously took for granted, suddenly turned upside down. To be literally in the cold, unable to return to where you left your things.
As I finally walked past reception, there was still no one there. Twenty-five minutes had passed
It so happened that on my second visit from the outside, I found an open service door and a pathway that led me past some industrial trash cans and into a neon-lit hallway. As I finally walked past reception, there was still no one there. Twenty-five minutes had passed since I had rung the night bell for the first time.
On the train back to Dublin the next morning, I kept wondering how many people had left their homes in Ukraine overnight and where their uncertain next destination was. I remembered the feeling of being temporarily locked outside the hotel. What must it be like to be locked out of your own country? I can’t understand it. But I have to try, as we all must. There are so many who now need the refuge of our open doors and our shelter.