Room number 219 | Jean Rhys, 1939


“There is a porter at the door and at the reception-desk a grey-haired woman and a sleek young man.
‘I want a room for tonight.’
‘A room? A room with bath?’
I am still feeling ill and giddy. I say confidentially, leaning forward: ‘I want a light room.’
The young man lifts his eyebrows and stares at me.
I try again. ‘I don’t want a room looking on the courtyard. I want a light room.’
‘A light room?’ the lady says pensively. She turns over the pages of her books, looking for a light room.
‘We have number 219,’ she says. ‘A beautiful room with bath. Seventy-five francs a night.’ (God, I can’t afford that.) ‘It’s a very beautiful room with bath. Two windows. Very light,’ she says persuasively.
A girl is called to show me the room. As we are about to start for the lift, the young man says, speaking out of the side of his mouth: ‘Of course you know that number 219 is occupied.’
‘Oh no. Number 219 had his bill before yesterday.’ the receptionist says. ‘I remember. I gave it to him myself.’
I listen anxiously to this conversation. Suddenly I feel that I must have number 219, with bath – number 219, with rose-coloured curtains, carpet and bath. I shall exist on a different planet at once if I can get this room, if only for a couple of nights. It will be an omen. Who says you can’t escape from your faith? I’ll escape from mine, into room number 219. Just try me, just give me a chance.
‘He asked for his bill,’ the young man says, in a voice which is a triumph of scorn and cynicism. ‘He asked for his bill but that doesn’t mean that he has gone.’
The receptionist starts arguing. ‘When people ask for their bills, it’s because they are going, isn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ he says, ‘French’ people. The others ask for their bills to see if we’re going to cheat them.’
‘My God,’ says the receptionist, ‘foreigners, foreigners, my God. …’
The young man turns his back, entirely dissociating himself from what is going on.
Number 219 – well, now I know all about him. All the time they are talking I am seeing him – his trousers, his shoes, the way he brushes his hair, the sort of girls he likes. His hand-luggage is light yellow and he has a paunch. But I can’t see his face. He wears a mask, number 219. …
‘Show the lady number 334.”

Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 1939

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