There he is again.
In the corner of the hotel room, nibbling on what appears to be some sort of candy, is the young boy dressed in shabby clothes: a white shirt worn to the extent it's turned pale yellow, and a pair of knee-length khaki shorts that looks equally used.
Not that I'm worried that he will dirty the room, of course. Arguably, he's not even there. That is, he doesn't exist in the same dimension. Or perhaps, he's just an illusion of sorts, put together by a combination of air, light particles and other factors unknown to me.
I know this because it is the fourth day he's appearing before me. And I will test it out now, again - as expected, once I turn off the lights, he vanishes. I flip the switch - and there he goes again.
I know what they call him, and others like him. But I don't feel scared anymore. The first night I came out of the shower and saw him juggling a rattan football in front of the TV, my heart froze. I stumbled backwards into the bathroom, slammed the door shut with my trembling hands, and sank on the toilet. My heart beat rapidly, and I had goosebumps all over. I knew he wasn't part of us, even if he looked no different from any other kid out there. I just knew. After moments of staring into space from the shock, I suddenly remembered and bounced up to lock the door frantically. I didn't know if I would therefore be safe from him, but I had to do that. I reenacted the scene in my mind, and shook hard, all over. And for the remainder of that night, I locked myself in the bathroom, suffering from the recurring cycle of dozing off and then waking up in fear from the nightmare of that boy smiling at me.
When I finally woke up the next day, when I checked my watch and it said 10, I was immensely relieved. Frankly, I didn't want to open the door at all, even if they said they only appeared at night. But I had a lunch meeting, and I had to prepare myself for it. And my clothes were in the closet outside.
My legs were still trembling mildly, even though the intensity of my fear had gone down. The snap from unlocking the door gave me such a fright that it surprised myself - to think such a simple action could be so unnerving.
From the crack that I carefully unveiled, I could see nothing but a healthy spread of sunlight that embraced half the hotel room.
I slumped onto the floor, and only after ten minutes did I find the strength to pull the bathroom door open with my foot.
I can't possibly describe the kind of relief I felt - no one can. You have to experience it for yourself to understand how there is no parallel experience to what I had gone through. Nothing - not even the resurrection of a loved one can compare.
* * *
It was easy to ask for another room - the concierge readily agreed to my request without making a fuss, so much so that I began to suspect the room had a reputation. The only words of significance he left was, "Didn't sleep well last night, sir? Sorry about that. We'll arrange something that's better, for sure." It was those last two words that haunted me, that led me to believe my hunch was right. And while the bellboy helped me pack everything in the room into my suitcase, I waited impatiently outside, in my bathrobe and boxers only (the amount of tips I handed the young chap).
* * *
Of course, I went into the second room only to find the boy reappear before me again, slightly before dinner. This time, I dropped the bag of tortillas I had in my hand and cowered into the corner sofa, while staring helplessly at the boy who, in turn, stared at the wall - or whatever was beyond that.
* * *
By now, I'm no longer surprised at the boy's existence. You must think I'm insane to be staying in the same hotel till now, but trust me, the kind of living people that populated the other alternatives, I'd rather face the boy. In any case, he was a quiet (at least, I couldn't make out what he seemed to be saying sometimes) and really, quite adorable boy, once you get used to him. Now, I leave the lights on, knowing that when I turn them off later, he will vanish and not interfere with my sleep. At least I'll be leaving tomorrow morning, and this will likely fade from my memory, maybe turn into a kind of semi-dream for me to ponder over in the future.