i was laying in bed in a dirty hostel room in moscow, russia. i was alone in the room despite the availability of another bed which was on the other side of the room about 3 feet from mine. the dark wood which comprised the walls, floor, and ceiling of my room made the night feel even tighter around me. i could see nothing except a thin sliver of light exposed by the gap at the bottom of the door. the door opened into a foyer which had four more doors in it besides mine; one for the toilet, one for the shower, one that opened into the main hallway, and one for another hostel room. i never saw the person who was staying in the other room but i often heard him going in and out. about an hour after i laid my head on the pillow i heard someone open the hallway door, say goodnight to someone in the hall, unlock his room door, open it, and then lock it again behind him. i heard only silence from the occupant after that. i assumed he had fallen asleep.
i lay there awake because i felt uneasy. the hostel occupied the 8th floor of a crumbling old building in a dark, gloomy moscow neighborhood. while walking to and from the hostel, one encountered unsettling characters who roamed the streets day and night, never knowing exactly what they were up to. at night, passing by these people grouped together in the dark places beneath black trees was particularly uncomfortable. the building itself was not very secure so the opportunity was easy for one of these street creatures to make his way inside if he wanted to.
i would jump at the noises from the foyer even in the daylight so at night my nerves were bouncing frogs. i lay there awake, my head resting on its left side so i could stare at the line of light where the door met the floor. i was tense and scared. in the 9 years i lived in chicago my apartment was broken into twice and i never felt the same since; whenever i slept alone i did so uncomfortably. thank god i was not home when the apartment was broken into - i hated to think about what might have happened had i been there. i had this on my mind as i tried to relax. i continued to stare at the light beneath the door, waiting to fall asleep.
suddenly the outside hallway door opened and someone walked into the foyer. my heart raced. the occupant of the other room was already asleep, who could this be? only he and i supposedly had a key to the hallway door. heavy, lazy feet scraped across the wooden floor and stopped in front of my room. two thick black shadows broke the line of light that shined underneath my door. someone was standing right outside my room. i was alone. i was lying on my side. i was vulnerable. i was a tense cold wire. a thick hand rapped at my door. oh my god. why was someone knocking at my door at 3:00 in the morning? razors of blood scattered through my veins. i ignored the knock but another one shortly followed. i lay silently, clutching the extra pillow which i had taken from the empty bed. earlier i had prasied my good fortune at having the room to myself but now i wished for a roommate, someone whom i could endure this with. who in hell could possibly be at my door? whoever it was mercifully walked away after a few minutes. i felt somewhat relieved but still wondered who had knocked, and why. jesus, that was creepy.
i got up to turn on the light. i had no other way of comforting myself. i flicked the switch on and heard a noise behind me. i wheeled around on my heels and my blood froze. a man was standing at the foot of my bed. i couldnt speak. he was about my height but looked shorter since he was hunched over. he looked at me through the tops of his eyes, through bushy, jagged eyebrows. his craned posture prevented a direct look. his teeth were gnarled, his face bumpy and scarred. his arms hung down at his sides like thick, deadly snakes, his knobby, hairy hands clutched and released, clutched and released.
i left my bag in here, he said in a raspy, choking voice. where is it?
i was frozen by the door, gathering all the courage i could not to piss my pants. it took me longer than normal to process his question in my frightened state.
i-i-i dont know. i never saw another bag in here, i said. i just checked in yesterday. the room was empty when i came in. who are you? i had a hand on the doorknob just about ready to bolt outside.
i put it there, he said, ignoring my question, pointing a hooked finger toward the vacant bed. what did you do with it? he asked.
maybe the cleaning ladies took it, i said. all i wanted was this man out of my room. i had no idea how he got in there and i was terrified. why dont you ask the receptionist if they have it?
i will wait here until you give it back to me, he said. before i could react his hand flashed across the room and switched the lights off. i was now alone in the room with this freak but couldnt see him. i fumbled for the door handle and the lock but lost hold of it when the lights went out. my eyes had adjusted to the light so the sudden darkness was blinding. i reached out for the wall placing my hand against it, and groped for the doorhandle.
stay in here with me, the man said from my left now. he had moved to the other side of the room without making a sound. i had to get out of the room. i lurched for what i thought was the doorknob but grabbed a boney hand instead.
wheres my bag? give it to me and ill leave, the man said as his abnormally strong fingers dug into my forearm. i was just about hysterical. i screamed like i was being murdered. i felt something rush past me. the door flew open and then slammed shut. the person in the room next to me came running out in his underwear.
whats wrong? he asked in heavily accented english. i stood there in the foyer shaking. he repeated his question and in an unsteady voice i told him what happened. i asked him if the other bed in his room was empty and if i could sleep in it if so. he seemed somewhat reluctant to bunk with a stranger but said he understood and invited me in. oh, thank god. i gathered my stuff very quickly and dragged it into his room. my heart was slamming against my chest. i thanked my new roommate several times. he was back to sleep in seconds, apparently not moved much by my unbelievable story. maybe thats why: he didnt believe me. he probably thought i dreamt it and after a little while i thought so too. i slept uneasily but much better than if i had stayed in my room alone.
the next morning i awoke alone. my roommate was gone. i had a train to catch which left in 2 hours so i packed my stuff and headed down to reception to check out. the office was also a travel agency like many of the hostel reception offices in russia so i walked into a room full of people typing away at their computers. i decided not to say anything about the incident the previous night. no harm done aside from ruining the act of sleeping for the rest of my life. i just wanted to get out of the hostel. besides, it was probably just a dream. i said goodbye and thanks to the pleasant receptionist and hoisted my bag onto my shoulders. before heading out though i looked up one last time across the office and saw someone staring at me from behind his computer monitor: it was the old man. he was smiling at me as he dropped his right hand to his side. i looked down and saw that he was patting a bag. his bag. fuck russia man - this place is too fucking weird for me. the workers even come into your room at night and behave like insane wizards.
i rushed out the door as he shouted behind me thanks, i got it back!
September 2004 - Moscow, Russia