In Southern Russia


Shahriar Zahedi
by Shahriar Zahedi

Last night I realized instead of the usual four there were only two towels hanging on the rack in my hotel bathroom. I thought nothing of it. They must have known this was my last night here and 2 towels seem adequate enough.

When I went down to the lobby to check out, they called my floor lady to ask about my mini-bar usage and other incidental charges. It turned out I had consumed about 100 Rubles of drinks; about $ 3 1/2. I had already paid for the room online so I gave her the 100 ruble differential and I thought I was done. But an air of incompleteness still seemed to linger. They weren’t yet done with me. After hearing a good bit of Russian conversation among the hotel staff, they handed me a cell phone with an English- speaking Natasha at the other end. Sir, 2 towels are missing from your room. She said. “Do you know where they are?” I told her that the towels weren’t there since yesterday’s cleaning and I don’t know anything about them. She said ok and I handed the phone back. But the conversations behind the reception desk continued. Now a man and a blond lady in red had joined and of course, Natasha was still on the line. They had summoned the floor lady as well.

At this time I was sitting in a couch nearby, fooling with my laptop and waiting for my taxi, while observing the unfolding situation out of the corner of my eye.

After several minutes, the desk lady approached again with the cell phone and obviously Natasha was at the other end. They think you have taken the towels, she said. “They want to look into your luggage.”

I immediately sprang up and started to unzip my luggage. A thought came quickly over me as I was laboring over the stuck zipper; what if the floor lady has placed the towels in my bags because she was pissed off at me for something? Maybe I didn’t tip her enough for washing my shirts the first day? As I often do in anticipation of an impending-and probable-episode of embarrassment, I started sweating profusely. However, I tried to dismiss the thought just as quickly as it came since I remembered having repacked both suitcases only a few hours before and nobody could have gotten to them since then. And there were no towels in either one of them.

As my bags laid wide open by the couch, none of the half dozen inquisitors dared approach. I myself sifted through the contents for them while they looked from a distance. We were all looking for white towels, and in the process I felt like I was revealing my private life to total strangers; my dirty underwear, my medicines, and everything else. It was like one those dreams where you are naked in public.

The hotel staff was by now beginning to realize their mistake. They were looking at me and at each other in puzzled embarrassment. The desk lady approached me and in a thick Russian accent said “I am sorry.” I shrugged my shoulders in indifference, but I was fuming inside.

Now I felt it was my turn as I approached the desk. The blond in red was still there, on my side of the desk. The lady on the other side apologized again. I asked “skolka”; how much? Without hesitation, the blond wrote 800 on a piece of paper; about $27. I gave her a 1000-ruble note and she passed it on to the desk lady who gave me back my 200-ruble change, again saying “I am sorry.”

I went back to my seat, trying to cool down and restraining myself from making gross judgments about the entire Russian Nation over this single affair.

The lobby elevator now opened and I saw my floor lady storming out. She was out of her uniform and in civilian clothes and she was visibly sobbing. She first approached the exit and then turned around and headed to the reception desk and started talking to the lady there while occasionally glancing at me. I didn’t like what I was seeing. Have they fired her? I don’t think her shift was over. Why is she crying? Have they let her go over this?

The next thing, the reception lady came to me again with the cell phone, apologizing again and handing me back the 800 rubles and giving me the phone. We are very sorry Mr. so and so, Natasha said. “We are paying you back your money.” I don’t want you to kick out the floor lady over this, I responded. “There must have been a mistake. Maybe someone else is responsible.” Natasha kept going back to the money they had refunded me. I don’t care about the money, I said. “I don’t want her to lose her job.” We are sorry for our bad organization, Natasha said. “And don’t worry sir, she won’t lose her job.”

She was lying.


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