A Room to Let
By Keith Chiponda (Zimbabwe)
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I remember when I first got here, I thought very little of the occult, mysticism and myth. The pastime of lesser mortals was my opinion of it. Now things have changed completely. I find myself doubting my sanity. I see it in my dreams. I wish I had just thrown it away…why did I even read it?
I couldn’t believe my luck! After a month of searching the papers, there it was, advertised in an old newspaper I found cleaning out the garage. A local place not far from here to rent for a fraction of the extortionate rent I was currently paying! I recall thinking that there must be some mistake.
Now that I think about it I didn’t even check the date on that newspaper or finish cleaning. That’s how eager I was for the bargain. Sure, it probably needed a little attention, but that much of a saving at least justified an enquiry about it.
Without hesitating to think I quickly phoned the number from my cellphone on the way to the address. Even more luck! The guy was home.
“Is this uh… uh… about the...the room?” A stammering voice answered.
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “I know this is a bit sudden but can I come and see it? I happen to be in the neighbourhood.”
“N…N…no problem just make it quick,” he answered to my delight.
‘Great I thought to myself it was still there’. When I got there, I rang the doorbell repeatedly in anticipation, wondering why he seemed to be taking his time. He sounded like he was just on the other side of the door.
“Im…Im…coming g…g…imme a few seconds.”
I opened the door. There stood a smartly dressed man in his mid sixties. His seemingly brand new shoes reminded me of a pair my grandfather owned except they had a thick veil of dust on them, now that I think about it so did his suit, hat, coat and everything else in the room. More importantly at the time, the room looked decent like it just needed a little cleaning up. I offered to pay a deposit upfront just to secure it. He seemed reluctant to take the money. All of a sudden, there was gentle weeping. I was confused.
“What’s wrong now?” I asked. “You haven’t changed your mind have you? C’mon, that’s what you asked for in the ad,” I reminded him.
Without counting, it he slowly took the money and scribbled into a small notebook. Picking up a leather briefcase, he took a last look at the room went to the door, sighed and walked out mumbling something about being late for work.
Expecting him to return later for the rest of his belongings, I began to explore the fruits of my bargain. Something seemed odd. The place looked like it hadn’t been lived in; in fact the only place that wasn’t covered in dust was an antique chair that sat facing the door. On its right was a small table with a diary and what appeared to be a pen tucked neatly between its pages. I opened it, meaning to flick through it as I assumed it belonged to the old man. An old watch fell out instead of a pen.
‘I’ll just rest for a while,’ I thought to myself, ‘then start moving my stuff in about an hour’.
I took out my cell phone to pass on the good news to dad but the battery had gone flat. That was okay because I knew it must have been about midday, ‘I’ll just call him later,’ I resolved.
I must have fallen asleep for more than two hours when I then suddenly awoke to check the time. I looked at the watch and it had stopped at ten past midday. ‘I gotta go and get my stuff,’ I thought as I picked up my cell phone to leave. I got an unexpected surprise. ‘I must still be half asleep,’ I thought as I went in the direction the chair was facing. Everything was fine except that there was a solid wall where the door had been. I chuckled to myself thinking maybe I’m in the wrong room but then I noticed that there was no other room. I looked back at the chair and that was there, the diary I saw before…it was there. The watch inside the diary…it was there, the only thing that was missing was the door I used to enter.
I sat down expecting to wake up any second and realise this was just a dream. In fact this dream was so bad I was probably going to reconsider getting a new place when I woke up. The hours passed and slowly realised I was not going to wake up any minute now and this was not a dream. First anger at this practical joke was my reaction. Slowly, my anger turned into fear and panic. ‘Think logical’ I had told myself all my life, but this was no ordinary situation. I took a deep breath and then recalled the diary, maybe it had the phone number of the old man and he could explain where this elusive hidden exit was. I took a look around the room again and noticed the telephone I must have phoned when I spoke to the old man. This joke had gone too far I was just going to simply just call the police, give them the address and have them sort this out! After picking it up I noticed there was no dial where the rotary dial usually was on these old phones.
I then sat back down to collate my thoughts and logically confront this conundrum. First things first. I started by opening the diary. I was startled at the volume of content in the diary. It started off talking about having to rent a place for a week and having to see it before picking up a birthday present, then it became nonsensical and constantly referred to the time having to be right, ‘Timing is everything’ was constantly written for three pages before suddenly in fresh ink were the words ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘good luck’. Why would he write something like that, I thought. I took out the piece of newspaper I had torn with the advertisement printed on it and after studying it over and over again I noticed the phone number in the advert only had six digits instead of the usual eight. This was strange. It could only mean that it was old; we hadn’t had six digit phone numbers for fifteen to twenty years now. It was then it dawned on me that the old man had written those words for a reason. It was he that had sealed my fate. He had made the same mistake I just did. He had come before me allured by the prospect of affordable lodgings.
The watch in the book seemed to have stopped the minute I came into the room; the minute he was emancipated from its capture it then claimed a replacement victim. I would have to wait however long until the phone rang in response to that advert placed nineteen years ago and procure a new tenant for the room to let.
Keith Chiponda 24/10/07