Image of KarlaB


292 readings

7 votes

It was the spring of 1978, and the room 21 was ready to receive its new guest. That afternoon, a red hair girl had brought her grandmother. I did not see the tears, not even a little of sorrow. «She does not even understand where she is at, her spirit flies», said the girl. Her phrase was an unequivocal sign that she would not come back. From the old woman’s suitcase, she pulled out an old picture frame and put it on a small table.

By that time, I had already been living in San Bartolo for several years, a nursing home built in Los Andes mountain range, in Chile. Seen from the town, San Bartolo was a mansion with large windows and lamps that shone like stars.
In the morning of May 01 of 1956, I put on my water boots and the yellow plastic apron. My assignment was to clean the room 21, so I grabbed the cleaning stuff and the bedding and I walked along the hall. I knocked on the door and waited for a few seconds. The guest in the room 21 was very well-known for being annoying. «One day I found him in the bathroom, he had passed out ̶ another worker told me ̶ I took him and put him on his bed, the old man got up and started beating me with his walking stick. His insane look and his crazy laughter are still in my nightmares»

The room was dark. Only the deafening sound of the radio was in the air. I touched the wall looking for the light switch, since I could not find it, I opened the curtains. The bed was perfectly made. Something was wrong. I turned off the radio and I looked around the room to find Robert Martel. I was not going to be caught by surprise.

I turned around the armchair that was in front of the small bookshelf and I saw a shape in stripes. Shivers went down my spines. I turned my body and I saw Martel, pale as a sheet and his pupils were dilated, and there was a bottle of pills on the rug. «He’s dead», I cried aloud and I left the room trying to cry for help, but suddenly everything around stood still as if it were a scene from another world where its inhabitants float in their unbreakable solitude. I called front desk.
— Nursery— someone said over the phone.
—The guest in the room 21 is dead— I bewilderedly said.
—Martel? Ok, do not touch anything and do not call anyone else. We’re on our way.
Do they think that I will sit and pray next to the dead body? I thought aloud. And what if this poor devil is not dead and beats me up with this walking stick? I stared at the body mistrustfully and walked away.
A few minutes later, two nurses arrived. One of them checked the body and with a movement of his head, the other one walked out to confirm the death over the phone.
—«The gravedigger is on her way» — one nurse announced.
After that the two nurses went to the hall to smoke. The gravedigger? I thought horrified. Are they talking about Death itself? I imagined her as a skeletal woman, long black hair, holding her scythe. However, the gravedigger turned out to be a pink cheeks woman with black thick eyebrows that she drew with black charcoal. Her hair still damp and wetting her blouse. The smell of lavender congested my nose.

The gravedigger walked next to me, and without saying a word, she kneed in front of the dead body, as if she were a vulture. «Is this your first dead body? », she asked. I nodded. «Come on! It is not that bad! » She roared with laughter. «Come with me to fill in the form and have some coffee. » She made a gesture to the nurses.
I followed her to another building. In the room, there were three women typing rhythmically. «They type in condolences notes to relatives - the gravedigger explained-, Well, you know, it is just to let the dead rest in peace- she whispered. » The three women did not seem to care about our presence. Not even a look, «Wait here! » the gravedigger said pointing to an armchair.
I sat on the edge of the armchair, I did not want to stain it with my clothes. Later on another woman arrived, elegantly dressed with her brown hair falling at the level of her chin. Would she a Martel’s relative?
—So, did you find Martel? — said quickly and went on without waiting for my reply. —Martel was a sick, bitter unremembered old man.
— She lit a cigarette.
— But Mr. Martel did not seem to be ill - I said.
— So what? What if Martel decided to die and he died, what would the problem be?
Discretion she demanded. —She smoked one more time.
— But I saw a bottle of pills on the rug... —I mumbled.
— You saw nothing and that is all!
The woman’s eye were glowing. She dropped her cigarette like in slow motion and stepped on it with her fine shoe. The gravedigger interrupted: «Go, you lad, go home and get some sleep for tomorrow there will be a funeral». I ran away. That night I thought I was going to choke to death.
The next day, the curtain in the room 21 were removed. On a corner there were Martel’s belongings. On the bookshelf there were just two books. Everything smelled like hopelessness and solitude. I removed the paintings, moved the furniture and as I moved the bookshelf, I noticed a loose tile on the floor. I lifted it up, I used my flashlight and inside the hole I found an old can of cookies. Did I find a treasure? If Martel does not have relatives, no one will ask for it, I greedily thought. But suddenly, I heard some voices and put the can back in the hole.
Trying to find the right moment to steal the treasure was more complicated than I expected. Years passed by and at least three guests stayed in the room 21. Meanwhile, I felt attached to that secret.
The chance took place during a New Year’s dinner. A water pipe burst and I volunteered to fix it. This is my chance -I thought-, nobody would like to miss the dinner. Wasting no time, I headed for the room, I took the content in the can, I hid it within my clothes and put on the yellow plastic apron. Once I fixed the pipe, I had the perfect excuse to go back home. «Tonight’s hero» said the security guard.
It was cold outside, but I was sweating like a pig. I was lucky not have been checked at the exit, but the bus would be late so I decided to walk. It is time for change in my life, I repeated to myself. As I got home, I put the treasure on the bed, but there were only a few letters tightened with discolored ribbons. I searched for something valuable, but I just found a picture: «Maria Cristina, January 21, 1921». It was the same picture that the girl put on the night table.
How is it possible that two people linked by the past could have lived their last days in the same room of a nursing home? I saw the red hair girl’s car approaching. A girl that most likely I will never see again. The car stopped a little farther. «Call me and tell me about the grandmother»— said the girl as she was looking up the car’s window. She handed me a card— give me a collect call.
I called her at least two times. The last one was to tell her that her grandmother was gone. One night, while everyone was asleep, a furious fire brought down San Bartolo mansion. The short circuit occurred in the room 21. At the end, there was a notice announcing that the nursing home closed for good.
And I still keep letters and the feeling that the room 21 keeps waiting for the next guest.


Image of The other side


Few words for the author? Comment below.

Take a look at our advice on commenting here!

To post comments, please
Image of Edgar
Edgar · ago
Image of SofíaRetana
SofíaRetana · ago
👏👏👏👏great job!
Image of Edgar Corrales
Edgar Corrales · ago