The small teal coloured Beatle rolled down the hillock making its way towards The Park which nestled beautifully within an outgrowth of trees along the banks of the meandering river. The front plate of the car had been covered with brown mud marks that had dried from the wind caressing it for the last hundred miles or so and baked by the bright sun. Like it was trying to hide, suspicious of judgement, afraid of being recognized by the casual eye and a tad too shy. It barely made a sound as it came to a halt in front of a black metal gate. A small sign – white paint on a wooden plank, hand written, confirmed this to be The Park. The grounds of the hotel were surrounded by high, chrome coloured stone walls, which discouraged passer-bys from ‘getting a glimpse in’. A smell of strawberries wafted through the humid air accompanied with the sweet smell of bread and the sound of seagulls across the perfect blue sky, something that reminded the occupants of the car of their vacation in Greece, a long long time ago. Water dripped onto the mossy walls from the long leaves of a few trees that grew inside the hotel grounds on the east side. Some seagulls mingled with a group of red chested birds which were perched along the wall pecking at the moss growing on the tree trunks.
The river was lined with boats, sails, yatches of all sizes, shapes and colours – some of them turned into restaurants, some into cute little block shaped houses with small terraces, where the young folks sat and smoked cheap cigarettes, carelessly glancing at the boats that came downstream, passing many villages and towns, to finally rest in Kampen, . It was on this semi-festive Sunday that Michael and Jesse arrived at The Park, the only hotel in the town, in a teal coloured Beatle and were greeted by Jannie, the tall brown haired receptionist who welcomed them with all the warmth that the residents of Kampen reserved for their guests. The Beatle,parked on the stone pavement inside the hotel gates was relieved of the bags in its trunk by a hefty, tall, blonde boy who kept glancing towards the guests shyly, as if unsure of how to behave in front of ‘Heren Van Buiten’- the gentlemen from Outside. He barely spoke any English. In fact, he barely spoke.
They were holding hands. She didn’t approve of it at all. When she was twelve, she had come running home from school, crying – not because she had accidentally entered the men’s toilet and had been reprimanded at school, but because a more twisted version of the story was doing the rounds almost immediately and that did not sit well with Jannie. She was crying out of embarrassment, when her mom, between Jannie’s sobs, managed to find out what had occurred and naturally, Jannie was soon frequenting the church more often than before, nudged by her mom. Now, ten years later, she was as devout as they come.
” I will need you to fill out these forms please”, she said with a smile and a suspicious eye. ” It is just formality – will need your names and some identity”. She scrambled behind the desk to search for something, found what she was looking for and cleared her throat before she spoke to Michael. ” It says here that you have booked one room with a double bed, am I right? I just printed out the booking last night so that I wouldn’t have to search for it on the computer when you came in today. The internet here is pretty unreliable”, she explained as she held a white sheet of paper between her fingers, fidgeting with its corners. Michael nodded his head at Jannie, producing both their identities from his wallet. ” Yes”, he said, supporting his nod with words, “we booked the double bed room, and if I am not mistaken also the boat ride early tomorrow morning?”.
She could see that they had added the ‘Sunrise boat tour’ to their booking. Most couples did that. There wasn’t much to do in Kampen otherwise.
” I thought it was a error”, she said without looking at either of them, fixating her eyes somewhere on her desk, still fidgeting with the piece of paper in her hand.
“I thought it was a mistake in the booking. In your names. I will have to ask someone to re-arrange the room a bit, I was expecting a … man and a woman…” .She said she was really sorry and it would take just a few minutes to ‘sort’ it out.
Would they mind taking a seat in the reception area for the time being?
Jesse looked at his wrist watch, it was almost noon. They had driven for hours, taking turns, stopping by beautiful villages, hearts fluttering at every glint of green grass and every speck of bright blue sky. “Lets walk up to the river and come back in fifteen”, he suggested. He wanted to stretch his legs a bit. They were still holding hands and walking towards the river when the church bell went off twelve times, each resounding chime reverberated throughout the town and like the opening of a dam, hundreds of people poured out of the church doors – whole families, young couples, old men and women. Like Jannie, most of the people in the town would kneel in front of God every Sunday, they would pray to Him, they would share their wine and bread. Jesse and Michael looked at the amazing spectacle that the river-side had now become. They watched as the church goers, dressed completely in white or black, mingled with the others like when you mix coffee with milk and serve it with a slice of rainbow. The town was an absolute delight.
When they got back to The Park, Jannie had some bad news. Apparently, the hotel had overbooked and the double bed rooms were not available. “Would you mind if I put you in two separate single bed rooms?”
They had gone to Greece almost ten years ago on a vacation paid for by their parents. It had been the two of them along with a few friends – that tall pretty girl from school, her brother, the chubby girl who wore braces throughout her teens, Berta she was called, and her pet chameleon. They weren’t partners yet but goofed around like teenagers did, carefree, enamoured of each other without a care in the world.
Now Jesse looked at Michael with disappointed eyes, a look that Michael read as a sign of defeat, a look he had seen many time before. They were lovers. They held hands, the kissed and they made love like everyone else.It was that simple.But this wasn’t the first and wasn’t going to be the last time a hotel was overbooked on double bed rooms at the last moment. Ibiza, Venice, Brighton, New Delhi, they could name a hundred places and each one had the same story. They opened their bags and rearranged some clothes and toiletries so that both of them didn’t have to ask the other for fresh clothes or towels or toothpaste. Once this was sorted, they took their own bags, went to their own rooms. That night they slept- tired from the driving, eager for the romantic Sunrise tour, in separate rooms, in separate beds, just like they had done a hundred times before.