Room 27: Maria

Maria always chooses Room 27 when she visits her dad.  For a long time, I assumed that her Dad could not host her. May be his flat or house was too small. But I understood after listening in to a couple of conversations over the phone that Maria's dad was married with someone who did not want to meet his children. He had compartmentalised his life. His past and his present. And he kept the connections from his past at a distance from the places & people of his present.  And so when Maria visited him she was staying in my room. This happened four times a year. At Christmas, in May -which I discovered subsequently was his birthday- early summer and in October.

I discovered that Maria was an art teacher. She carried with her sketch books and boxes of crayons she pulled out from time to time. Sometimes she would sit on the bed facing the window and draw for hours. Faces, figures, shapes. Human and abstract.  She was immobile and focused, one hand on the sketch book and the other tense and supple, holding the crayon as if it was dancing on the page. The crayon would rub gently on the paper, make a subtle ruffle as if there was a bird in the room.

I was her easel and her studio.  My room is bright, with indirect light coming from the window.  There is a specialan intensity to Maria when she draws.  I like watching her. I hardly recognise her in those moments. I have understood from her conversations with her dad that she is also a painter and an illustrator. May be not quite as successful as he is. This is me making assumptions. Looking at her clothes, her suitcase. Her father pays for her room.  His suits are well cut and expensive. Maria's dad is a man who carries his success on his face. They have rituals I noticed. The first evening she is in town he takes her to a fancy restaurant. She dresses up, put a little lipstick on. Her dad is her date. She owns a few simple dresses, all well cut, and she has a good figure. I have noticed over the years that she has put a little weight on.

After the restaurant they come back to the room together and they chat late in the night, drinking champagne. Her dad smokes at the window. Smoking is not allowed in the room and she always reminds him. He laughs.

They make plans to meet the next day. Have lunch by the Calanques. He often asks :

-You still like oysters?

She nods in a way with says yes, you should know by now.

-Take your swimming costume,  he reminds her as he prepares to go.

She usually has forgotten her swimming costume. Then her dad pulls an envelope from his pocket and puts it on the table.

When he has left, Maria takes the envelope and counts the money. Feverishly.

He also gives her boxes of chocolate and books. They are all from the same stores, L'Esperantine.


Sometimes, her dad gives her one of his paintings.  He gave her a large one for her birthday. I was unable to take a peak as was all wrapped up and covered.  She could hardly carry it by herself.

On her last visit, something happened when Maria was there. I am not sure but I think her dad was unwell and she visited him in hospital. She was talking on the phone with the doctors. She looked sad and confused.

She would spend most of her time in the room and disappear for a couple of hours, giving me no indication of where she was going. I am a perceptive room, my walls have ears, my mirrors see things deep into my guests' dreams, hopes and fears, specifically for regulars like Maria.

For the time she stayed with me, she bought some food and ate it in the evening, alone in the room, sitting on the bed. She looked a little older than normal. She wore no makeup and her back was a little hunched. She packed her suitcase one morning, methodically, putting the clean garments on one side and the dirty ones on the other side. This time there was no boxes of chocolate, no books, no paintings to bring back to her other life. She left as she had arrived, alone and lonely.

I have never seen her since.

Brigitte Bellan