'Maybe...' by Nicolas Papaconstantinou

You had only been back in the hotel room twenty minutes before the noises started.

At first it was just a single loud voice. Probably a man on the phone, or one side of a one-sided conversation in the room next door.

Then, the more muffled sounds of voices lowered to a murmur. Two people, it sounded like, but hard to tell if the second voice was male or female.

A short, reedy moan, and then a gentle thump, like someone just sat on a bed that’s up against the shared wall. Then the rhythmic sound of the headboard rocking against it.

Maybe you found it funny at first. Or maybe you’re in that room with your wife or husband or lover, and the thought of lust in the next room excited you both for a while.

But then the sound built, joined with less familiar human sounds, more pain than pleasure, and maybe you realised that what was happening next door wasn’t what you had first thought. Or maybe your companion started getting impatient with your unseen neighbours. Or you were sitting there alone, and getting lonely, and desperate.

Whatever the case, at some point you decided to bang on the shared wall in protest, and that decision turned to action.

And the noises stopped.

You probably assumed that you’d made your point. That the people in the next room realised, embarrassed, that they were loud enough to be heard. That they were lying there, naked under the covers, exchanging furtive glances, suitably cowed. Or silent, and spent.

Or maybe the sudden quiet makes you nervous. Maybe you’re paranoid; have an over-active imagination.

Maybe you’re picturing me, or someone like me, standing here still, staring at the other side of the wall. At the point where I can make a reasonable guess that your head is.

Maybe not. Probably too much of an outlier – too unlikely a scenario for you to imagine.

Too much of a coincidence that I could have finished the work I came here to do at the exact same moment your patience ran out.

I tidy up the tools of my trade, and look over at the shared wall again. I think momentarily on the order in the world, and the chaos. The terrible things that can drop into your life without any warning. A shiver goes through me. It isn’t unpleasant.

I check my watch, and do some quick calculations with the numbers it shows me.

Maybe you shouldn’t have put yourself on my radar.

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