AIDA AUSTIN: I know, let’s draw straws. Short straw gets the box room

5 pm.

Lisbon. I’m in an Airbnb apartment with my three sisters. It is day one of our city break and we are allocating rooms.

We enter the first bedroom.

It is well-appointed, graceful, airy and light.

With elegant shuttered windows and heart-stopping views of filigree balconies, rickety rooftops and sea that sparkles like a trillion Catherine wheels in the evening sun.

“Lush,” Sligo sister shouts.

“The business,” London sister says.

“Lovely,” Devon says.

“Top,” I say.

We go into the second.

This one is also filled with the light of a trillion Catherine wheels. “This one’s even nicer,” Sligo shouts.

“Stunning,” London says.

“Beautiful,” Devon says.

“Totally top,” I say.

We open the door to the third bedroom.

More light.

More Catherine wheels.

“Well, who’d have thought it?” shouts Sligo, “it’s even nicer than the other two.” “We’ve lucked out,” says London.

“We’ve definitely lucked out,” says Devon.

“We have totally and completely lucked out,” say I.

We open the door to the fourth bedroom.

It is a box room.

It is full of darkness.

It has a bed in it and three hooks on a wall.

There is nothing else inside this bedroom.

Or outside; there are no sparkly Catherine wheels.

No filigree balconies.

Or rickety rooftops.

“Where have all the windows gone?” we wonder.

The bed is narrow.

“Is it a bed or a cot?” we wonder.

“Bummer,” Sligo says.

“It’d be okfor a sad, lonely priest.” London says.

“A sad lonely priest with extremely low expectations in life,” says Devon.

“A sad lonely priest who is so poor,” I say, “as to be homeless and desperate.”

We regroup in the sitting room. “What to do?” we think. “Two of us can share,” says Sligo. “Which two?” says London tersely. She says she put up with me last night in a hotel and needs a break from chaos.

“What chaos?” I say.

“It’s just an air you have,” she says. Same air as Sligo, she says, and she’s not sharing with her either.

“I know,” Sligo says, “let’s draw straws. Short straw gets the box room.”

“Good idea!” we all say, “that’s the fairest way.”

“I’ll get the straws,” London says.

“Where from?” Devon says.

“The kitchen,” London says, “unless you know of any straw shops round here.”

She returns without straws.

Sligo tears up four pieces of paper.

Three long, one short.

Devon pulls the short.

But we all agree: Devon can’t take the box room because she organised the whole trip down to the last detail with no fuss whatsoever.

It would be tantamount to punishing her for going to the trouble.

Sligo offers to take the box room instead of Devon but I say no.

Sligo shouldn’t have the box room either because, well, she lives in the boondocks on a smallholding with four children and needs respite from barnyard disasters such as miscarrying sheep, donkeys with ear infections and a cat that got tangled up in wire poultry netting and died a long and terrible death.

London keeps quiet.

We all know she couldn’t sleep in the box room, short straw or long because her expectations in life are set in stone thus: as high as a sad lonely priest’s are low.

And not adjustable.

Which just leaves me.

I can’t think of a good reason why I shouldn’t sleep in the box room; I have no barnyard disasters to get over, I didn’t organise the trip with no fuss and my expectations are used to being dashed.

Perhaps my sisters will come up with a good reason.

“Right,” London says. “Right what?” I say.

“That’s decided then,” she says and disappears with her luggage to unpack.

I sit on my cot in my box of darkness.

I look at three hooks.

One of them is crooked.

“A cot and three hooks is a first world problem,” I think to myself.

In the bathroom, I wash my hands and cast about in my brain for other helpful thoughts.

“Beware of self-pity,” I think, drying my hands on a towel, “that’s always a good one.”

“Things can only get better,” I think, fiddling around with the door-lock, which seems to be stuck.

I fiddle around with the lock for a full five minutes.

Clockwise, anticlockwise.

Panic turns my fingers into bananas.

“Or worse,” I think.

And scream for help.


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