Someone else has been living in my room for some days now. I still do not know who he is. But he is someone who has a key to my room.
As for my part, I do not have a key any longer. I must have lost it some time ago and the locksmith to whom I applied pretended to be busy otherwise. Later on he bluntly replied that he simply did not want to make me a new key.
At first, this was not too serious a problem as I just had to wait in the hallway for the concierge to pass and ask him to let me in my chamber. The caretaker has a key to every room in the house and most times he readily unlocked the door for me.
Some days ago, however, he has fallen ill, as someone told me, and is at home now, confined to his bed. His deputy is a brutish irascible person who just eyes me silently when I beg him to open my room.
Occasionally though, he can be strangely affable. He whistles a silly tune then, and with his heavy fingers picks the key from the chinking bunch.
But these are rare occasions. Usually he only frowns as if he could not quite remember me and then shuffles on, down the corridor to the staircase. Once he even seized me and with a hateful snarl – “Guys like you …!” – hurled me against the wall.
In the following days I did not even venture into the entrance hall but slept on a bench by the well.
There is a new resident now in the last room on the floor. A pallid daytaller with a scabby five-day beard, interspersed with bald spots. He is a drinker and, despite the ban by the house rules, brings harlots with him.
There is something that gives him an imperturbable stoicism. At times, you can see it burn like glowing coals deep in his eyes.
I think that even the caretaker’s deputy is aware of it. His conduct towards the newcomer is different, almost timid.
Someday, he met the daytaller on the stairs. The latter was drunk close to oblivion and had a squealing dockside whore in each arm. He looked at the caretaker and grinned: “Get me wine”, he said, and the other, the colossus of a man, set himself into motion.
That said daytaller met me waiting by my door one day. It was cold in the hall and I was shivering.
I nodded and looked down.
He smiled a thin smile and, with the greatest leisureliness, rummaged about in his pockets, finally producing a piece of wire and starting to fiddle with the door lock. There was a faint snap and with a low laugh he pushed me into my room and left.
This is how I made his acquaintance.
He forced the lock for me several times when he was sober. At any rate, I managed, by one means or another, to spend most of the nights in my chamber.
But still there was the key I had lost.
Someone had it.
And, bit by bit, tiny indications showed me that the stranger had started to use the key.
When I came into my room in the evening, there was an almost imperceptible smell of cigarette smoke – or a piece of furniture was slightly pushed out of its place. One day some of my clothes were missing, but hanging in my wardrobe again the evening after.
A tenacious silent struggle developed. Again and again I replaced the furniture, he changed something else. We were like two solitary beasts fighting for a territory, marking it, destroying the other’s markings.
Three nights ago we met for the first time.
The daytaller had opened the door for me again. I had worked at the writing desk for a while and finally gone to bed.
When I woke up I could not tell how late it was but it was pitch-dark and there was no noise from the street below.
I gazed into the blackness of the room, motionless and barely breathing.
And then I thought I could perceive something moving at the desk. I stared across, intently, shivering. Right over there, a big black shadow stood out against the darkness.
Finally, I could hear his breathing, too. Nothing else. He was just sitting at the writing desk without moving and was breathing the regular breaths of a mighty chest.
And now and then he whispered something undistinguishable. Only one or two words. Once, I thought I could hear a pencil slide over a sheet of paper with a gentle rustle. Then nothing but his breathing again.
There was no more sleep for me that night but yet I did not dare signal my presence. I lay there, without a stir, my heart pounding, and gazed into the dark.
Towards dawn I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up the stranger was gone.
I stalked to the desk with stiff limbs but found everything like I had left it the evening before.
So I plucked up a little courage again and left the house.
When I came back that evening I found a small slip of paper stuck on my door below my name plate. I deciphered some letters swiftly jotted down with a pencil.
“No room for you.”