Madame Zest always borrowed some of Katherine Mansfield's words when her guests tried to thank her, “I am nothing but the small clerk of some hotel without a proprietor.” She quickly dismissed their effervescent praise face-to-face and proffered the guest book. “Please write your comments here.”
quiet evenings, accompanied by a large glass of red, she'd leaf
through numerous entries of squiggly writing and linger over the
remarks guests had left. They were testimonials to her years of
service and proof that a woman was capable of running someone else's
business, and very successfully too. When she wanted to relax, Madame
Zest wrapped herself in a duvet of statements. At least she used to,
but over the last couple of years, reading these had not satisfied or
relaxed her. They irked her, often making her feel as if she was
wearing barbed wire close to her skin, or as if her body was being
suffocated by bubble-wrap. The comments guests left were still
effusive, but her satisfaction from these had diminished.
name implies, all her life she'd relied on her zest, but now she had
no more to give. Continuing, as she had done for many years, to
single-handedly run front and back-of-house had squeezed the last
drops out of her. She carried on meeting every guest's needs, but
inside she was bitter and sour.
day, she rose at 5am to be the breakfast cook, waitress and
dishwasher; at 11am, she stood behind the front desk to check guests
out; then she morphed into the chambermaid and housekeeper, cleaning
and inspecting the five en-suite bedrooms; afterwards if there was
time before new guests arrived, she'd launder pillowcases and sheets,
or shop for food and complimentary sachets of teas, coffees, and
shampoos. And always the 3pm deadline loomed, for that was when
Madame Zest split herself in two to be the Welcoming Committee:
alternating between the role of General Manager and Senior
Receptionist, with sometimes a third, the Head of Concierge,
appearing. Each day was led by the mantelpiece clock and with the
more or less the same apportioned tasks.
buzzed and hovered like flies, while Madame Zest's under eye circles
deepened from a faint blue to black hue. It was no longer pleasurable
to serve the guests that came to stay, but it was unprofessional to
swat them away, although inwardly her blood would seethe and her
voice would rage. To her, the guests had changed.
Tree House had become a magnet, it seemed, for the strange. The
reservations diary was filled with unusual names: Mr. Anxiety, Miss.
Panic Attack, Mrs. Resentment, Sir Bitterness, and Dame Impatient.
Upon being checked in, they vied for Madame Zest's attention and were
impossible to please. Could she confirm a wake-up call for 7:30am?
Where were the brown paper bags she said they'd supply? Why couldn't
she provide an ironing service? Wasn't the bathroom light bright? And
just when would she deliver the extra soft pillow? Madame Zest
suppressed her volatile temper and fulfilled all these demands. She
entertained and swallowed the emotions of these unpleasant house
was achieved with such aplomb that in the mornings new, charming
guests came down for breakfast. Madame Zest was baffled by this
overnight transformation, and even more so when they checked out with
different, but still extraordinary, names: Mr. Certainty, Miss.
Serenity, Mrs. Twinkly, Sir Joviality, and Dame Contented. Madame
Zest found it odd and unsettling.
Tree House had been pitched into Madame Zest's emotional whirlpool. A
vortex of conflicting moods and opinions, but as of yet, she hadn't
recognised that the emotions she contained inside were portrayed by
these guests on the outside. She would not concede that her mind had
indeed lost control over its own guest house.
*Inspired by Elif Shafak's Black Milk & by Rumi who likened the mind to a guest house.