The Hobbs Hotel was a mid-priced tourist joint in the heart of central London. It was also a hotel with a 'DHSS Welcome' sign in its window, which meant it accepted government housing cheques, and by virtue of doing so turned a profit all year round regardless of the class of clientele it took in. It was a classic honey trap. Past the luxurious foyer, past the Indian porters with their burgundy backed waistcoats, past the reception desk with the leather signing in book and antique wooden key racks up behind, you entered a back world of blood, puke and filth, mothers rushing around with armfuls of shit splattered sheets, naked, dirty children following, bawling; drunk men thumping down doors for entry; schizophrenics wandering the halls arguing bizarre equations with themselves; perverts peeping from spyholes; half naked prostitutes skipping from one room to the next; wrinkled old women, the colour of smoked mackeral, dressed up like dead movie stars; fat guys with their doors ajar, laying atop their beds with acorn sized erections. All this and more, perfumed over with the stench of dirty nappies and boiled cabbage which floated up from the residents laundry and kitchen below. Though,unfortunately, by the time you was being led through this commotion you had either already given over your pounds sterling or had nowhere else to go.
In an attempt to keep the disparate mix of clientele separated as best as possible, the hotel had a system for rooming its guests. Generally the real bad problem families (mostly Irish gypsies) were kept out of sight in the basement rooms. Single women, stable couples, and the insane were mixed throughout the first floor. And poor, but relatively clean families, were put up on the top floor. That left the second and third floors free for tourists and business guests. If you'd have stripped away the main front wall the floors would have resembled something like the different coloured strata in rock face. We were on the top floor, with two adjoining rooms between us. Mum had a room to herself and the other I shared with my brother and sister.
The manager of the hotel was Mr Patel. He was a small, slight, well groomed Indian man of around forty five who had given his lot in with the British. The first time I saw Mr Patel he greeted us from the taxi as we arrived. The second time he was standing outside the door of my room with his hands behind his back and a long, thin, light brown, bulbous headed cock poking out his pants. On seeing me he spun around panicked, hunching up and dropping his keys.
– What? Where is your mother? he stammered, his back to me, stuffing his penis away and zipping himself to attention.
– She's in the other room, I replied, we've swapped.
– Swapped? You've swapped!That is strictly forbidden. Whatt'if there should be a fire? How da bluddy hell am I suppos'd to know where you are, where is at your mother? You cannot just swap willy nilly like this! You cannot!
Mr Patel still hadn't faced me. He'd said all this while fluffing his crutch flat and walking briskly away, hoping I'd not seen what he knew I had.
– Tell that mother of yours that I'll be back, he called out. This will just not do!
I watched Mr Patel hurriedly take the fire escape. The light flicked on and through the round, wire glass panel of the door I followed the back of his head, his shiny, brilliant black hair as it went down the stairs. With myself the wrong side I pulled the room door shut. I stood and waited in the corridor. Barely a minute later the lift rang open and Mr Patel's polished shoes and silver suit stepped out. He looked at me and made a move like he was going to give chase.
– Get in your room! He screamed. Get in your bluddy room!
* * *
Mum despised Mr Patel. She smiled and flirted for him and let his hands find places they shouldn't, but in private she hated him like I'd not seen her hate anyone barring my stepfather. The problem was that mum had made the terrible mistake of giving sex for the promise of favours, transferring power from seller to buyer. And once she had started down that road there was no turning back – at least not until she received the ultimate pay-off: a move into permanent accommodation. Of course, Mr Patel had no official say in such matters, he was no more than a small private landlord, but he assured Mum that his word carried heavy influence and he could procure speedy rehousing with the right letter of recommendation. Though,by way of reason, our rehousing wasn't at all in his interest. That would take Mum away from him, and he had no desire for that happen. To get around this problem he'd create difficulties and instances to save us from. It would finally turn around to be mum in debt to him and not the other way around. The pussy she had already banked was then used to pay off the new debts, leaving the one she thought she was fucking for still outstanding.
For example, one day Mr Patel called up and told Mum we had to come down to the reception. When we arrived he handed Mum a computer printout and stood there with his hands clasped in front of him, staring at her. Mum asked what it was and Mr Patel said it was a phone bill for 97 pounds which I had rung up, and which had to be settled immediately. Mum scrutinized the bill and pointed out that there were calls to foreign numbers dating back from before we were even in the hotel.
– Don't worry about that, said Mr Patel, I assure you it was this one here who did it! Look, phoning them dirty sex chatting lines!
That was true. Out of curiosity I had phoned up a few chat lines but had promptly hung up as soon as someone answered. But the calls home to India at 3am in the morning, made while we were living the other side of London, were not mine.
Mr Patel told mum that if she didn't pay he'd have no option but to report us to the Housing Authority which had placed us there. He said he couldn't have that, that if all the tenants rang up such bills he'd be bankrupt within a month.
– And don't forget, he said, when you are thrown out of here YOU have made YOURSELF homeless and will not be rehoused again.
Mum looked away, knowing she was being done. Visibly she steeled herself against something.
> Well, I can't pay it in cash... You know that, she said.
Mr Patel took the telephone printout. – Cash! Cash is not your problem! He cried. No, don't worry. We can wangle the cash from Social Security. But to do that, I would be doing a favour for you, not for myself. Understand?
Mum pulled a sour face. She understood alright. She understood Mr Patel's wicked smile just fine.
As we went back upstairs I asked Mum what would happen.
> Well, I'll have to fuck him again now won't I, she said, and shivered like he was already inside her.
From then on Mr Patel made himself a regular visitor to my mother's room. After a while he even stopped knocking, letting himself in with his master key at his choosing. He also tried to worm his way in with me. Seeing I occasionally swung a cricket bat through the hallway he began talking of cricket, of Sachin Tendulkar and how Kapil Dev was the greatest all-rounder the world had ever seen. He told me that his uncles were down in reception watching England vs Australia and that I should go and join them. As he said that he lit his eyes up with excitement, but I saw past that, to the slyness underneath, and the words 'little bastard' that held up his smile. I replied that cricket was boring on TV and didn't interest me. Over a period of weeks Mr Patel adopted various strategies to get rid of me so as he could fuck Mum in peace. To each suggestion I turned my nose up and shook my head, until he deplored me for the distraction I was, sitting the other side of his cheap partitioned walls as he drove it into Mum full of rage and anger, demanding that she call him a 'paki' all the while.
> I'm am not a paki! I am not a fucking paki! He'd scream, finally letting out an deep animalistic roar as he pumped my mother full of climax and hate .
As the months went by in The Hobbs Hotel, and it dawned on us that we'd be there for some time, my mother became more and more miserable, finally sinking into an acute depression. This depression was the catalyst which sent her spiralling into her most dire period of alcoholism, leaving her bed-ridden for months and almost sucking the life right out of her. During the onset of this oblivion Mr Patel would be in and out her room in no more than five minutes, sometimes up to four times a day. Now it was sex for nothing. Mum was incapable of bargaining, and wasn't conscious enough to know she had anything to bargain with.
> She's OK, Mr Patel would say to me as he left her room, just sleeping it off.
As the days and weeks drifted by My Mother became a recluse – haggard and loose and dead in the bed. She befriended a young prostitute from the first floor and used her to run her booze and cigarette errands, and only left the room herself once every second week to shuffle down to the post office to cash her Social Security book. She was in such a wretched state the even Mr Patel stopped entering for sex.
Mum was now down to pure existence. Alcohol had mollified her so much that it was as if her bones had been removed. She was now just a huge, loose, dirty sprawl of fuck on a filthy bed that men would walk in on, empty into and then leave. In the dark of the room, barely eating, surviving mostly on alcohol, her skin had bleached a deathly white palour, like she'd been submerged in water for weeks. It got so desperate that every few hours I would creep into her room to make sure she was still breathing, and to turn her around so as when she vomited it would be over the side of the bed and she'd not choke to death.
Sometimes, as I crept around the room, Mum would sense my presence. She'd cry and moan that we had to get out of this place. At times she'd try to rise, her pathetic drunken face full of the strain of trying to right herself, crying through the frustration of incapability before collapsing back down into the pit of passive life she had become. The only thing she could do was reach out for her glass and drink some more. And when, as often happened, she dropped the glass or put it down straight off the edge of the bedside cabinet, I'd hear her ghostly whinge through the walls and go and replace the glass and refill it too.
The room itself was then permanently in semi-smoky darkness. It smelled like a vomit factory, her sick bucket and floor full of thick, slimy, yellow bile cut through with slithers of congealed blood. The bed was a soiled, decomposing mess – almost something organic. As Mum rarely got out of bed there was never the occasion to change the sheets or flip the mattress over, and so over the piss and vomit and tears were laid blankets and towels and clothes so as Mum had a dry warm patch to lay on. The floor was a litter of bottles, plastic bags, bits of half eaten food, clothes, crisp and cigarette packets. It had become a chamber of infinite misery, my mother's struggle now drifting through her unconsciousness, a low drone of pain coming out of her and reverberating around the room as tears leaked out her eyes and soaked her pillow. She was dying, and somewhere beneath the drunk of alcohol she knew it too.
Mr Patel no longer even passed. Instead he'd either phone up to my room, or collar me as I passed through the foyer, making sure I had checked on Mum and that she was still alive. He said that another death would ruin him.
> I cannot put up with this much more longer, he'd say. That top floor is beginning to pong... my other guests are complaining!
At least three times a week he threatened he was going to report mum to the DHSS and have us removed, but I guess having two rooms let out for two thousand pounds a month stopped him doing anything quite that drastic.
Mum never did really pull herself out of that period of drinking, at least not while we were in the hotel. The place had become insufferable to her and, no matter how much she may have wanted to get sober, her overriding need was to black out the hell that life had become. She did however calm down enough to begin eating properly again, and once she had gotten some strength back she cleared the room out and cleaned herself up. She was still drinking in excess of a bottle of vodka a day, but now was at least out of bed as much as she was in it, and washed and applied a little make-up.
After being seen a few times, and at least semi-conscious, it wasn't long before Mr Patel was sniffing around again and pulling her against his groin and whispering sordid innuendos into her ear. The major difference now though was that he had experienced the downside of My Mother's wildness, had realiszed she wasn't for keeps (even under hostage) and had decided that it was maybe time to fuck her for the ultimate payment he had always promised. So, in my mother's clearer moments, life was just as obscured as before, only then by Mr Patel, his angry, clenched face all she could see as he drove it into her and released his pent up anger against the British, or his own secret shame of having put his lot in with them. Whatever the reason for the rage that channeled through his sexual endeavors, within a week, a smiling Mr Patel, overjoyed that he did indeed hold some petty sway in local government, handed mum a letter which said that on recommendation of the hotel's management we were the family most likely to benefit from immediate rehousing. The DHSS had found us a final, temporary property to move into until such time that permanent housing became available.
Mum lit up with relief. Sure, it was still only a temporary fix and we hadn't seen it yet, but it was a two bed-roomed flat all to ourselves and we would be the only ones with the key. As Mum looked over the letter again, and I strained to read it too, Mr Patel somehow worked his way between us, linking his arms around our waists and smiling as if there was a photographer to catch the moment. But there was no photographer, just a grotty, ill lit corridor with worn red carpet stretching out in front of us, and the smell of dirty nappies and boiled cabbage drifting up the stairs.
Mum pulled away from Mr Patel, letting his hand fall to his side. For a second he looked like he was going to reach for her once more, but then stalled and resisted. Mum was free, and as they say: that was the end of that.