Foreign House: Six

THURSDAY

After I almost turn the stag inside out, the mood in the car sobers. Kanu turns down the music so it is barely audible and nobody says much for a while.

Nobody is upset, but the incident has bled the carefree abandon and left us with something a little more stale.

Despite that, every time we pass a great view, I can sense Cindy oozing awe into the cabin. Each time she does, I give Kanu the elbow and tell him to look. Each time he sighs at having his narrow attention pulled off his phone screen. Each time he quietly says, “Nice,” before re-curling his young spine over the screen.

Soon it is completely dark and the views degrade into vast lakes of deep blue and green. Nebulous silhouettes flower and wilt in moments, pulling my eyes away from the road only to vanish when I try to look at them, like the details of a dream.

As the ‘miles-to-destination’ figure drops to under three, the road morphs again. This time into a light-brown track, only about one and a half cars wide and dotted with pot holes that I have to weave around at slow speed.

“There it is,” says Cindy, pointing through the two front seats.

The hotel is made of three parts. A tall, central mass that towers above two shorts but wide wings. The three segments have pitched roofs. The central segment has large windows facing out from under the pitching as well as dormer windows perched on the slopes.

The hotel is illuminated from below which makes it look as if it is floating on pools of light, while its peaks melt into the darkness.

As we approach, the scale of the grounds becomes evident. Immediately around the hotel is a vast donut of manicured lands, while beyond that is dense forest to the north, and simply darkness to the west and south.

“The coast is on the far side of the hotel, if you fancy going for a swim in the morning.”

“I didn’t bring any swimming shorts,” says Kanu.

“No doubt they’ll have something at the sports shop,” I say.

“It’s too cold,” says Cindy.

“Have you ever even been in the sea?” I ask, smirking at Cindy in the mirror.

“Of course, almost every day when I was growing up, you cheeky…”

“I mean in the UK.”

“Oh, absolutely not,” she laughs. “You can’t swim in the UK sea.”

Kanu and I look at each other. “You tell her,” I say.

“We used to go on holiday to the seaside in the UK twice a year. I didn’t go abroad till I was 11 I think.”

“12,” I say.

“And you would swim in the sea?” asks Cindy.

“Yeah. I looked forward to it.”

“In a wetsuit though, right?” asks Cindy. Kanu laughs heartily, right from his belly, it sounds totally incongruent coming from his blue, fox appearance. He sounds like a man.

>Be me
>Bonding with son

The hotel has a loose stone car park that emits a soothing, crunching sound as I park the car. There are only only about 25 cars in a carpark that can hold maybe 150. It’s decorated with large, wooden trunks filled with soil and topped with curated wild flowers as well as skinny trees poking out of wells of soil.

We grab the bags. The reception is the other side of a timber porch with a mosaic tile floor. Inside, the reception is luxurious. Each of my steps sinks into the dark blue and purple carpet. The reception desk is obscenely long, made of barn oak. I ring the bell. It looks like bronze. A hidden door in the wall retracts and a bellhop, dressed in black pleated trousers, a white shirt, a navy blue bowtie and a red waistcoat, appears, smiling.

I give him my name, he briefly refers to a card on the desk in front of him, and asks how many rooms we need.

“Two please,” I say. I notice there are not computers, no electronics at all, on the reception desk. Just a leather bound bookings book and various cards and papers.

“Of course,” he says, and fetches two keys. Black-iron, toothed keys. Not plastic cards. “The large one is for the outer door of the hotel, the smaller one is for your room individual rooms.”

He gives us a brief explanation of the shape of the hotel. The spa facilities, and sitting rooms and a whiskey bar are in one wing of the hotel. A ballroom, dining-room, the kitchens, and the main bar are in the other wing. The rooms are spread all over the hotel. The more modern rooms in the wings, the traditional rooms and wedding suites are in the central block. Our rooms are in the central block.

He informs us we are the last to arrive tonight and everyone else has retired already. “The kitchen is closed but I can bring you a chacuterie plate if you are hungry.”

“We’re fine,” I say.

“There is a flashlight in every room too, which I strongly advise you use if you leave the building at night.”

Kanu’s room is in the same corridor as ours but not directly next door or opposite. A classy decision. Keeping him close while allowing an extra degree of privacy for him. He says goodnight and the bellhop takes us to our room.

It continues the theme of luxury. The four poster bed is an island in the vast room. Thick, emerald drapes are pinned back from the tall windows. There is a sofa and a small but stuffed bookshelf. All the fittings in the bathroom are brass. The bath is a standalone model made of inch-thick ceramic, standing on bronze tiger paws.

The bellhop checks we are satisfied with everything then quietly slips out of the room.

“Wow,” says Cindy, sitting on the cushion seat set into the windowsill and flicking through some of the thick lifestyle magazines on the coffee table.

“Don’t unpack yet, grab a towel, and find the flashlight.”

“Why?”

“We’re going down to the beach for a swim.”

“I don’t have a swimming costume yet.”

“You won’t need one.”

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