A small room, ten feet by twelve. The floor is wooden, parquet. At the centre is a block-patterned rug of bright colours, green, maroon, indigo, yellow, red. Eight grey-framed chairs with wooden backs and leather seats stand against three walls; on the fourth side two tables, each a single piece of sculpted glass, carry a stack of German magazines. Der Spiegel and Focus are on top. Of the six people in the room two are elderly: the white-haired man is lost in a newspaper (he has more in a cloth bag on the floor); the woman, arms folded and legs crossed, is staring ahead through steel-rimmed glasses. A teenage boy in grey jeans and a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt is reading a book, “Coach Dich Selbst”. A plump girl, also in her teens, is fiddling with a phone; her hands conceal a pink tissue, into which she blows now and then. Next to her is a coloured woman, reading The Economist. A tall man in a heavy jacket enters. “Guten Morgen.” A murmur of responses follow. Only the teenage girl looks up. The man picks up Der Spiegel, sits beside her.
The walls are white. The only window, which faces the street, is curtained by three off-white sheets with printed human figures, also white. The same figures are in a frame on the adjacent wall. Here on the red background these faceless dancing shapes are more striking. The glass door to this room is on the diagonal. Outside, at the reception, white women in white jeans, white T-shirts, white badges walk up and down silently. One opens the door: Frau Künitz, bitte. The elderly woman follows her into Zimmer 1.
* * *
The hall, just an extended landing between two stairwells, has many doors, some open, some shut, some curtained. Along the wall is a line of grey plastic chairs, broken by the doors and by the stairwells. Many chairs are occupied, not for long: someone gets up, walks away, someone comes to sit: a CCTV footage with people milling about. The alcove in a corner has a desk with a monitor and a printer on it. Behind the monitor a woman in a blue saree leafs through a file. “Take a seat and we will call you,” she says to the stocky man in a white shirt, untucked. He sits on a chair nearby, picks up The Deccan Herald lying on a cane table. Next to him a boy in shorts is absorbed in images flickering on the opposite wall. Men in white stand waiting for something in an empty green field. A woman comes up the stairs, mop and pail in hand, wipes the floor between the up and down stairwells. Grey floor tiles glisten, briefly, and a reflection, green and white, flickers and evaporates. The disinfectant odor lingers. A woman emerges from a door. Short grey hair, lemon saree, white coat, slender. She walks lightly across the hall to the woman behind the monitor, hands a file, says a few words, walks back. All eyes follow her.
“Mr.Ratnagiri,” a woman’s voice interrupts. “Please go to room number three.” An elderly man in a pale sweater rises, walks toward a door, disappears behind the green curtain.