Mana was happy that her Airbnb listing got booked the day she put it up. His name was Alex. He hadn’t asked any questions prior to booking, even about the location or amenities. It was surprising, given the many inquisitive guests she’d had in the past at her old apartment. Perhaps she’d done a better job with the listing photos this time.
The moment the booking notification popped up on her phone, she started rushing through her online meeting with her manager. There was so much to do to get the place ready. Yes, yes, she nodded to things she didn’t fully understand. “I agree with you,” she said. She wondered if the power was back on at the apartment; it had been six hours. “Will do,” she added, and finally the meeting was over.
She closed the Google Meet tab and opened Airbnb. Who was this Alex guy? When she saw the thumbnail of a dirty blond face (another foreign guest, most likely), she clicked on it and eagerly waited for the page to display. The internet connection at the café was iffy, but it was better than the Wi-Fi in her apartment, and just a short fifteen-minute walk away. He was kind of cute, not exactly her type, but his smile hid something mischievous that got her excited. And it was only a portrait; his body could be more promising. His profile listed Switzerland as his location—she assumed the flight would be a long one—with three short and positive host reviews, which she skimmed through. She asked for the check and headed home.
Alex was due to arrive the next day. He hadn’t yet messaged her, so she decided to give it some time and message him later to confirm the check-in time. When she arrived home, she opened the guest room and took off the sheets. Even though she had washed them since her friend slept over a few weeks back, she wanted them to feel and look fresh. She worried if they would air dry in time. Perhaps she could push back his check-in time to make sure she could put them on the bed the next day. She messaged him.
“Hey hey Mana,” he responded. “The listing says noon so that works just fine for me!”
She found it odd that he would use such a greeting; it was an unclear combination of eager and informal. She thought he might be friendly.
“Okay, looking forward to having you.”
He didn’t reply. A few hours later, she messaged him to give her phone number so he could WhatsApp her when he was on his way the next day.
He replied, shortly after midnight, “Cool thanks.”
Mana didn’t like full stops. Or rather, she liked using them, but she didn’t like them being used on her. She liked commas, both using them and receiving them, but full stops contained a certain sense of rigidity, control, and finality.
She hung the sheets and pillowcases later that night. At least it wasn’t raining; they would be dry in the morning. She sat on her couch, put on a TV show she neither liked or disliked, and scrolled through tabs on her laptop. Being on her laptop, even when she wasn’t actively working, made her feel productive. The simple act of clicking on things as her fingers caressed the trackpad gave her a subtle sense of importance. It was better than lying idly on the couch.
Mana didn’t expect to wake up on the couch. Once again, she’d fallen asleep there without putting on her nightly moisturizing cream or changing into her PJs. Her laptop had died on her lap. Oh Jesus. She checked the time. Thank God: it was only 9:03 a.m. She got up to check the sheets hanging on the washing line in the kitchen balcony.
They were still damp. She returned to the living room, fixed up the couch, and switched to her bedroom to lie on her bed. It was 11:14 a.m. when she woke up again. Goddammit.
She swept the guest bedroom, put the clean sheets back on the bed, counted the number of hangers (would he be fine with five?), opened the door of the private balcony to air out the room, and murdered a few roaches. She had been in the guest room only a handful of times since moving into the apartment two months prior. The room’s balcony looked especially cozy to her now; she should have photographed it better for the listing.
She went to the kitchen, took out the trash, replaced the trash bag, and napkin-wiped the kitchen counter, when her phone started ringing. Alex was here.
“Oh, you should have called before coming—” Mana started to say, then immediately regretted it. “Are you at the gate?”
“We said noon, right?”
“Yes, correct. Yes, come up. Tell the security it’s B6.”
“Yes. Bee-six,” she clarified, but he had already hung up.
Alex arrived with one suitcase and a backpack. Her first impression of him was jolly. He stood at the door with an unwarranted grin, and then took a big step, leaping forward on his left leg as though he was dancing a waltz and bringing his right leg into the apartment before Mana could barely say hi.
He held out his hand. “Hey, I’m Alex.” Mana wondered if he was aware that his muddy shoes were grazing against the beige rug in the living room. The last time she tried to wash the rug in the yard outside the building, it had taken her an entire weekend.
“Mana,” she said, shaking his hand. Her own curtness surprised her, yet she knew she always got like this around guys like him. Guys that made her feel a tinge of nervousness. She didn’t like this about herself, so she overcompensated.
“All righty. Cool to meet you. So this is the place, huh?”
It was a pointless comment. Mana never knew why white people liked asking questions that never required an answer.
“Kindly take off your shoes,” she said, when she noticed he was about to explore the living room with the mud factory on his feet!
“Oh, gotcha.” He lightly stepped on the back of one shoe with the other and took them off. Now the mud had gotten all over the shoes as well. Mana bent over and moved them to the other side of the entrance, by the guest bathroom.
“Let me show you your room.”
He stayed in the room until early evening. He stepped out once in the afternoon—at least Mana only noticed it once while she was working from the living room balcony. He looked a bit disheveled, with his hair puffed up messily, his white T-shirt wrinkled; perhaps he was taking a day nap. He must be on vacation, Mana thought. To be able to afford her room and sleep all day, he must have been well-off. Mana knew foreign guests like him afforded her the Wi-Fi bill and medium lattes at the café; yet she couldn’t help but resent them still. It must have been nice to travel and get paid for it.
A few seconds later she saw him return to his room with a glass of water. Around six in the evening, after Mana finished her work and started cooking the green grams she’d soaked earlier in the day, Alex walked into the kitchen and said, “Ooh, it smells good.” Again, with that sheepish smirk on his face. She smiled halfheartedly in response.
“You like the room?” she asked. “Anything you need?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s super cozy. I’m just a bit out of it. I’ve been sleeping a lot.”
“Coming from a long way?”
“Yeah, jet lag, definitely.”
Mana wondered where he’d come from, though she didn’t want to sound like she was interrogating him, so she remained silent. His Airbnb profile said Switzerland, but his accent sounded American, like the ones in the Netflix shows she watched. He spoke fast, bridging words that were meant to be enunciated independently.
“Do you know where the knives are?”
Of course, she knew. This was her house.
“Here,” she pulled open the top drawer next to the fridge. Glancing over, she realized he had a bag of mangoes in his hand. Perhaps he had stepped out to buy them earlier.
She thought he would go back to his room to eat, but he sat down at the kitchen table and started cutting a red mango. She picked out a plate from the cupboard and handed it to him to put the mango on. “Here,” she said, going back to the stove.
As Mana stirred the stew and boiled water for rice, she expected him to say something. The Airbnb guests she had hosted in her old apartment were usually chattier. But the conversations revolved around the same topics: “Have you ever been to [insert their country]?” “What do you recommend for us to do in the city?” “How long have you lived in this place?”
Depending on their culture, some guests were more inquisitive in certain areas. Americans liked asking about her job: “What do you do?” “Do you find it fulfilling?” (as if one needed to be fulfilled to earn an income) “Where did you study?” European small talk often involved drinking: “You like beer or wine?” “Where is the nearest pub?” “Do you have bars here?” “Can I borrow a corkscrew?”
Occasionally, she had guests comment on the more nuanced aspects of her life, such as the interior design of the living room she had put much thought into (like that guest who’d complimented the crocheted ends of the green velvet pillows on the couch) or the nonfiction book collection arranged perfectly in alphabetical order on the bookshelf by the kitchen table. Alex seemed to be enjoying the mango-cutting in utter quiet. Mana felt slightly disappointed by his indifference.
She wanted to look at his body more closely now that he was sitting so close to her, but that felt intrusive. Somehow, not speaking seemed to prescribe not looking, as well. Thus, she was relieved when he asked her if she was from the city. She had grown up in the western part of the country, but had lived here for the past six years, she explained.
He’d come from the US, on “a semi-work trip, semi-holiday.” She didn’t know what that meant, but she didn’t ask questions. She wondered if the trip was only three days, as he had booked the room for two nights only, that night and Friday night. She wondered if he would extend it.
He didn’t say much more after that. She was stirring the simmering stew when he asked her where the honey was, if there was any. She stopped herself from blurting out that food items like honey were not included in the listing. What did he need it for? She took the plastic honey bottle from the cupboard and handed it to him. She cringed as he squeezed the honey over the mango slices. She should have handed him salt instead. Salt on mango was both tastier and cheaper.
When he got up to wash the plate, she was able to take her first long glance at him. He was tall. Lanky almost. His pants were hanging from his hips, not much butt to hold them. Though, he had wide shoulders that intrigued her. His forearms, revealed through his pulled-up sleeves, were somewhat thick. From behind, without his jovial smile, he looked different—a new, different stranger.
After resting the plate on the drying rack, he passed her without saying anything. She could hear his room door close. She turned off the stove, called the window blinds shop to confirm that the curtains she’d ordered for the guest room were ready, and headed to pick them up. She hoped she could carry them back on the bus.
The heels were the first thing she noticed when she came back to the apartment that evening. Open-toed stilettos. Black velvet, maybe eight or ten centimeters high. The kind that gave her calves a bittersweet sore. He’d brought someone home.
She left the curtain set by the door, took off her flats, and moved the heels from the right side of the door to the left side, where all the other shoes were lined up. They were a brand she didn’t recognize; perhaps the girl was also a foreigner. Mana couldn’t help but notice how big the heels were; she wondered if the girl was tall.
Before she went back to her room, Mana stood quietly in the hallway, waiting to hear a sound from the guest room door diagonal to hers. The room seemed dark inside, but they could have been on the private balcony. She confirmed this when she saw from her en suite bathroom window that the balcony’s lights were on. When she was in her bathroom, adjacent to Alex’s balcony, she could hear them talking. Nothing she could figure out, but she heard a high-pitched feminine laugh, and that was all Mana needed to know.
She left her bathroom door open, took off her pants, and got under the covers. She thought of Michael—her ex. She imagined him coming out of his studio, dressed in his carpenter uniform, and walking into her bedroom, only to find her sitting on her bed in her panties. Mana hung on to the image and replayed the scene in her head. She imagined his facial expression. She imagined herself acting out a feigned surprise—Oh, oh, goodness what are you doing here? She felt silly. A grin settled on her face as she thought it over again.
There was another laugh from the balcony. Mana focused on the sound. What were they talking about? The girl’s voice was high. She spoke quickly, giggling between sentences. Alex’s voice was low, a distant murmur. They must have been sitting on the orange sofa on the balcony. Mana thought that he must be chatty with the girl, contrasting his reticence in the kitchen with her. She imagined him sitting next to the girl, his arm over her shoulder, his eyes on her breasts: two small, perky cups. Sitting on her bed, Mana slipped her fingers under the elastic waistband of her panties. She touched her clit, then lightly scratched her vulva as she listened.
The girl kept talking. Mana thought, Alex must not be listening at this moment. He was fixated on the girl’s body. Mana moved her middle finger into the dampness of her vulva. Alex was getting impatient. Perhaps he’d say with that American accent of his, “Yeah, I totally get you.” Then, “Yep, yep, yep.” Mana giggled at the way he said that in her imagination, nodding his head in automation.
Then it was silent. Mana stopped stroking to figure out whether or not they were talking. No sound. That’s when he must have kissed her. Yes, just when she was rambling about her favorite romantic comedy, he finally leaned in and kissed her. Mana imagined them lying on the orange sofa, his hand harshly groping her right breast, pressing too hard. Mana slipped her left hand under her T-shirt and did the same.
She spat on her right hand fingers and slipped them back into her panties, imagining Michael in her bed, grabbing her breast, rubbing her nipple. His other hand was free; he always liked to tease her. Michael got on top, pulling her hands above her head, restraining her. Now Mana was lying down, her right hand holding the metal headboard, her left hand switching from one nipple to another. Michael’s face was right above hers. His brown eyes. That impish smile as he kept her waiting. Then, his smile turned into something serious. A feigned solemnness. He would smile again now, take off her shirt, and give her what she wanted. His face stayed serious. A sullen, grave look. The one he had at the park that day. The last day she saw him. She retracted her hand. It was over; she’d lost her focus. She checked her phone.
Three Airbnb notifications: maybe Alex extended his stay? Instead, she found three inquiries for the room. One was about negotiating the price, the other two had a list of questions about the room. She sighed. She couldn’t hear anything from the balcony. She wanted to get up and see if they turned off the balcony light and switched to the bedroom, but was too tired to get out of bed. She hoped they would switch to the bedroom; she didn’t want to wash the sofa cover. She picked up her phone again and went on Instagram. She had promised herself that she wouldn’t do this, but she did it anyway.
Mana was disappointed to see that Michael’s account was now private. He looked happy in his profile picture. She looked up Emma, the girl she knew had a thing for Michael. They might have become a thing. She prayed she wouldn’t see a picture of them together as she vehemently searched for it. There was none. No likes from Michael on Emma’s recent pictures either. She sighed in relief. She leaned back against her pillow and sank deeper into the bed. Now Michael was back in her room. He bit her ear, like he used to do, something she initially didn’t like but grew to like, and he whispered dirty, unspeakable things she had never heard him say in real life.
The next morning, the heels were gone. But after the previous night, Mana wasn’t very interested in their owner anymore. She didn’t like women who kept quiet during sex. Either he wasn’t good or she was too nice to enjoy it. He must have been as awkward in bed as he was with small talk.
She cracked two eggs onto a pan. She was feeling good and decided to treat herself to buttered toast. She toasted two slices of bread on the same pan and took out the butter and plum jam. She sat at the kitchen table and ate. Alex didn’t come out to the living room or to the kitchen. She went to the living room balcony to start work, but decided instead to work from the kitchen and do some cleaning on the side. When Mana was done with the dishes, Alex was still nowhere to be seen.
Mana worked from the kitchen the entire day, finally moving to her room in the evening. She got into bed and waited to hear him come out of his room. When she heard footsteps in the hallway, she got goosebumps on her skin. She pushed the covers off, revealing her cold, naked legs. She felt her heartbeat quicken—he could walk into the room anytime. It was nothing planned, but it was his last night anyway, and maybe he wanted a more exciting night than the previous one.
She got up and opened her bedroom door. The dark hallway was empty. She walked into the hallway in her cheeky panties and loose shirt and stood next to his door. His room had its lights off. She thought he might have been in bed, lying awake in the dark, under the covers, partially nude. She thought he might have noticed her footsteps. Did he also realize that they were alone in the apartment on his last night in the city with nothing to save, nothing to remember?
The possibility of him walking out and seeing her in her underwear gave Mana’s body the shivers. If Alex opened the door, what would she say? She couldn’t think of anything sexy, and her excitement started to doze off. Then she brought Michael in. She imagined Michael standing in the hallway, watching her while she stood half nude at some stranger’s bedroom door. Then, Michael was pissed. You know what happened when Michael was pissed? He said dirty, unspeakable things. Mana was too nice to hear or respond to those things, but Michael didn’t care. Michael was uncontrollable.
After a full minute in the hallway, Mana tiptoed back to her room. She left the door ajar and climbed back into bed, sitting at an angle that was visible from the door. She was above the covers, the hair on her legs standing up, alert. She didn’t care. She spread her legs apart, bent her knees, and thought about the two men in the hallway fighting to have her.
The next morning, Mana woke up to silence once again. At ten, the check-out time, she knocked on Alex’s door. No answer. She thought about messaging him on Airbnb, but that felt a bit too much. Perhaps he’d gone out for food. Around ten-thirty, she opened his door. For a brief second she thought he might be in bed, hiding under the crumpled ball of comforter, but as she walked in, she realized he was gone. He had left without telling her. The key lay in front of the nightstand mirror, which meant he hadn’t locked the door when he left. Mana was pissed. She sprang to the hallway and checked the apartment door. It was unlocked. He must have left early in the morning. He could’ve at least let her know.
The mystery was resolved a day later when Mana received an email from Airbnb noting that her guest had left a review. To see it, she had to write a review back. She didn’t overthink it; her usual positive and brief template would do. She used that for most of her guests—both the great ones and the bearable ones. After she submitted it, she clicked on Alex’s review. It said that he had to leave a day early because the apartment was “strange, not suitable for an Airbnb stay. . . . unkempt floors and lots of roaches—couldn’t stay longer.”
Later, after Mana was able to stop obsessing over Alex’s ungrateful audacity (which she convinced herself was tied to his Americanness), two thoughts crossed her mind: she was relieved because she was still Michael’s; no other man had seduced her. The second put a mischievous smile on her face, almost like the one Alex had: she had been half naked the entire night, legs spread apart, room door ajar, for any man to walk into her unlocked apartment.
Sevde Kaldiroglu is a creative writer from Istanbul with a BA in creative writing from Stanford University. At age seventeen, she was the youngest author of an essay anthology published in Turkey (Yitik Ulke, 2012). She’s received multiple national youth awards for her poetry and essays, and recently published two poems in The Rising Phoenix Review. A wanderer at heart, she spent the last few years in Nairobi and Istanbul, and currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on Twitter at @sevdekaldiroglu.