THE SPECIAL SILK SCARF
That day, it was far too hot to be out in the streets, in fact they were empty of people. The only things to be seen were supermarket bags that were being blown about in the hot, stale wind. The dust was enough to make even the hardiest person begin choking, and desire an ice-cold drink. The traffic was also at a halt, as it was the hour when on ground level everything is painfully hot, and not at all as holiday brochures show in their photos, a clear blue sky hanging over a white sandy beach and a turquoise sea.
Jenna was by herself and on holiday. She thought that she might as well have saved the money and stayed in her flat back in rainy England. Her workmates didn't seem at all interested in talking about holidays. The only thing that mattered to them was work and more work. They had the idea that the more work they did the better the management would think of them. Jenna thought they were wrong from all angles, if management wants to sack someone they will, and working yourself to death for a company that isn't even yours is a stupidity. After you're sacked you have no job and you have no holiday either. Where's the logic in their thinking?
Jenna had taken some holiday brochures home one evening when it would not have surprised anyone to hear that another flood of biblical dimensions was on its way. She made her supper, and after a shower, dressed in her pyjamas and dressing-gown, sat down on the sofa and began to peruse what was on offer for the far away summer holidays. The prices were not prohibitive as she only had herself to maintain. A few nights later and after having asked if any of the other women in the office were keen on a summer holiday, Jenna sent off the deposit for two weeks in a Mediterranean resort.
The hotel she had chosen had all that anyone could possibly want. The building itself was vast and marble floored, there were fountains burbling away on the ground floor giving the illusion of coolness. There was a gym, a spa with massage, and a wellness centre. The goodies were impressive: a towelling robe with matching slippers and a sponge bag full of lotions, creams, and shampoos, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. Everything was of the highest quality, and a good thing too as it didn't come cheap.
The biggest shock of all was the intense heat as she stepped out of the air-conditioned plane onto the almost melting tarmac. Inside the airport, it was once again air-conditioned and she felt easier, less stressed out. A dark taxi took her to the hotel she had so animatedly booked way back in January. The most alarming thing of all was the dust. It seemed to be everywhere and in everything. As soon as she got out of the taxi to enter the hotel, she saw that her shoes were already covered in a fine beige layer of dust, as fine as could be imagined. The hotel was as described, but Jenna was not at all in the mood to try out the commodities just yet. She went to her room had a shower and went to bed without even being curious enough to look out of the window.
The next morning Jenna went down to breakfast and sat in silence as she ate. All of a sudden, she felt that something about the holiday was not as she had expected or as she had been led to believe by the brochure. The receptionist called to her as she was going back up to her room, "Good morning. Here's a programme of the amenities available to our clients. We hope you make use of them and enjoy your stay with us."
Jenna was handed a pamphlet of everything that was on offer at the hotel. She put it in her bag and took the lift up to her room. The bed had been made and there was a large bowl of fruit on the small table, with a card welcoming her to the hotel. There were also a couple of vases of flowers. Jenna felt depressed. She didn't know whether or not it was because she was alone or that she really didn't care much for the hotel. She sat down on the small sofa and got out a paperback she had started on the plane. After a while she was fast asleep and was totally unaware of the passing of the hours, till eventually she woke up and saw that the time was three o'clock in the afternoon. Jenna eased herself off the sofa and stretched her legs out in front of her. She was bored stiff and the paperback was still unfinished. Rousing herself, she went into the bathroom and freshened up and then took the lift down to reception.
The streets were hot and dusty and empty. There was the sound of televisions coming from cafés and bars, accompanied by the smells of cooking. Jenna felt hungry, but she didn't feel like being alone in a place that would be full of strangers. She began walking along the main street feeling more and more miserable all the time. She thought that if things, or she herself, didn't perk up soon, she'd get a flight back to London, rain or no rain.
The hoarding outside the cinema showed that the film being shown at four o'clock was called The Special Silk Scarf and that it had enjoyed a tremendous success in the USA and other countries. No indication of what the film was about was given, which was rather intriguing as there were people entering the cinema. Jenna was surprised, as the streets had been empty a few moments before, so where had they come from? Jenna felt she had nothing to lose, so she joined the queue to see the film. Upon paying for her ticket, the ticket seller gave her a silk scarf. "What's this for?" Jenna asked the ticket seller.
The ticket seller said, "It forms part of the viewing experience and everyone who comes to see the film has to wear one. Don't worry, you won't be the only one inside wearing a scarf."
"When we come out, where do we put the scarves?" Jenna asked.
"You keep the scarves. They become yours, and are not to be given away or lent out. Are you ready to go inside? The film is about to start."
Jenna passed through the swing doors and entered the darkened cinema. She looked around her and found an empty seat. No one paid her the slightest attention, every eye was on the screen and everyone was wearing a silk scarf.
The film started and showed a sheepdog rounding up a flock of sheep. One sheep made a dash for freedom, but the dog was on guard and went after it and chased it into the pen, together with all the rest. Jenna felt bored and drowsy, so she got up and made her way quietly to the back of the cinema and passed through the swing doors into the entrance. She went from inside the dark cinema to the still sunny street. People stared at the woman wearing a silk scarf on such a hot afternoon, but Jenna wasn't bothered about what they thought. She was going straight back to the hotel and a cool shower.
Jenna put the scarf into her bag before arriving back at the hotel, to avoid comments or stares from the receptionist or any other of the guests. There were more people moving about in the reception area when Jenna entered, and she saw some were new arrivals and others were dressed up for going somewhere special. Jenna walked up to the receptionist, and asked, "When may I have dinner, please?"
The receptionist said to Jenna, "This evening is special as there's a cabaret included, so it will begin at nine o'clock and continue till two o'clock in the morning. There are several dishes to choose from, so if you wish to place your order, you may do so here and now."
"What if I prefer to have dinner in my room?" Jenna asked.
The receptionist swallowed, and answered, "You can of course have dinner in your room, but it might be an inconvenience to the waiters as they will be busy in the restaurant."
"Are you telling me that I have to go to the cabaret even if I don't want to?" Jenna asked getting more and more frustrated.
"Everyone goes to the cabaret, and nobody has ever said they don't like it."
"Perhaps because they're afraid to, or just pay and stay in spite of anything the hotel administration wishes to throw their way. I'm going up to my room and I expect my dinner to be brought up. I don't like cabarets or clubs in any shape or form," declared Jenna in a raised tone of voice, which caused heads to be turned in her direction.
"Well, Madam, I'll see what I can do for your dinner to be served in your room. Unfortunately, I'm unable to say when it will actually be served, due to the cabaret and dinner included."
"It might be better if I don't order dinner, and just eat the fruit in my room. I have to say, the service here is terrible, after all the hype that was written up in the tourist brochure I found this hotel in, so forget the dinner. See you tomorrow." Jenna feeling rather hungry and fed up, took the lift up to her room.
There was sufficient light coming into her room from the street not to necessitate turning on the table lamp. Jenna had bought a large bottle of water when she had gone to the cinema and some biscuits. She sat down on the sofa once again, and started on the bowl of fruit, the water, and the biscuits. It wasn't as good as eating a real hot dinner or a salad, but it was better than nothing. Jenna felt more depressed than ever, and had a shower to get relaxed. She got on top of her bed and plumped up the pillows behind her head, and opened the paperback at the page where she had finished reading.
Downstairs in the dining-room, the large sliding glass doors had been pushed open to their maximum to allow room for the cabaret and later for dancing. The terrace floor was of square, black and white, marble tiles. There was a separate place for the cabaret. The whole atmosphere of sea and the open air gave quite a festive air to the hotel. As night got closer, strings of small lights were suddenly switched on for the benefit of dancers and diners. The yachts of some of the guests were to be seen bobbing on the water just at the edge of the terrace. As the evening progressed, a slight breeze came in from the sea, taking away the memory of the unbearable heat of the day. The dinner as such was the most usual of a sea located hotel; there were all kinds of fish, shell fish, and salads. All of these were washed down with ice cold white wine, which disappeared at the speed of lightning down the throats of the hotel guests. The hotel also provided delicious sweets and chocolates. When the dinner was concluded, the cabaret began. There was a roll of drums and a magician appeared on the small stage with his companion. That number over, a group of acrobats went onto the stage, rolling over and over each other. Some of the ladies went upstairs to get a shawl or wrap for their shoulders, as the wind was getting stronger. The reception area was quite empty, as the ladies returned to their companions and tables. By that time there was a fire-eater doing his stunts in front of the awed audience. The wind blew the fire out and away from his mouth. The audience clapped and cheered. He was asked to do an encore. The fire-eater doused his wand in lamp oil and lit it, and then put it into his mouth. A flame came out of it, and he began to play with the flame, making it longer and longer. In a flash, the flame fell onto his clothes and he ran outside to the sea to jump in, but, on the way he staggered into a tablecloth that was hanging from a table on which there were many bottles of alcohol. The fire-eater was then in the water, swimming as fast as he could away from the hotel, and disappeared into the dark. The bottles of alcohol caught fire and those who were nearer to the sea also jumped into the water. The rest of the guests started to run towards the reception and the main doors. By the time the firemen arrived, a lot of the fire had been contained by the staff with fire extinguishers, and then the professionals did the rest and put it out completely.
Jenna, of course, knew nothing about the night's happenings, she had been fast asleep. The morning after the fire she went downstairs for breakfast, to see that the restaurant was closed.
"What's all this?" Jenna asked the receptionist.
"There was a fire last night and a part of the dining-room was badly burnt. The decorators will be here to revamp it as soon as is possible. Meanwhile, we are giving our guests vouchers to eat in the hotel and spa up the road."
"Is there any possibility of my staying at the other hotel as, to tell the truth, I'm just about sick and tired of this one," demanded Jenna.
"I'll ring them up and see if they have a free room for you," the receptionist told Jenna.
"If they haven't, you can book me on a flight back home for today. There's no point in staying here any longer," Jenna said to the receptionist.
As she was talking to the young woman, Jenna opened her bag and took out the silk scarf, which she immediately returned to her bag. The receptionist gave Jenna a weird look, and then said into the phone, "The hotel would prefer the said lady be transferred to yours, as she seems not to be too happy in ours, although it's nothing to do with us that the place had a fire last night. I'll send the other unhappy visitors along to you as well. Thank you. Goodbye."
The reception hall was beginning to fill up with guests demanding to know what was going to happen with their holidays. Jenna went back upstairs, still without breakfast, and quickly packed her suitcase with the few clothes she had taken with her.
What a disillusion the holiday had turned out to be!
The hotel Jenna was sent to, had everything that could be desired. Jenna entered the hall and felt quite at home. The receptionist, who was a young man, gave her the key to her room and told her that the restaurant was open all day and that she could have room service if she wanted. Jenna felt a great deal more optimistic and went up to her new holiday hotel room. After a quick wash and brush up, she went downstairs and straight into the restaurant, where she more than made up for the lack of good food she had endured for her first days on holiday. The swimming pool was a precious sight and Jenna was full of enthusiasm, made more effective by the fact that she, at last, felt as if she really was away from home. The cool blue-toned water accepted Jenna's body willingly, and she swam and swam till she was quite exhausted. On returning to her room, Jenna showered and lay down on her new bed and slept till lunchtime.
The film, The Special Silk Scarf, was still showing, and people were still walking out of it before it had finished, not realising that it just showed and showed and showed.
The rest of Jenna's holiday was spent having a fun time with all the new people she met at the hotel. She went on excursions and saw the all the lovely places the brochure had mentioned.
On the last evening, there was a special party for those who had been given a silk scarf. They were requested to wear the scarf to the party.
At nine o'clock that evening, the restaurant was full of people wearing identical scarves to the one Jenna had. She looked around her, just as she had done in the cinema, and smiled to herself as she wondered what it could mean.
"Do you remember the film?" a young man asked Jenna.
"I remember that one of the sheep made a dash for freedom, but the sheepdog ran after it and put it back into the pen with all the rest. Why do you ask? I didn't stay till the end but left just after that," Jenna told him.
"That's the end of the film. There's nothing else. The film always ends right there. Do you know why?"
"No, I don't. Is it important?"
"The fact that you left the cinema shows that you are not a sheep, and that you think for yourself," the man said staring at Jenna.
"What are we all doing here?"
"We've all escaped from the rest of the flock," the young man said.
"Yes, that's possibly true, but it also means being alone. While those in the flock have each other for company, we are always by ourselves. "
"Yes, I know, but if one of them goes down, they all go down. One of us goes down and that's not a tragedy. The rest survive."
Jenna stood up and said, "Oh! I wish I'd never gone to the cinema that day. Here take the scarf and give it to someone who likes your weird story."
The young man ran after her and said, "It isn't a weird story. I'm the one who invented it, and you are all my guests tonight. I'm sorry if you're offended by the film, but it was a way of proving my point, that the majority of the general public are too much like a flock of sheep all going face forward in the same direction. That's why they're called 'silly sheep'."
"You mean they never protest, but carry on in the same old way without thinking there might be something better?"
"Yes, that's right. The film was an experiment, that's all. And it worked! Everyone who has seen it so far is not at all sheep-like, but a strong individual. This party is for those, like you, who refuse to be pushed into a situation you don't like."
"How do you explain that I didn't like the other hotel?"
"There's no doubt you felt that there was something wrong. And there was. The management was pushing all the guests in the direction it wanted them to go, not where the guests wanted to go."
"What was the significance of the fire?" Jenna asked the young man.
"The fire was really quite unfortunate, but at the same time showed who the strongest individuals were the following morning, when they asked to move to this hotel and stay here. Have you enjoyed yourself in this hotel?"
"Why, yes, I have. This has been the holiday I wanted, and paid for."
"I'm happy you got what you wanted, and those others over there," he said pointing to the other guests. "They went to the cinema just like you, and also have the special silk scarf as a memento, and to remind them who they are."
"Thank you for explaining the film to me. Do you think many other people will get the message?"
"I'd like to think so," replied the young man.
Jenna got up, and said, "I'm getting tired. As I leave tomorrow morning, I'd better get an early night. Thank you once again. Goodnight."
The young man smiled at her, and then Jenna stepped into the hall and into the lift.
The next day, very early in the morning, Jenna and those who were also returning home, arrived at the airport in good time to catch their flights. Jenna was one of those first on board. She wrapped the silk scarf round her neck against the air-conditioning and fell asleep for most of the flight.
When autumn came, she took to wearing the silk scarf to work.
For some reason she never understood, the small special silk scarf became a symbol of herself - a free and independent spirit.