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The snowflake was thick like a piece of white cotton gauze ripped off. The ends were frayed like a dozen ripped strings. With its million friend on this dark cloudy day, it sailed diagonally towards the ground until a gust picked it up and carried it across the hot pool. The hot pool was bubbling. Foggy fingers were reaching out of it. The foggy fingers were playing in the air as if they wanted to tickle the ground hugging clouds. A cross current grabbed the snow flaked and pulled it down the driveway among the cabins.

Rachel was watching from the comfort of the lodge reception that was styled with exposed rough wood, deeply cushioned couches, and a crackling, orange-flicking fireplace. A muted TV screen was playing a golf tournament thousands of miles south to an audience of nobody. Despite the emptiness, magazines and newspapers had been arranged on the coffee table as if a reading circle had just put down the books to come back after a five minute break. A gold brimmed wall clock was slowly ticking away the hours.

A gray crossover car pulled into the parking lot. The shiny metal made it stand out among all the parked cars, which were covered under two inches of fluffy white. A tall and trim elderly man climbed out of the driver’s door. A much shorter and rounder woman in soft-red snow pants and winter jacket with black boots followed him. Rachel’s finger tips tabbed through the prepared check-in sheets that had been fanned out only for her to see. There was only one couple scheduled to arrive today. The automatic doors swiped open. A gust of cool air pulled into the room and tingled Rachel on the bare skin under her black pant ends.

“Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell. I hope you found the drive alright despite the heavy winter weather.”

Mr. Mitchell stomped his feet hard on the welcome mat. Mrs. Mitchell carefully swiped the bottoms and sides of her shoes. Mr. Mitchell led the way and held his driver license and credit card to Rachel. Rachel took both of them from his hand. Her arm was furry. Not only that, her neck had fluff as well. The black Indian hair was pulled together into a pony tail. However, on the sides of her face, she had fuzz as well. She was five feet tall. Her eyes were big and round. Her brown cheeks were round knobs. Her body was trim. Her boobs were fitting for her size. She was wearing slacks and a short sleeve dress shirt. The clothes fabric and the cut had the feel of a discount store. There was no nail polish on her finger nails. The only makeup was a red lip stick on her thin lips. Yet, her eye lashes were naturally dark as if colored with coals.

“The drive was fine. I’ve been living in Canada for seventy years now. The odd thing was that the freeway and town were empty like a ghost town.”

“Yes, we are currently on our low season. This weekend, people will come from Calgary on their time off. We are actually completely booked this weekend. You will get the best of both worlds. Enjoy a quiet time at the pool today. Have the activity and bustle on the weekend. If you look out, there is the pool. It’s a cozy 40 degrees Celsius. Behind it is a Sauna. We have a changing room downstairs. It’ll probably be all yours today.”

“Wonderful, we like it quiet. Our boys are out of the house. I can tell you that it is crazy growing up with two boys. They constantly are doing one mischief or another. Do you have any children of your own?”

“Oh, I’m only 25 years old. I’ve freshly moved here from India only three months ago. I have a sister in Montreal. If I can have your initials here and your signature there.”

“Sam, you can’t ask her those personal questions,” chided Mrs. Mitchell.

“She also likes to be treated as a human being, not just some hotel sign in kiosk,” corrected Mr. Mitchell.

“I take great pride in getting to know our customers,” said Rachel in almost monotone customer service tone. Yet, her face looked flushed.

“A lot of Indians take Western names, when they come here. Is Rachel your real name?” continued Mr. Mitchell to make a point.

“My Indian name is Meena.”

“I will call you that if it is alright with you?”

“Of course, Mr. Mitchell. Can I give you a bundle of kindle? There is a fireplace in your room with firewood. If you need additional firewood, there is a pile in the underground parking garage.”

Mr. Mitchell tipped his winter head to thank for the information. He put the bundle of kindle under his arm. Mrs. Mitchell took control of the room key cards and compound map. They stepped out into the snow shuffle outside. The sky and tree tops were invisible in some kind of foggy gray. Snowflakes reflected the light of every street lamp, car beam, and lit window. They were like glow worms dancing through the air. The snow was whirled around as if it never wanted to settle anywhere.

Patrick, the lodge manager, stepped out of the office behind the reception desk. He walked with elegant straight legs toward Rachel. He was wearing a black dress shirt. The fabric was so fine illegal bahis that it had a shine to it. The cut was so smooth that it made him look bigger in presence. He put his glasses on to verify what Rachel had entered into the computer.

“Always remember to log out when you are done. It’s really easy to get distracted and leave the computer open. A lot of fraud happens in the service industry. You wouldn’t want someone using your credentials to commit fraud,” lectured Patrick. He put down his glasses satisfied.

“Culturally, you have a lot to learn about Canadians. The Mitchells were clearly in a social mood. You should have made a little small talk with them. Ask a few friendly questions and share a little about yourself. Of course, don’t do that with everyone. Some people are in a rush or very private. Always follow the lead of the guest,” Patrick continued his lecture. “Show me your finger nails.”

“I will work hard to be the best receptionist.”

Rachel held out her finger nails. Patrick took them in his hand to guide them closer to his hand and move them around in the light. He was inspecting the trim of her finger nails. Her fingers were short to match the shortness of her person. The nails were round. The black hair was crawling down her forearms to the back of her hand.

“Your finger nails are perfectly trimmed now. You should get that hair of yours taken care off as well. There is a lot of fluff. Make some small talk with me as an exercise,” Patrick’s eyes were piercing. His lips were moving as he was evaluating her grooming standard.

“What is your professional dream?” asked Rachel.

“You might not want to go that specific on a first question. However, I’ll play along. My absolute dream would be getting accepted to an internship at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. East Asia is immaculate in customer service. Getting trained to that standard would give me a great boost in my professional growth. Of course, I’d be happy to go to any top tier hotel. Tokyo and Singapore are outstanding choices as well. What is your professional dream?”

“To make you happy, Patrick.”

“With all respect, Rachel, Canadians don’t like hearing that kind of Indian attitude. It’s considered kiss ass. You are only saying that to please me. It doesn’t provide me a chance to get to know the real you.”

“I’m really just very glad to be in Canada. I grew up in a small, rural village called Dumri in the Jarkhand province in East India. My sister was attacked with an acid balloon for going to college. I’m a really just very glad to have made it to a safe country where I can focus on studying.”

“That’s horrible. I’m very sorry to hear about what happened to your sister. I will take good care of you. You are part of our family at the Hidden Valley now. When you talk with customers, you might not want to be that real. Hearing about acid attacks and facial disfigurements can scare them.”

“(Continued) maybe, pick something else. They don’t really care about you. They care about the illusion of being appreciated and special. My real dream is to be at the top of a five star hotel in Toronto. However, I don’t say that. That’s perceived as greedy. People prefer the underdog story. So, I talk about the Hong Kong internship. It is actually a dream of mine. So, I’m not lying.”

“(Continued) why don’t you take it easy today? There is only one more guest arriving today. I can handle it. You’ll have long days on the weekend with all the weekenders coming in.”

Rachel smiled and got her jacket out of the office. It was a warm, puffy winter jacket. She zipped it up all the way over her mouth. She pulled the drawstring on the hood tight until there was only a small hole for her dark eyes to peer out. When she stepped into the winter world, the crosswinds immediately grabbed the sleeves of her pants and flapped them around. Her bare, brown shins were showing. She dug her hands deeply into the jacket pocket and braced herself for the long walk down to the city. The scurrying snowflakes drew pattern on the ground.

Her entire body was like one big heating machine throwing everything it had against the below freezing temperatures. She could feel the heat engines deeply inside of her body. The heat radiated out to the painfully cold surface, her skin. Little pockets of heat started forming among her big muscles as she strutted through the cold. A lone car passed her. The day was already almost night dark at 4 PM with the low sun and the thick cloud cover.

She reached the city with its snow covered cars, fences, and everything. There were mostly single family houses. She lived in a four story building with small bachelor rooms. She hung her coat in the closet. Her room had a twin sized bed. There was barely any space around the bed. A Harry Potter book was on the nightstand to teach her about Western culture. The bookmark was still on the first fifty pages. There was a small laptop that she used to exchange e-mails with her sister. The closet was illegal bahis siteleri mostly empty. Her pride was the warm winter jacket. The other clothes were her office slacks and shirts, which she had procured in Calgary at a mall near the airport.

She slipped into her pink pajamas and under the covers to warm up, while she wound down for the day with her laptop.

The next day, Patrick sent her to clean the rooms. She was pushing the cart with the big linen bin for dirty towels and the tray with cleaning utensils through the thick snow. The rubberized wheels weren’t spinning much anymore. They were frozen in place or gunked up with snow. She was dragging the whole thing about the mercifully slippery mixture of ice and snow.

Her blue-gloved fist knocked on the room of the Mitchells. “Housekeeping,” was her call. She had seen them leave for a sleigh ride on her way in. So, she only waited five seconds before using the master key card to open the door and get out of the cold. The room was toasty warm. The thermostat must have been turned up to eighty degrees. There was a scent of perfume in the air. Old people had a tendency to compensate hygiene with perfume.

The kitchen was neatly arranged. She could tell that the plates were used, yet carefully washed and dried. They were aligned a little differently than how she does it. Next to the fireplace was a mess of kindling. She picked up the wood pieces, arranged them, and then vacuumed the splinters away. There was a book with a rose on the coffee table. The title was “Waking up the erotic dragon after it has been in a slumber for a decade – You are never too old for a great sex life.”

She went for the bedroom. The sheets had already been made and neatly tugged in. There was a five dollar note as tip on the pillow. The suitcases were closed and stowed in the cupboard. All the clothes were neatly hung as well. The Mitchells were very easy guests. She got the cleaning spray out and washed the bathroom sink and shower even though it looked immaculate. Even the shower seemed to have been toweled down. She took a kitchen towel and shaped it into something that looked like an origami-folded cute smiling face. The little touches make the experience special is what Patrick always says.

She returned to the reception desk. She cleverly put the book in a spot hidden under the counter, so that she could read Harry Potter. Yet a guest wouldn’t be able to tell that she was reading for pleasure. It looked like she was standing at attention and arranging some kind of documents. The week days were long and boring. A little fairytale from the Great Brits was a welcome distraction.

In the afternoon, Mr. Mitchell appeared by himself. He walked in with purpose directly to Rachel. He paused for a moment to gather the words in his mind. Rachel looked at him curious. Mentally, she had a soft bend in her knees like a volley ball player ready to jump in any direction, wherever the serve may be hit.

“I’m a man, Meena. I don’t mean that in a sexist way like women have to be in the kitchen. However, I feel lacking as a man if I can’t start a fire. Do you have any tips on how to get a fire started? Also I need a new bundle of kindling.”

“Don’t worry,” laughed Rachel. “You are not the first one to struggle. The wood is a bit moist. The key is in making a nice pyramid shaped pyre that sucks up the air. I’ll get you another bundle of kindling. It’s slow. I could leave the desk and help you get it started.”

“That would be wonderful, dear.”

Rachel stepped into the office to pick up two bundles of kindling and tell Patrick that she would be with Mr. Mitchell to light a fire. Patrick gave her the thumbs up with a please smile that said, “I love outstanding customer service.” She put her thick jacket on and stepped with the tall, thin man into the biting cold winter. The walkway and driveway were slippery. There were multiple layers of ice blended with layers of snow. The loose stuff had been cleared. Yet, the hardened stuff had been left for late spring to thaw.

“So, you have two sons, Mr. Mitchell. May I ask what they are doing?” asked Rachel.

“Well one is a journalist. He works for the Toronto Star. I used to work for the Toronto star as a mechanical engineer to keep the presses running. Now, I’m retired. He sits in an office all day and write chit chat about celebrities. It’s a hard job. His hanging on by an inch with all the layoffs in the news industry.”

“(Continued) my other son Elliot is with the army. He is a tank specialist. Mary didn’t like it at first. See she was a nurse at Toronto General Hospital. She worked in the ICU and saw really gnarly injuries. She doesn’t like the killing business. Though, she realized over time that most of the time, he files plans for exercises or changes the oil on the tank. They’ve never been deployed. We have a make-belief army, you know, Meena.”

“Actually, our family is somewhat of a military family. We trace our lineage back to Veer Budhu Bhagat. canlı bahis siteleri He was a great warrior during the Santhal rebellion in 1855.”

“Tell me more, I love history,” encouraged Mr. Mitchell.

They had arrived at the cabin. Mr. Mitchell opened the door. The wall of heat was still as strong as when she had cleaned. Mrs. Mitchell was taking a nap in the closed bedroom. The fireplace was full of black charred paper that crumbled, when Rachel cleared it out of the way with the poker. The tinder had burned black underneath a big log that hadn’t caught fire.

Rachel got on her knees to crumble up paper and arrange the kindling. She took the big log back out of the fireplace. Mr. Mitchell kneeled next to her. She could smell his old-person’s body odor. She loved arranging the tinder to prepare for the fire.

“My people Santhals. They are a kind of people that live of growing in rugged areas and a little hunting. We always avoided people. When the British came, the other tribes claimed more and more land. We kept withdrawing back until we were finally discovered. The discovery brought wolves in sheep skin. Men would come claiming to be traders. They showed us fancy fabrics and all kinds of modern trinkets. They would let us borrow these items for a while in exchange for loans.”

“(Continued) the loans had huge interest rates, like 500% in a year. It would have taken a whole generation to pay back the loans. The whole tribe ended up in servitude of these loan sharks. Our women were forced to become concubines. They were disgraced.”

“(Continued) there was a breaking point. All of the Santhals stood up one day as one. With bows and sticks, we broke into open rebellion. The loan sharks soon met their bitter end. The British were caught off guard. They send a small unit of Sepoy, Indian soldiers. We took them for breakfast. It only encouraged our people even more.”

“(Continued) The British were in the habit of crushing rebellions. So, they sent a huge army with muskets and canyons. We had no chance. But our people stood as long as the drums were beating. And if everyone fell, the last would still remain standing. And when the drums stopped, we would withdraw a kilometer. The drums would continue. And we would stand again. Veer Budhu Bhagat was a great fighter. Only armed with an axe, he killed a hundred sepoy that were armed to the teeth. Eventually, a big canyon took him out at close range.”

“Wow, you have a very proud history,” admired Mr. Mitchell.

Rachel had used the iron holder in the fireplace to arrange the tinder. The thin, blonde tinder stick were layered on top of each other with plenty of air in between. Paper balls were placed strategically beneath.

“See, Mr. Mitchell, it is all about fanning. There bottom kindling will heat the kindling above it to release gas. That kindling will burn to heat up the kindling above. It’s like a ladder. And on top of it, it will be supper hot. Make sure to avoid drowning the fire by putting too much on top. I’ll keep the log outside until it is hot enough,” explained Rachel.

Then, she placed a burning match underneath a paper ball. The small flame jumped from the match to the paper ball. The fire crawled over the paper ball until big orange flames were licking high. The first kindling slowly caught fire around the edges. Mr. Mitchell was looking on with red cheeks like an excited kid. Rachel felt big and tall like an expert. Her heart was beating bigger as the flames grew. Her hands were a little shaky, because she worried that the fire may burn out before the big log would catch fire. The wood was very young and moist.

The entire fireplace was ablaze in orange from the paper and kindling. Rachel knew that it wouldn’t last long, because the light fuel would quickly be spent. She lifted a big log into the fire trying not to smother anything. Her fingers were working so close to the flames the Mr. Mitchell got worried. She assured him that she knew what she was doing and felt even bigger on the inside.

A huge pop signaled that the log was catching. Mrs. Mitchell was stirred from her slumber and came out in her pajamas with the hotel provided slippers. The log was happily crackling. Mrs. Mitchell looked at Mr. Mitchell with an endearing look: “Oh, just like on our honey moon!” Mr. Mitchell softly full body hugged Mrs. Mitchell. Rachel slunk out of the cabin with a smile knowing that she had done her part.

In the evening, Rachel was busy printing out reservation sheets for the arriving guests. It was Friday. A lot of them would come. The printer was crunching out page after page. She neatly folded it and placed the welcome package with the room cards inside of it. Patrick was outside instructing the handyman on details of snow clearing. The path to the lobby had to be immaculate. The parking spot dividing lines had to be visible, or people would park carelessly leading to late coming guests not to find space to park.

The first car was a white pickup truck. The suspension was raised to show big empty spots above the tires in the wheel housing. Snowboards were in the truck bed. The truck slid sideways into the parking spot. Therese were definitely party guys from Calgary, possibly college aged or a little older.

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