Milan, 2012 A disgruntled Italian girl deposits us into the room and wordlessly hands over the keys. She vanishes before we can utter a word of thanks. We’re sharing the room with a burgeoning Chinese entrepreneur who refuses to put on clothes. He squats in his briefs, socks and bumbag, hands us a business card –
Lung Trading Co.
He’s already met the older 6-foot Caribbean tenant next door and they share jokes as we habitually kick our rucksacks out of sight. Once our cheerful neighbour has retreated back into his room to pack for check-out, Lung turns his attention to us. My friend does all the talking. I peel back clean white curtains to be caught off-guard by the sharp sunlight. Black bars decline our request to step out onto the balcony. I catch a comment from the conversation behind me.
‘Oh, you study arts? Where I come from, you study arts — you fail.’
We seep out onto the empty street and, after searching for something like a meal, settle for an empty restaurant nestled in a sleeping estate. This place, like the whole district, is hibernating at the height of summer. We’re courted by a clutch of restless waiters. I can’t dismiss the idea that the air is thicker here, as though the streets have been permeated with xenon. We leave for the station the next day and it occurs to me, then, that I never saw Mr. Lung with his trousers on.