The damn thing was delivered just as I was finished packing my bags to check out. A knock on the door, a little bellhop handed me a thin package wrapped in brown paper, a little bow, and the hesitant wait. I sighed deeply and reached into my wallet for a five-dollar bill. My last five-dollars. It was dumb and reckless. I wasn’t expecting a package and why the heck am I tipping someone five whole dollars just for doing their job? But my ego, that little voice in my head, didn’t want this perfect stranger to go down to where the other hotel employee’s hang out (somewhere in the dank basement I assume) on their break and tell them about how the guest in room 417 was too cheap to give a tip after hand delivering a package when it could have been left at reception for them. The thought of someone, even a perfect stranger, thinking badly about me was too much. My anxiety and ego couldn’t handle it. So, the five dollars was forked over. Along with a smile and a ‘thank you’.
Once the door was closed, I had time to look down at my hands. Who on earth would have sent me a package? For a brief and wonderful moment, I thought maybe, just maybe he had reconsidered and inside the package would be… a card and a cheque? No, it was a bit too heavy to be a card. Maybe a tablet of some kind? It felt a bit thick and soft for that.
There were no markings on the outside except ‘Room 417, deliver at 5:15pm’. Oh. Well. There you have it.
I decided to open the package, just a peek. I carefully unfolded the corners and slipped the tape off the edge. Once there was an opening on one end, I could see that it was a book inside. A little black book with creamy white pages. Frowning, I tipped the package over and let the book fall out onto the bed.
The front was blank, just a smooth soft black finish with a couple of scratches but nothing major. I opened the book, a note was sitting inside, a piece of white scrap paper.
“You win, it’s yours. Now leave me alone. Remember, you have to be holding it in your hands when you pay for it to work.”
I frowned at the note, and opened the book. Written in a tiny perfect lettering. It took me a minute, but I realized that it was a transaction book. A strange one, with dates, addresses, amounts and initials. The first transaction on the first page was from 1936 for 2 pennies. I flipped to the very end and saw the last transaction was a year ago for 3 million dollars. In between were transactions from all over the world and varied amounts. There were only about twenty blank pages.
It looked like a blackmail book of some kind and I decided it would be best if I just left it at the reception desk and tell them they made a mistake. I didn’t want any part of it.
I finished packing, grabbed my bag and coat, headed down to the lobby and waited in line. The little brown package in my hand. I was going home, that was certain. I would have to call the bank and tell them I couldn’t make the mortgage payment and I would be out by the first (since I was already three months behind). I’d have to figure out what to do with my stuff, leave it? Try to sell what I could? Heck, the bank could deal with it for all I cared.
“How can I help you?” a chipper voice called out to me, bringing me back to the present.
“Just checking out please, but I don’t want to put it on my credit card, I’ll pay by—” I put down my bag to grab my wallet and realized the book was in my other hand. “Oh, and there seemed to have been a mix up...” I heard the chur-chur of a printer and realized that my bill was printing out. “Here you are, thank you for staying with us I hope you have a wonderful day.”
Oh no! The charges were put through on my credit card, which meant that when my phone bill was charged in a day it would bounce. They would shut off my cell phone which meant I wouldn’t get any calls and if I did hear back from any of the 200 resumes I sent out, it would say my phone is disconnected. I felt like all the walls were crashing in.
I knew coming here, renting a hotel room (even at $89 a night) was a stupid idea. I should have slept in my car and met them at a coffee shop. The blood was rushing around my head and I could hear it in my ears closing out everything else, completely consumed by all of my thoughts and emotions firing at once. I took the piece of paper from the clerk, turned and walked out of the hotel before I started crying or shouting. Reversing the charges would do nothing. They put a hold of $200 on my credit card when I checked in so even if it was released in a couple days there was not enough room for my phone bill. I couldn’t take the meager funds I had left and pay the credit card because it wouldn’t be processed in time. Everything was a juggle. I knew how much money I had to the cent and this one last-ditch attempt to get help from someone else had ended up costing me everything.
The drive home would take me six hours. I opened the passenger side door and dumped my bag, coat, and the hotel receipt in the car. I drove straight home, arriving on fumes and starving because I couldn’t afford to stop for food or gas. In the dark I grabbed my bag and jacket and walked into the house to fall into bed.
I knew I didn’t have a shot. I mean, in this economy who would give a person with no money, no job, and no credit an extension on a mortgage they were already three months behind on? But I thought, why not, maybe I could beg. Maybe I could remind the bank of the good times when I did have money and made my payments. Why is it that I could go 10 straight years without missing a single payment on anything, but one year, one bad horrible year where my life fell apart, and suddenly the previous 10 years didn’t matter at all? I called the bank and made an appointment with the mortgage specialist. The receptionist asked me what it was about; I probably should have said ‘loan extension’ but I thought it would give them time to make a clinical decision without any human consideration so instead I said, “mortgage payments”.
I was nervous when I got in my car and put all of my mortgage papers beside me. I knew they had it all on file, but I thought maybe if I laid it out, ten years of payments in black and white, it would change something. I drove over to the bank planning arguments in my head. I took a turn too quickly and the papers went scattering to the floor. When I got to the bank and parked, I went around to the passenger side to pick up all the papers. That’s when I saw a little brown package sticking out between the car door and the seat. “Shit” I forgot about returning it. I decided to leave it at the bank the way you do when you find credit cards or bank cards.
I walked into the mortgage specialist’s office when they called my name and sat down. A lady smiled at me and asked me to wait a minute while she pulled up my file and verified my name and information. She looked up while she was typing “mortgage payments you said?” she asked distractedly as she typed. I hesitated but said, “Yes”, waiting while she finished typing before launching into my speech.
“Oh” she murmured, and typed a bit more. She looked up at me again and then back at her screen and typed some more.
“Well, congratulations. I’ll just print the papers and get a few signatures and you will be good to go.”
I frowned in confusion, “Congratulations for what?”
The lady smiled, “Paying off your house. I assumed that was why you came in, to sign all the papers to transfer the house fully into your name.”
“Paid off my-‘ I cut myself off. I was stupid sometimes but not slow. If the bank said I owned my house, who was I to argue? “Yes”. I said, feeling my face burning as the blood rushed in.
“I’ll be back in a moment; I just need the bank manager to sign as well.” She got up and walked out.
I stared in amazement and then looked down at the papers in my lap. I went through them all and no, no, no they all clearly said I had at least $60 000 left to pay. What the heck? Maybe someone else paid it? I didn’t want to ask too many questions. The confusion might buy me a bit more time to sort out the payments I had to make.
I was stacking my papers when I found the hotel receipt; I looked at it. It said ‘Paid in Full’ but there was no indication of how it was paid. Just that it was paid. I felt the brown package at the bottom of the stack. I remembered the note. I opened it quickly, checking over my shoulder to make sure the bank employee wasn’t coming back and pulled the book out. I flipped to the back of the book and found the last page with writing, and there, written in ink were two new entries under the 3 million dollars from a year ago. One was for a $109.15 hotel bill on the day I checked out of the hotel and the second was for today for $62,842.04.
I walked out of the bank half an hour later with papers saying the house was mine. I thought about the little black book and what it meant; I had a theory to test.
I looked at my car and decided to drive to a dealership, and walked out an hour later with the keys to a little SUV. I drove to a big box electronics store and bought a new stove, tv, fridge, and laptop. I had them all delivered. Three days later I sat in my house and had everything I thought I would need. I checked the book and saw that I had filled an entire page. I put the book in a drawer and told myself I would only take it out if I was absolutely desperate.
It was five years later before I took that book out again. My life was my own, it wasn’t perfect, but the new car and the house and the appliances meant that I had so little I had to pay for except regular bills which I could afford with my salary. So I wrote a note, wrapped that book in plain brown paper and I dropped it off at a small hotel off the tourist track that said ‘Room 417’.
Or, I kept the book and used it until the pages were filled and my life had changed completely. I can’t remember, it was a lifetime ago and my ego sometimes plays tricks on me.