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What I remember most was hearing footsteps that came and went past my tiny room all night long. Then I’d hear a door—the bathroom door at the end of the hall—open and close. A brief, momentary silence would ensue and then just as I was about to drift off, the footsteps would start up again. Sometimes the bathroom visitor was also a cougher. Sometimes there was so much hacking that it was a bit scary, like the cougher was choking to death. Smokers cough is what I think it’s called.

I was hoping it was smokers cough and not something contagious. How people could pee all night long and cough endlessly made no sense to me. I was nineteen years old and wondering, Who were these students? I hadn’t met any students who behaved like this during my time in Europe. I had arrived in London around midnight. My studies were over and I needed a place to spend the night before flying home to the states the next day.

My thin beige blanket was of no use. It neither kept me warm or drowned out sounds. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to pee because I didn’t want to run into these strange people in the night. Then I realized I’d have to see them in the morning.

Several times I thought of leaving and then realized that I was far better off here then wandering the streets of London at 3:00a.m.

A few times, when I heard footsteps that paced louder than other footsteps, I would look at the flimsy lock on the door and hope no one opened it.

Morning came. The sun shone through my torn sheer curtains. It was finally quiet. What time was it? I threw on some clothes and opened the door. No one was in the hall.

I took the staircase down and almost gasped. There were several old men sitting in the lobby. They looked up at me in surprise. The first one that caught my eye smiled a toothless smile. The men had paper coffee cups in their hands and were smoking cigarettes.

“Good morning,” I said, trying to sound chipper.

“Morning,” a few said to me in unison, looking surprised.

So much for cheap housing, I thought. This wasn’t student housing—this was a flophouse. Oh my God, I thought to myself, I stayed in a flophouse.

I went right up to the lady at the counter to check out. Her skin was so pale and her gray hair so faded it was as if she had never seen the sun.

She looked at me a bit surprised, like she hadn’t seen anyone like me there before. I handed her my money. “Cheerio,” she said.

“Cheerio,” I said as the door slammed behind me.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/nyregion/thecity/10sro.html