I cried out as the first tremor shook the building, joined in a chorus of surprised and frightened voices. The lights flickered above us, the gaudy hotel chandelier swinging with a sudden and unexplained momentum.
Earthquake, the crowd began to whisper to itself, and I felt the unmistakable psychic energy of a hundred people trying to remember if doorways or tables were the best place to be when the earth tried to buck you off like so many parasites.
‘Be calm, be calm,’ the hotel manager’s voice rang out across the lobby. ‘Just a slight shake, nothing to be concerned ab—’
A second, more violent rumble echoed through the ground and up into our feet. I clung to a staircase, alongside a man whose luggage proclaimed he’d just been to Melbourne – glass balustrades were a bad thing to cling to, we quickly realised, letting go in a distinct hurry.
‘Okay,’ came the hotel manager’s voice once more, slightly more wobbly than it had been moments previously. ‘As you can see, the structure is more than stable, and it’s highly unlikely that we’ll experience another—’
A huge, violent lurch ripped through the planet. For more than a minute, the entire world became the worst roller coaster ride imaginable, as busts and plasterwork fell to the ground and crumbled into the carpet.
Eventually – mercifully – the movement stopped. The world returned to its calm facade; I knew I would never trust it to stay solid beneath me again.
‘Well then,’ the manager began to speak. ‘As you can see—’
‘Shut up!’ a voice from the crowd screamed at him. ‘You’re jinxing us!’
‘Yeah!’ roared the crowd.
‘I want my deposit back!’ a lady in a leather jacket roared at the poor man.
‘I hope you know someone in Melbourne to do affordable glass replacement,’ another man cackled.
I simply shrugged my coat back onto my shoulders, brushing off the light cloud of dust that had settled over me. Picking up my suitcase, I made my way for the exit and out onto the blissful, open street.
And that’s how I got out of paying for my hotel.