Something was definitely not right when the receptionist pored through our confirmation, scratched his head, looked through his records, touched his goatee, got on the phone (and did everything else) except for showing us our rooms.
I never seem to be able to get the receptionist’s name and so let’s just call him M.
Arriving at a destination after dark was never a good idea; arriving in India past midnight sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.
Despite the dim lighting, I could sense that M was nervous. Someone must have screwed up something somewhere and unfortunately we would be on the receiving end of the mistake.
M finally spoke, hesitantly.
“Sorry Sir. There is a mistake and there is only one room here tonight Sir. So sorry Sir…”
“Huh? Can you repeat again?” I thought I misheard amid the accent.
“Sorry Sir. There is only one room here tonight Sir. Two of you will stay here. There is another room nearby. My friend will bring you there Sir.”
So I heard correctly the first time. The four of us soon realized that we were at his mercy at 2am in the morning.
“Is it possible for four of us to stay together at the other place?” Ying asked, albeit a little too hopefully.
“Sorry Sir. Two of you will stay in one room here tonight. Another two will stay at the other place. So sorry Sir…” M repeated the same thing again.
“So what happened?”
M gave me the guilty look and a shrug which only Indians are capable of.
It was never a good sign when the locals began talking to each other in front of you in something that they know you don’t understand. And it was exactly what happened between M and his friend (whom I shall call H) who had arrived on a motorcycle.
Most probably they were talking about stuff that they didn’t want us to know; things such as where they were going to dump us or how big of an idiot that they thought we were.
Well it was already late and we decided to accept what they offered since it was probably the best that we could get for the rest of the night.
We got to decide among ourselves who would be privileged to sleep at the other place. Qinyao and I were the lucky two.
H led us ahead on his motorcycle through the dead quiet Fort Kochi, ending at a place called Casa Linda several blocks away.
The exterior was in fact nicer than Sonnetta’s. We were the luckier ones.
Or so we thought.
Once the light was switched on in the room given to us, we found ourselves staring in disbelief.
Are we in God’s Own Country? More like Hotel Hell than anything else. Ramsay would go ballistic seeing what’s in front of us.
The lingering odor of stale cigarette smoke mixed with Tandoori chicken was unmistakable. The leftover food and chicken bones on the table were clear evidence that the room was used moments earlier.
And quite possibly it was by H who was grinning and assured us that the bed wasn’t touched before. He simply assumed we would take the room in the present condition and made no offer to clean up the place.
Our options were obviously limited at 3 am and we were trapped with the sudden showers outside.
“Can you clean up this?” I pointed at the mess.
“Okay~~” H went off to get his equipments.
“Clean this too.” I pointed to the cigarette ashes on the floor.
“Okay~~” H needed us to ask again.
“Can spray air freshener?” It promised to be a long night.
After some hours of sleep in the barely acceptable room, we returned to Sonnetta.
M was already up and running about in the guesthouse; under the domineering presence of Xavier or Mr Sonnetta, the larger-than-life owner of the guesthouse.
“Boss, can we talk?”
“Yes?” boomed Mr Sonnetta.
“Can I get a refund for yesterday?”
“We arrived last night but there was no room and…”
“Wait.” He went off to attend to a European lady who caught his attention.
“Boss, the refund” I had to catch his attention as soon as he was done.
“Oh yes but we gave you a room. The girl who worked here last time made a mistake and keyed in one room only. We talk about the refund later.”
“Later? What time? ”
“I said later.” He was getting irritated.
“Boss, the room was very dirty. I wanted a refund for last night.”
I showed him the pictures of the room that I had taken on my phone yesterday.
“There were leftover food on the table and there was strong cigarette smell.”
Mr Sonnetta went silent for a while. H entered to collect payment at the right time.
(Speaking in Malayalam)
Mr Sonnetta: “He said you provided them a dirty room.”
H: “No I didn’t.”
Mr Sonnetta: “He took photographs you idiot. Why are you so careless?”
H smiled guiltily after seeing the pictures.
Mr Sonnetta turned to me in English “H said you shouldn’t take his photographs.”
“Boss so where’s my refund?” I knew that I had to be persistent when dealing with them.
“Let me find out more and get back to you later.”
“Why not now?”
“What time?” It began to feel like circular reference on Excel sheet.
“Maybe 11 o’clock. It’s over. Don’t be unhappy.” Mr Sonnetta replied with the same shrug which M did the previous night.
To be fair, Sonnetta’s rooms are actually quite nice on a good location at Princess Street. Although they are on the small side, the rooms come with air-con, attached bathrooms and satellite TV.
It even has a safe and Mr Sonnetta’s personal guarantee that no valuables will be stolen from it. Very reassuring.
However, he was always unavailable when I wanted to chat with him.
“Where’s boss?” I asked the receptionist after our dinner.
“He’s eating dinner. Do you need help?”
“It’s okay. I’ll talk to him later.”
Twenty minutes later.
An hour later…
“He’s sleeping already.”
I could only catch Mr Sonnetta when we were checking out.
“Boss, where’s the refund?”
Mr Sonnetta looked up from his newspapers.
“See, we provided you a room and you accepted the room. And now you keep asking for refund. You should be ashamed.” He was clearly unhappy with my repeated requests.
“It’s not about the money. I …” I could feel my face turning red.
“It’s all about money!” He cut me off abruptly.
“Your staff made a mistake with the reservation. I booked two rooms here but you gave a dirty one somewhere else. Why can’t I ask for refund?” He got me riled and I raised my voice too.
He could not defend the points that I had raised and reluctantly took out his money.
“Okay I’m refunding you half of the money for the first night.” He counted 700 INR and passed to me. “Are you happy? Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
I took the money which I was perfectly entitled to.
“Are you unhappy?” I asked the obviously indignant Mr Sonnetta.
“No I am not unhappy. You got your refund and let’s not talk about it anymore.”
Obviously we didn’t part on a very good note.
Why did I insist on the refund? Is it really about the money? Of course not.
It’s about punishing bad behavior. Firstly the guesthouse made a mistake with the reservation and couldn’t supply what we had paid for. Secondly the replacement room was disgusting and unacceptable. Thirdly, Mr Sonnetta was not apologetic and delayed in addressing the issue.
If they were to get away with this piece of bad behavior, similar incidents
may will repeat again. To me the best way to make them learn is to hit where it hurts most. In this case, it’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter whether the property is in India or anywhere else. If it fails to deliver, the customers are entitled to take it to the task.
And so I did.