A couple of weeks ago, my friend invited me to her wedding. I brought my roommate Katherine as my plus one and booked an Airbnb for us.
I didn’t spend too much time on the selection. We wouldn’t be at the place long, just to change before the wedding and to sleep afterward. There also weren’t a ton of selections in the area, but I found a suburban two-storey bungalow for $50. The rental was a private room, meaning the host would be home, but that was fine; I’ve done that before in the States and abroad. Plus, I had a $20 voucher I could apply to make the entire rental $30. Amazing!
I forgot about the Airbnb almost entirely until a week before the wedding when “Mr. Xi” emailed confirming my arrival and informing me he would be out of town. “I’ll leave key in lockbox,” he wrote. “The code is 7133. Leave the key there when you go out.”
“Awesome,” I sent back.
And this was awesome. Katherine and I would have an entire house to ourselves.
Oh, how wrong I was.
We arrived an hour before the official check-in time, but this shouldn’t have been a problem if Mr. Xi was out of town. Upon parking and walking up to the door with our bags, we found the door wide open.
“Do we go in?” I said.
“Is this the right house?” Katherine clarified.
“I mean, it’s the address.”
“And I see the lockbox.” She pointed at the open door. On the handle was a lockbox.
“Hello?” I shouted into the house.
“Hi!” Mr. Xi appeared. He seemed surprise. “Hi!”
“Hi, I’m Cazey…from Airbnb.”
“Oh! Oh, yes!”
While affirmative, his response also didn’t wipe away his surprise. Nevertheless, he showed us to our bedroom—a door marked with a #2.
Katherine asked the pressing question: “Are other people staying here?”
Mr. Xi seemed confused.
“Other people,” Katherine spelled out. “I see there are numbers on the door.”
“Ah,” he said. He nodded.
Katherine and I waited for more. At this point I wondered if Mr. Xi was always confused.
“They come late tonight,” he said. “Do you need anything?”
“I don’t think so…” I said. I spotted the WiFi password and the bed. The room was rather bare—just a bed and a desk. “Oh, towels.”
“Here.” He led us to the closet. One towel hung there.
“Is there a second towel?” I said.
“You need two?”
My eyes swung between Katherine and myself.
“I’m fine,” Katherine said.
“Two if you have them,” I said.
Mr. Xi disappeared momentarily and returned with a child’s beach towel.
“I guess that will do,” I said.
“Thank you so much,” Katherine said.
“I see you later.” Mr. Xi saw himself out.
“Do you see what the pillow says?” Katherine said.
“The pillow,” she pointed to it on the bed—a child’s pillow, too, decorated with cartoon sheep, “it says, ‘I like the sheeps, they are VEPY lovely! Which sheep do you love most?’ What is this?”
“What is this?” I repeated.
“Vepy?” Katherine repeated “Why is it misspelled?”
“Are we okay staying here?” I clarified. “We can go somewhere else. It’s not exactly what I was expecting.”
“It’s just one night,” Katherine shrugged. “We’ll lock the door.”
That we will.
We Lyfted to the wedding. Mr. Xi had left by this point. We extracted the house key from the lockbox to lock the door behind us—and then we returned it to the lockbox, as Mr. Xi’s instructions had specified.
After the wedding, we followed the party to a local bar. After downing some pizza, Katherine and I made the decision we should return to our Airbnb. It was after midnight, and—in the back of my mind—I did wonder about the new guests and the key in the lockbox. What if, just what if they didn’t leave it in the lockbox? What would we do?
Moments later I found out.
Our Lyft dropped us off. We immediately saw a light on inside the house—a light we hadn’t left on. We approached the front door, my worry no longer there. I opened the lockbox. The key was not there. My worry returned instantaneously.
“Oh my God.”
I’m not sure whether Katherine or I said that first.
“The key’s gone,” I said.
“Where is it?” Katherine hissed.
“They must have taken it.”
“But the instructions say…”
I immediately banged on the door. Then I went to the second door.
“Maybe there’s another key hidden outside,” I brainstormed, then countered, “But why would there be if there’s a key already in a lockbox?”
Katherine peered through the door. “Do you think they’re here? What if they’re out?”
“I’m going to message Mr. Xi,” I said. I imagined if this was a foreign country and I hadn’t had data. Would we have been locked out on the street, stranded outside our Airbnb?
We continued knocking on the door and started to shout, “Hello? Hello!”
“Hi, Mr. Xi,” I wrote calmly. “The other guests have removed the key to the house. We cannot get inside. Please contact them or have them open the door.”
I feel my words did not underline the urgency of the matter.
“We are locked outside,” I added.
“And it’s after midnight,” I wanted to further add.
A light flickered on upstairs.
“Oh my God, they’re home!” Katherine gasped. “Yes, they’re coming down!”
Behind the blinds, we saw two women materialize. They hovered feet away from the door.
“Hello! Hello!” we screamed in unison, ecstatic. “We’re staying here! We’re locked out.”
The women made no moves.
“You locked us out… There’s no key in the lockbox.”
The women began to speak. It was not English.
“Do they understand us?” Katherine and I looked to one another, aghast.
“We’re locked out,” we repeated.
“We have a key, see, to our bedroom, but not to the house,” Katherine tapped on the glass. “We’re staying here. Our stuff is inside.”
The women seemed quite alarmed, probably rightfully so. I don’t know what I’d do if I was staying at an Airbnb and was woken to two strangers beating on the front door. But I also had minimal sympathy at 1 AM if there is a master key for house in a lockbox and you didn’t leave the key in the lockbox as the host clearly specified.
“We’re staying here,” our tones changed to begging. “Our stuff is inside. We can’t get in.”
Katherine took on a new tactic: “What language do you speak?”
“What are you going to do, Google translate?” I asked.
“Help us,” she cried. “We’re staying here! We have a key.”
The women tiptoed closer to the door. Our pleading amplified. “Let us in, please,” we implored them.
I honestly didn’t know our next steps. Mr. Xi hadn’t responded. Did we call non-emergency and ask them to give us entry? Was that even a legal option? If we had access to our stuff, we could have just surrendered and gone to a hotel, but everything was behind this door, including my car keys to get us home tomorrow.
The women seemed to be on the phone.
“What language do you speak?” Katherine tried again.
Abruptly, they opened the door. The women jumped back. We stared.
“Thank you,” we said emptily.
The women said nothing.
“The key,” Katherine attempted to explain. “There’s supposed to be a key.” She pointed to the open, yet empty lockbox.
“We didn’t know others were staying here.” The women suddenly knew English.
“Yes, we are,” I said flatly.
“In the room with a number two on it,” Katherine emphasized. Then she took on an apologetic tone: “We’re so sorry.” I didn’t know why she was apologizing.
Upstairs, we unlocked our bedroom door. “I’m using the bathroom and going to bed,” I announced.
In the bathroom, I found our new roommates’ underwear hanging on the towel rack. Multiple pairs.
“What is going on?” I returned to our bedroom. “Their underwear is strung up in the bathroom.”
“And there’s no sheet,” Katherine replied.
She pulled back the blanket on the bed to expose a bare mattress. “It’s just a mattress,” she drove the point home.
“Oh my God.”
I checked the time. It was 1:15 AM. “I’m getting our money back tomorrow,” I decided.
“What, $30?” Katherine laughed.
“Yes, all $30. This is what we get for a $30 Airbnb.” I tried to make this the collective problem of Katherine and me. I mean, it was our collective problem, but I’m the one who chose the $30 Airbnb.
We turned off the lights and laid on the mattress. Katherine face-planted.
“Why is it so hot?” I asked seconds later.
“I don’t think there’s AC in here.”
“Is this why there’s no sheet? I have to open a window.”
Returning to the mattress, I asked Katherine, “How do you feel about me right now?”
“I hate everything.”
“I’m going to buy you lunch with the $30 once I get it back,” I promised.
We rose promptly at dawn to sneak out of the house. I forgot to shut the window I opened, but Katherine felt moved to make the bed with its single blanket.
“I don’t know why you’re doing that,” I remarked.
"Neither do I."
If you enjoyed this, then you may also enjoy: