I kipped all the afternoon away and now it’s seven in the evening. I hope to Christ it rained on everyone who stayed awake, that always makes me feel better about my time wastage. If I want to get back into the right sleep pattern it seems like I’m going to have to take a drink now, although I really glean no pleasure from it...Your Honour.
I wonder if I could get a cider, that’s sort of like breakfast alcohol. Ah, no: a nicely chilled glass of Savlon would be lovely. I know that it’s called Sauvignon now, but I still call it Savlon. That cow Lozzer knew all along, used to giggle behind her cocktail menu when I tried to order it in bars.
Communal showers – yuck. All the hairs in the plughole might be from residents of six different countries. Someone’s probably been sick in here within the last week. Someone’s probably had sex in here within the last week, dirty dogs. Ooh, someone’s left some quality shampoo in here, though! I’m nabbing that, as compo for all I’m being made to endure.
I doll myself up a bit, because you never know who’s looking. Not too tarty, though, because I think Da...I think whoever I may bump into tonight mightn’t like that.
I enter the bar. It’s always an anxious moment, as everyone looks round and gives you the once-over. They should serve drinks just outside the bar to help you get your nerve up. But then I suppose people would gather there and stare instead.
He’s on me in an instant, before I even make it to the actual bar. He gets me trapped against a pillar like a tethered goat, his arm blocking my way.
-Amber, he says; then gawps at me as I wait for him to say something else. He’s drunk already, his breath reeks of beer and barbeque. It’s just like being at home.
I was...I was heading to the bar, Peter, I say.
-Let me come with you.
-I can find it on my own, thanks, I reply.
It’s right behind your big bovine shoulder if you’d just move out of the fucking way. I’m up on tippy-toes glancing past him, looking for Dan. He’s not in his usual spot at the end of the bar, the bastard. Peter’s face is looming in at mine again. I recoil backwards as though I’m warming up for a limbo dance.
-We should talk about this thing between us, Amber, he says.
I’m such a dummy. I actually look at the rapidly decreasing space in the middle of our two bodies.
-There is...nothing between us, Peter, I say – just a foot of stale air and your semi-erect penis.
He glances down at his cargo shorts and I use the moment to knock his arm from the pillar, spinning him round ninety degrees. Then I slide right past him like a feminist ninja.
-Dieter, I hear him croak forlornly at my back – my name is Dieter.
Whatever. I practically run to the bar. I order two glasses of wine. One’s from me and one’s a gift from the Old Me, who insists on buying the New Me a drink. Seems rude to refuse. I down the first one while the second’s still breathing and I’m not. When the warmth rises up in me I finally exhale, then turn and lean my elbows back on the bar. I’m trying for cocky, but probably just look like a King’s Cross prossie.
And there’s Dan. He’s sat all on his lonesome in a little booth, smiling up at me wryly. I’ve no idea where he’s staying in this hostel, but he seems to have the ability to teleport through it at will. There’s a little notebook and a pen on the table.
He pushes out a stool with his foot. What a true gent he is.
-You keeping a travel journal? I ask, sitting down, wondering if I’m in it.
-Something like that, he replies, hurriedly pocketing the notebook, flushing slightly –I like to write stuff down. It helps me to make sense of things.
I ought to start doing that. The last thing I remember writing was a shopping list on the back of a hospital payslip. It’s still stuck to my fridge with saliva. It looks like this:
-Did you find your submarine? I ask, trying to change the subject, sparing him.
- No, he laughs, seeming relieved –that’s a thing about submarines. They can be tricky to locate. Especially when you look for them in large bodies of water.
-I suppose so, I say, nervously sweeping my own periscope around, looking for the German. Das Cunt.
-Yeah. No. Dunno.
-You seem pretty certain about that.
I take a big glug from the second glass and set it down. Then I say – I could...I could do with you not being a smartarse for five minutes, Dan, if you can manage that.
-Your hands are shaking, he says, very serious now – tell me what’s wrong.
-It’s just, just this guy...
I see him hold his breath in then. Is that a small flicker of jealousy, maybe? Wooh. I can’t say it’s my favourite emotion, but a little bit of green looks good on Dan.
-He’s kind of stalking me through the hostel, keeps trying to crack onto me, I continue.
- Do you want me to talk to him?
I love how he offers to do that straight away, without even knowing what the other guy’s built like. My hero.
-Nah, I say, taking another pelt on the wine, relaxing a little now – he’ll be right. Can I just stay here with you, though?
He leans forward across the table and places his hands gently on my shoulders. I’m suddenly glad I epilated thoroughly before the trip. Then he says – You’re a strong and confident woman, Amber...
-I’m not, I protest.
-You are. You came all the way to Africa on your own.
-I’m joining a tour group, Dan.
-You...fucking hell, let me finish, would you?
- Okay, I laugh.
-You’re a strong and confident woman, Amber, he says. Take Two! - you don’t need to hide behind any man’s coattails. If this bloke’s bothering you, you ask him politely to stop. If he persists, you tell him to stop more forcefully. If he carries on beyond that, you smack the fucker! Or point him in my direction. I’ll offer him some tutelage.
Dan keeps doing this, eh? He gives you the bare conversational minimum all day and then...wallop! It’s an odd little speech, but I swear if he weren’t holding me up I might swoon. I like his hands on me. The last time a man put his hands on my shoulders it was to prove how weak I was, but that man knows different now. So I am strong. I’m a hundred fucking feet tall, dangerous and slightly drunk. Consider yourself warned, world!
-I understand what you’re telling me, I say, - but...but I really want to stay here with you, Dan.
-Oh, he replies, - well, then, okay.
He smiles and scooches over in the squeaky little booth. I step around the table to sit next to him. He doesn’t say anything then, and I’m learning that’s when he tells me the most. From our own tiny world there we look out upon the one that everyone else lives in.
I’m in his corner now. And he’s in mine.