In a hostel, you don’t get to pick your roommates.
That’s okay, because generally everyone minds their own business and tries their best to make living in a room with 4-7 other people bearable.
HA! Did I just say that? Sorry, let me get up off the floor, because I just fell off my chair laughing.
In a hostel, it’s every man for himself.
If you want to shower, you’ll have to sprint ahead of that girl who’s sauntering over with her 20 bottles of hair product. If you want to sleep, you’ll have to block out the sounds of the guy retching in the bathroom after having too much to drink. If you want to eat, well, best to do it elsewhere.
I’ll admit it’s not actually that bad. Hostels are extraordinarily convenient and cost-efficient.
It’s just that in a hostel, you don’t get to pick your roommates.
When I opened the door to Room 202 after sliding my key into its slot, I saw the mess. Cluttered bed, dead ahead. I knew I was in for some trouble when I saw that the aforementioned mess was situated directly below my bunk.
No problem, though. As long as she — I knew the person to be a she by the cowboy boots and various female garments shoved on, under, and around the bed — kept her mess mostly to herself, we’d get along fine.
I was quickly stymied by the prospect of getting up to my bed. Being all of five-foot three-and-three-quarters, I worried it would be impossible. After a bit of archaeological digging beneath deposits of discarded clothing, I found the ladder. It was narrow, with very wide spaces between each of the four rungs.
She can make a mess anywhere she wants, I promised. Except the ladder. The ladder is sacred ground.
I was burning daylight worrying about this mystery girl, so I unpacked my things, stored them neatly in a cubby, made my bed with all the corners tucked in, and left for a ham and cheese tasting session.
When I returned to the room late that night, I saw that the girl wasn’t a girl at all. She was a woman, not old, but past middle-age, snoring uproariously from her bed. My eyes kept flicking over to her while I gathered my shower supplies. The sheet was pulled aside and she seemed to be wearing nothing but nylon socks and skimpy underwear. I was embarrassed at my own fascination with how the underwear line cut into the roll of her stomach fat, and looked away, only to glance over again at the next snore.
I scurried off to the bathroom, showered, brushed my hair and teeth, and returned to the room, pajama’ed and well overdue for my bedtime. I was about to climb up the ladder when I saw the swimsuit. Her wet swimsuit, on my ladder.
Okay, okay, I get it. There was no one on the top bunk before, no reason the ladder couldn’t be hers. But didn’t she see the sheets on my bed? Didn’t she see that clearly someone had come and laid claim to the bunk?
I bit back my frustration and wondered what to do. Sorry, lady. It’s my ladder. I plucked the swimsuit from the ladder and deposited it on her bed. Luckily there was a paper bag she had neglected to move near the foot of it, so she wouldn’t have a big wet spot on her sheets in the morning.
Ladder cleared, my frustration dissipated and I put in my earplugs before drifting into a peaceful sleep.
The next morning I had forgotten about the woman’s transgression. It was a new day, and now that I had moved her things off the ladder twice, she would realize her error and respect my space. I had even managed to keep half the armoire cleared of her clutter to use as a bedside table. Humming quietly to myself, I made my way down the precarious ladder and — SQUELCH.
Oh no she DIDN’T.
After the swimsuit incident, I made a point to steer clear of the woman, wondering how anyone could be so inconsiderate. I always said hello when I saw her — well, hola, since I was in Spain — but that’s all. She would say hola back — but that’s all. She actually gave me the creeps, though for no rational reason I could think of. I felt like she was always staring at me. She had a serious face and a dark complexion. Never smiled.
Oh, well, out of sight, out of mind. I spent a lovely day touring in a nearby town, enjoyable enough that I didn’t worry at all about the clutter that might await me.
Upon my return early that evening, I was pleasantly surprised. Her area was relatively clean. She was still obviously there, cowboy boots and all, but her bed was clear and the “bedside table” almost empty. With only two other people staying there, the room was downright tidy. Tired after a long day and lured by the peaceful atmosphere of the room, I climbed up on the bed, plopped my things on top of the armoire, and napped.
I woke up an hour later. The lady was back. I politely recited my customary hola, grabbed my stuff, and headed out again for the night.
I got back around 11 pm. The woman was in bed — phew, she’s probably asleep — but sat up the moment I walked into the room.
“You the key taken! Mine!” she said in something that resembled Spanish.
I stared at her, baffled.
“My key! You! You my key!” she repeated, gesticulating wildly.
“Really?” I said in Spanish. “Let me see.” I started searching. I quickly found my key, but there was no way I was giving it to her until I found both.
After a couple minutes, she suggested I look in my purse. I found it. Two keys. Oops.
“Oh, excuse me,” I apologized, handing her the key. She snatched it, put it back on top of the armoire — ah, that’s why I took it, she put it right next to my stuff — and plunked back down on the bed. Before I could hightail it out to the bathroom, she decided she wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily.
She grabbed the key again, and said, “You key take took my above.”
What? Was that even Spanish? Maybe it’s Catalan. Aloud: “Excuse me?”
She pursed her lips, her eyebrows creeping closer to one another until all that separated them was a stern crease down her forehead. “You…my…key took. Go up” — she pointed down — “reception. Understands?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying,” I answered in Spanish. Most Catalans speak Spanish. Why wasn’t she speaking Spanish? Maybe she was, and I just didn’t understand her accent.
“Youkeytook! Mine! When see no key, took more key reception!” She pulled out a second key. Ah, now I understood. She had gotten an extra from the hostel receptionist when she saw that hers was missing.
“You! up — down — go. Key!” She held out the key.
Was she just telling me how traumatic her experience was, or did she want me to do something? I kept staring back, mouth agape, probably looking like an idiot. I glanced over to the corner of the room. A girl was looking at her phone, but glanced up every so often to watch the tense exchange. We made eye contact and she looked sympathetic.
“Do you want me to do something?” I asked the woman.
“You key take! Up! Key take up! Down! Reception!” She shoved the key at me.
I thought I understood. She wanted me to take the key down to the receptionist. But why would she give me the extra key to take downstairs? Couldn’t she just give them both when she checked out? Why would she want me to be the one delivering it?
“But why?” I asked. That really set her off.
Pointing at herself and jabbing her finger at me, she babbled faster than ever, “KeyyoutookYOUkeyYOUtake I naked, I bed, I no can, YOUKEY!” She firmly held out the key in front of me, leaning forward from the bed to put it within grabbing distance of my hands.
I wondered if something bad would happen if I took the key downstairs.
“Youtakereceptionupstairsyou! Tellkeytook!” At this point I realized the woman’s native language was Italian. No wonder I could hardly understand her.
I felt a flare of panic and looked over at the girl in the corner. The girl volunteered in perfectly comprehensible Spanish, “It appears she wants you to take the key down to the reception.”
“Why? What’s the difference, if I take it or if she takes it?” I said.
“Well, she says she’s in bed, she’s not dressed, and she can’t take it.”
“And she can’t do it in the morning?”
At that, the girl shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said.
I looked back at the woman, still staring at me with beady black eyes. I seriously considered bolting — saying sorry and continuing about my business while ignoring her completely. The only problem? I had to sleep right above her for seven hours before I could check out in the morning.
Frustrated, the woman slapped her hands down on her knees, whipping her head to and fro as she let out a stream of profanities that translated rather easily into Spanish. Maybe she would give up. I was clearly too stupid to be worth her time.
The girl tried to help, suggesting to the woman in Italian that she just take the key herself in the morning.
The mumbling monologue came to an abrupt halt. “No!” she snapped at the girl. She speared me with her glare once again. “YOUKEYTOOK. YOUUP. HEREKEY. TAKE! TAKE!” When I hesitated, she continued, “I NAKED! I NO THIRTY EURO! YOUTOOK! SH-T. You. Understands, YOU.” The key was inches from my nose.
This woman thought she — or I — was going to be fined €30 for the lost key? But we found it. She had it. They couldn’t fine her for a key she had. All the more reason she should be the one to give it to them, to make sure she wasn’t fined.
I tried logic and reason, speaking slowly, “And why can’t you bring it to them in the morning? They might be confused if I give it to them.”
“SH-T, WH—MOTHER, SH-T. You take down. You take down reception tell you took.”
What, she wanted me to confess or something? Own up to my abominable misdeed?
I had two options. I could shrug apologetically and walk away, all of the six feet to my ladder. Or I could just do as the crazy lady said.
“What do you think?” I asked the girl. “Should I just do it?”
She responded delicately, “I don’t know, but I think that would be simplest.”
Fine. I held out my hand and took the key. “Bed number 2,” I confirmed aloud.
“Alli, say them Alli,” the woman said.
When I gave the key to the receptionist, explaining that Alli of Bed 2 in Room 202 wanted me to turn in this extra key, he took it and said, “Okay, great, thanks!”
All of that. For nothing. I didn’t know who was more insane, Alli or me. I marched back up to the room, announced that it was done and everything was peachy, and walked right back out. I did apologize one more time before I left. I didn’t want to wake up to spiders in my sheets.
I loitered in the lounge telling the story over the phone, first to my dad, then to my mom. My dad agreed that she was crazy. My mom cautioned me that it didn’t matter who was right — you can’t reason with those people, and the last thing you want is a psycho with a vendetta sleeping in your room.
I waited for two hours before I went back to the room. Sure enough, she was snoring when I walked in.
I slept with my purse underneath my pillow, just in case.
This was written for Writing 101, Day 7: Write a post based on the contrast between two things. Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue.