When you stay in a hostel you go for dinner with anyone and everyone. It’s a chance to swap stories, have some laughs and acquire info about which places to visit and which ones to avoid. It also beats sitting on your own like a lemon, except for those days when you really want a bit of peace and quiet. So it goes without saying that you should be free to choose when you go to dinner, where, and who with. Or not. Not if you are hounded by the Dinner-Going Terminator. Remember him? He cropped up in my earlier piece ‘Snow White and the multiple roommates’.
After being in a particularly irritable mood one day, I’d blown off this very persistent guy from Pakistan, but after he chased me down the road I finally gave in and agreed to meet him at 7pm the next evening.
I’ve told very few people about the following dinner debacle –apparently it’s hilarious! Mortifying for me –but hilarious for everyone else! So, in the spirit of amusement I’ll enlighten the rest of you. Do bear in mind though, that words will never be able to fully express the awkwardness of that evening.
I’ve always been great at remembering faces but terrible with names. I have no recollection of this guy’s name; maybe it is my brain’s way of attempting to obliterate the memory from my mind. For the purposes of the story, we’ll call him Oddball.
I spent the entire next day in my room working through some fishing cat data on the laptop. I was so engrossed that I hadn’t realised it was past 7pm. Whoopsie! I still wasn’t in the mood to be sociable, especially when I hadn’t wanted to go to dinner in the first place, but I headed down to the lobby anyway. 7:15: I was late! Perhaps he’d already left? Oh, I hoped so! The lobby was empty –things were looking good. But I still had to poke my nose around the corner, into the common-room –it was only polite. Damn it! Oddball was lying on the sofa with his friend. There was no escape. I approached and asked if he’d already eaten, he hadn’t. ‘I waited here and hoped for you’ he said. Inwardly I cringed. He asked ‘are you OK to wait here if I go upstairs? I have something for you.’ After assuring him, repeatedly, that I was quite capable of surviving for the entire 3 minutes it would take him to go to his room and come back, he sped off. When he returned I enquired as to whether his friend was coming too. I was told no, it would just be the two of us. A tad odd but I didn’t think too much of it, perhaps his friend had already eaten or something.
It is nice, on those rare occasions, when you find that chivalry isn’t dead. However, when you are a few centimetres from a door and a hand practically passes through your face, nearly cleaving your nose clean off, to pull it open for you it seems a tad excessive and more of an annoyance than good manners. This happened at every door I came to, until eventually –for fear of acquiring a black eye– I had to ensure that before entering or leaving any room I was at least five feet behind him.
We arrived at a Bavarian restaurant and were seated at the only available table, by the door. Immediately Oddball called the manager over and demanded we be moved to another table. I had no idea why. A table is a table, as long as it could hold food what did it matter? In an attempt to lighten the situation, I said that the table was absolutely fine and that I didn’t mind where we sat. To no avail. He began apologising profusely about the table and harassing the staff to move us when another one became available. They could’ve sat me outside in the road or in the middle of a crocodile’s nest and I wouldn’t have cared, I just wanted to eat. The split second after we’d ordered our drinks he noticed someone begin to leave and instantly called the manager over to get us moved. He seemed happier with the new table and then proceeded to apologise for the hassle which, bizarrely, he blamed on the restaurant. I thought a change of subject was required and made a simple joke about fitting one of their tables into my hand luggage to take home. They were stunning: thick tree trunk slices with elaborately carved edges. Oddball didn’t get the joke and launched into how he could have one shipped home for me, in fact anything I liked, he could ship, if I’d just give him my address. I understand many cultures don’t quite grasp British sarcasm but this was a very basic joke, plus I’d laughed when I said it. This was going to be a l-o-o-oonng meal.
Completely out of the blue, Oddball began to tell me how all women were mean and horrible and they never appreciated anything that was done for them. Ooo-kay. He then went on to explain how he used to be a pilot, and how 6 women whom he dated from the airport had all been the same. He even brought out his old airline ID to show me. Talk about bizarre and awkward! I tried to lighten the mood by joking that perhaps he shouldn’t date women in airports. But no; on and on his woman-ranting went until I pulled out the age-old line of ‘Perhaps you haven’t met the right person yet?’ For some reason that seemed to stop him; if only he’d googled ‘random dating clichés’ years back I might’ve been spared this conversation.
In Sri Lanka and India meals are usually eaten with your hands, which I love, but the restaurant we were at was one of the fancier places and the use of cutlery was expected. As our food arrived, Oddball decided to tell me about a time when he and his 2 friends decided to go and get checked for hepatitis, and they both had it but he didn’t. Apparently from then on he became really paranoid about germs and would only eat with his hands. I have no problem eating like that but it was incredibly out of place in this restaurant, plus he was about as dextrous as the cookie monster.
I’d clearly taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Bizzaro World, or maybe while I’d been entering data in my room a crazy scientist somewhere had been messing with a time machine. Perhaps he’d accidentally stomped on a worm during the Cretaceous Period, and the resulting changes in time had left me eating dinner with a man whose brain had clearly been taken over by disgruntled worms, who were members of a rising faction attempting to rule the human race as payback for killing their beloved Prince Wormium. Whatever the reason, I just wished a sinkhole would open up beneath me and end this torment.
Unfortunately I had no such luck. The meal continued with awkward silences. I thought of every topic under the sun to keep conversation flowing. I even resorted to ‘so, do you have any pets?’ I was really grasping at straws. Apparently, I was really easy to talk to and very understanding. Anyone can be easy to talk to if you don’t stop for breath and take part in the ‘All about Me’ show. As for understanding, it was more appeasement on my part so I could get this meal over with as quickly as possible and return to hide in my room.
Conversation turned to other hostel guests, one of which had acted quite strangely while sharing a room with me, and had subsequently ended up also sharing a room with Oddball. Within 3 minutes he tried working out which room I was staying in. If he competed in the International Spy Olympics he would’ve been eliminated before even opening his mouth. Talk about amazingly unsubtle. We already shared a communal bathroom and there was no way in Hell I was letting him know which room I was sleeping in. Quickly I switched subjects by commenting on the food; unfortunately this led to a 10-minute rant about how he didn’t really like food. I stared blankly at him for about 45 seconds. WHAT?? Who, in the entire universe, doesn’t like any food? Had the mind-controlling worm eaten some of his brain? Conversation was officially dead; I genuinely had no idea how to respond to that. He’d only eaten about a third of his dinner, I guess that explained it. I’d left just under half of my Bavarian sausage platter but that was because a few bits tasted a tad odd. Without even asking he called the manager over, and demanded the remnants of our dinner be wrapped to go. I really didn’t want cold bratwurst, it never tasted good. While we waited for our leftovers he presented me with my present. I tried to decline, even if I’d enjoyed the meal I would still have felt bad about taking it, but he insisted. It was a large, shiny, pink flowery hair thing. I felt so ungrateful but it was the most revolting thing I’d ever seen. In true British fashion I smiled and thanked him. After all, it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?
The desserts in the restaurant looked amazing, I couldn’t wait to try one but apparently I didn’t get a say in the matter. The bill was ordered and he asked me if I knew anywhere to get ice cream. Luckily I knew of an ice cream parlour directly on the way home, anything to minimise the amount of time I had left to spend in his company. It sounds harsh but I’d had my fill of incredibly awkward conversation and I felt physically tired. I’d never worked so hard –trying to converse with someone like him– in my life. The ice cream parlour was essentially a large kitchen split in half by long ice cream refrigerator cabinets. For some unknown reason Oddball strolled between the cabinets and into the kitchen work space right in the middle of all the employees. Dumbstruck, I had to beckon him back to the correct side after which he loudly asked if the food here was clean. As the entire room, employees and customers alike – stared at me I mumbled that I’d eaten in here previously and hadn’t been sick so I was sure it was fine, unlike me –I was absolutely mortified! Hastily I paid and, like a fat kid chasing cake, I was out of there in a heartbeat.
As we made our way down the road Oddball began some bizarre speech about ‘The Moment’. Nothing mattered but moments. Even if we never saw each other again we would have this moment forever. All I wanted at that moment was for a T-rex to come stomping down Galle Road and to end it all by tearing me limb from limb –anything would be preferable to this torture. As we neared the hostel Oddball asked if he could hold my hand. I froze and immediately responded with ‘No, just no!’ I apologised that there was no polite way to say it but NO. He seemed confused and explained that in his understanding, English women almost needed to hold hands. Where on Earth had he got that idea? To try and lessen the extreme awkwardness of the situation, I forced a laugh and explained how traditionally, to the rest of Europe at least, the English are seen as quite stand-offish; we have a personal space bubble. Unlike other nationalities such as the French and the Spanish, who have a tendency to hug and kiss everybody. It seemed to help.
We were almost at the hostel, I could smell the freedom. He asked if I had Facebook, so –reluctantly– I said I did. It turned out he didn’t; this left me wondering what the point of the question was. He then asked if I had a phone number, to which I honestly replied yes, –but only a Sri Lankan one! He then asked if I had an e-mail address. Jeeze, talk about persistence! I charged up the hostel stairs and stopped at the lobby. I thanked him for dinner and turned to go when he started to insist about walking me to my room. I firmly, but politely, declined. I joked that as I’d been here a month I was sure I could find my own way. As I was half-way up the flight of stairs he began an impassioned speech about being honoured to have had dinner with me and reiterated his previous comments about ‘The Moment’. I was so glad I was moving hostels the next day and didn’t have to spend my next month scurrying around the hostel like a mouse in perpetual fear of being pounced upon.
When I finally reached my room I needed the toilet as I’d drunk a lot of water. I held out for the next 2 ½ hours for fear of bumping into him. By half past midnight my stomach began to churn. To add insult to injury I’d acquired food poisoning and spent the next 6 hours with my head down the loo singing the tale of flying chunks.
The next morning I could barely move without feeling like my insides were swirling with angry Japanese samurai. I didn’t have to check out until 12 so the best course of action was just to stay in bed for as long as possible. At about 11am the usual room cleaner came into the room to mop the floor and change any beds that needed it. Oddly, he was joined by another member of staff that usually cooks the breakfast. This guy starts trying to talk to me about how his friend was looking for me. His friend? Oh man, he meant Oddball! Once again I was glad I was moving.
Bizarrely, having written this, all that weird stuff he had spouted about ‘The Moment’ is now plaguing me. I’m hoping –praying– that I never see him again and that forever comes pretty quickly so I can expunge that ‘moment’ from my life.