The beds. They’re spring mattresses…that happen to be about fifty years old. You feel every curling wire. What’s worse, you hear every squeak and creak. The bunks are those cheap metal assemble-yourself kind you see often in children’s rooms that seem to gasp and groan with every minor movement.
The snorers. At times there have been up to three a night in my ten-bed dorm. I thought the music invading our room at 2am from the hostel’s bar just below was bad until the snoring started up. It hasn’t been good for my sanity.
The fridge. Something died in there…I’m not kidding. Today, one guy apologized to the whole lounge before opening the fridge door. We took our positions, pulling the collars of our hoodies and jackets up over our noses, before the stench was released. It has an awful way of lingering in the air.
Most of all, it’s the feeling that I can never be alone. As an introvert at heart, I need my space as much as food and water. In general, I find I am a more pleasant person to be around if I’ve had at least an hour to myself, but that space is nearly impossible to find here – let alone trying to find a quiet corner from which to Skype home. But strangely enough over these last two weeks, I’ve developed close ties to those around me. This was my first long-term hostel experience and as each night has gone by, I feel like the group of us who are here for the long-haul (at least compared to those who stay for only a night or a few at most) have grown closer together.
There’s Glen, a Kiwi who’s trekked through nine countries in nine months and is now in London hoping to find work and accommodation. It’s slow going, but he hasn’t stopped looking.
Mike, a Frenchman and aspiring hip hop artist. He is our resident DJ and keeps the tunes going, whether it’s a surprisingly comprehensive collection of classical music, top 40 hits or even his own beats and creations (the last two often being hard to distinguish between).
Rod, a Caribbean from Trinidad who’s known for not exactly being able to handle his drink. He keeps odd hours, working at the hostel on the overnight shift, running the breakfast buffet, and changing the sheets and duvets after guests have checked out.
Philip, a young German with angelic blond curls any girl would envy. He’s here in London on a gap year after high school and is seeking employment as a live-in nanny or carer. Philip is the definition of proactive, making daily trips to the library, writing up posters to advertise his availability, and using a dictionary to ever improve his English.
Laura, a Canadian from Toronto here as a substitute teacher. She thought she’d found a place to live, only to get a call the day before she was due to move in, saying the tenant before her was having problems with her boyfriend and wouldn’t be moving in with him after all.
Sean, an American from Michigan who makes a living writing freelance reference articles about Shakespeare. He’s lived in Austria for seven years (with fluency in German to prove it) and Buenos Aires for one. Am I jealous? You know it.
There are more, even, and what we’ve come to comprise is a sort of unspoken support group for each other. Everyone here is looking – for a flat, for a job, for a connection. This place is like a holding room. I just Googled the term and a woman named Eileen McDargh defines it as “a room backstage where speakers wait to go on.” Like actors waiting for our big break, we’re all in a holding pattern, hoping for a chance to show the world what we’ve got.
We’re here for each other when the phone doesn’t ring. When our inbox isn’t overflowing. When Glen comes back from his first day at work, only to realize it’s not the dream job he’d hoped for. When the flat Laura was hoping to love is even dirtier than our hostel. When we just need somebody to listen.
But we’re also here when things do work out. Last week, Mike and Rod were hoping to find a flat together near Canada Water. I came into the lounge that afternoon only to hear Mike yelling at Rod for being too tired to go the flat viewing. “Why don’t you just go by yourself?” I asked Mike. “Let Rod sleep, at least you can check it out.” When I saw him later that night, he high-fived me. “We got it!” he said excitedly. “We move in on Friday!” And the funny thing was, I didn’t have to feign any excitement in return. I was genuinely happy it had worked out for them. “How’s it going?” we ask each other every night, “How was your day?” While our families are either asleep or at work, out of touch on the other side of loathable time zones, we’re the only family each other has got in this corner of the world.
So can I wait to move into my own place, sleep in my own bed, cook in my own kitchen and share a shower with three others – not thirty? Heck no.
But can I wait to leave behind these quirky, funky friendships, this little home we’ve crafted in one of London’s grubbiest hostels?
About that, I’m not so sure…